What makes a movie memorable? A kick-ass plot, of course, but it can only happen with a strong protagonist who believes in doing the right thing and undertakes an action so powerful that it blows our mind. The tendency in Indian cinema over the years has largely been to keep this character male—possibly to service a hero-obsessed culture. However, the industry has also seen film-makers push the envelope by creating bold women protagonists exuding unparalleled conviction. Today, when movements such as #MeToo are gathering steam, films with women heroes are not only important to raise a voice but also develop progressive mindsets. We take a look at 10 iconic moments in Hindi cinema when women characters contributed to a revolution of sorts:

When Radha Has To Shoot Her Son In Mother India

Would you expect a village woman, who’s undergone a bevy of hardships to single-handedly raise her children, shoot down one of them? Radha (Nargis) doesn’t think twice before firing the gun at Birju (Sunil Dutt) when he abducts the moneylender’s daughter, Rupa, on horseback. That Rupa’s father, Sukhilal (Kanhaiyalal), wanted to sexually exploit Radha doesn’t influence her decision. “Main beta de sakti hoon, laaj nahin de sakti,” she remarks. For 1957 cinema, this was seriously trendsetting.

Also Read: 5 Times Bollywood Actresses Kicked Butt On Screen

When The Women Of Mirch Masala Blind The Subedar With Red Chillies

When a tyrannical subedar (Naseeruddin Shah) makes it his life mission to get village belle Sonbai (Smita Patil) in bed, she puts up a stiff fight at his every attempt and hides in a spice factory. The climax of Mirch Masala sees the subedar order an attack on the factory, but the women workers douse him in bagfuls of red chilli powder, leaving him in burning pain. What’s interesting is that this moment was captured three decades ago, predating our current debate on a woman’s pride versus her life.

When Pooja Shows Her Cheating Husband The Door In Arth

What to do with a straying spouse? Take them back or chuck them out? Pooja (Shabana Azmi) chooses the latter when her estranged husband, Inder (Kulbhushan Kharbanda), asks her for a reunion. Pooja raises a valid question, “Jo kuch tumne mere saath kiya, agar wohi main tumhare saath karti aur isi tarah laut kar aati, toh kya tum mujhe waapas le lete?” When Inder replies in the negative, Pooja bids him “goodbye” and leaves, teaching us the true meaning of ‘forgive and forget’.

Also Read: 7 Times Actresses Spoke Up On Sexism In Bollywood 

Aditi’s Hard-Hitting Monologue in Astitva

When it comes to light that Aditi (Tabu) has borne her only son not from her husband, Srikant (Sachin Khedekar), but her former music teacher, Malhar (Mohnish Bahl), the men of her family don’t stop her from leaving the house. Before exiting, she gives these chauvinistic, hypocritical men a piece of her mind in a bold, hard-hitting monologue—ironically, Srikant has unapologetically had multiple affairs whenever he was out on business, while Aditi had only one moment of weakness, which she had moved on from. She asks Srikant, “Tan ki pyaas jo tumhare shareer ko jalati hai, kya woh mere shareer ko kam jalati hai?” She also questions why men are easily forgiven for their digressions, unlike women. The scene ends with her son’s ex-girlfriend, Revati (Namrata Shirodkar), joining Aditi and leaving with her, without Aditi begging for forgiveness or to be reinstated to her rightful place.

Shashi’s Moving Speech In English Vinglish

Shashi’s (Sridevi) speech in English at her niece’s wedding is not just empowering but also emotionally moving. Coming on the heels of her desire to win over her family’s respect—who would forever taunt her on her lack of language skills—it proves that nothing is impossible for anyone, regardless of gender, profession or educational background. She advises the newlyweds to “try to help each other to feel equal”, thereby implying her mantras and beliefs for her own marriage. The most powerful part of this scene is when her husband, Satish (Adil Hussain), stands up to give the speech on her behalf, only to be made to sit down by a confident, determined Shashi.

When Veera Confronts Her Abusive Uncle In Highway

Child abuse rarely got a platform in Hindi cinema until the 2014 kidnap drama, Highway. It was gut-wrenching to see Veera (Alia Bhatt) confide in her abductor, Mahabir (Randeep Hooda), about her horrors. But the most applause-worthy moment comes in the end when Veera confronts her abusive uncle in front of her entire family and makes him leave. “Ghar ke bahar jao toh careful rehna […], toh yeh kyon nahin kaha ki mujhe ghar ke andar bhi careful rehna hai?” she tearfully asks her father while also questioning her family’s complicity. She then leaves her home to work and live in the mountains, just like she wanted it to be with Mahabir.

When Sandhya Slaps Her Husband For Fat Shaming Her In Dum Laga Ke Haisha

Obese women have always been the laughing stock in Bollywood—cases in point being Tun Tun, Guddi Maruti and the actor who played Miss Mimi in Dil, to name a few. So it was amazing to see an overweight female character standing up for her pride and self-respect. When Sandhya (Bhumi Pednekar) overhears her unloving husband, Prem (Ayushmann Khurrana), ridicule her weight to his friends at a gathering, she slaps him, only to be slapped back by him. She later files for divorce.

When Agent Shabana Kicks Butt In Her Scene-Stealing Moment in Baby 

The standout scene of a film dominated by male spies and villains interestingly belongs to a female agent. Shabana (Taapsee Pannu) is on the screen for barely 20 minutes, where she takes on a terrorist Wasim Khan (Sushant Singh) all by herself in a hotel room in Kathmandu, successfully pinning him down with some of the finest, smoothest moves in Indian cinema. The curiosity of the audience over her badass character even spawned a sequel, Naam Shabana, two years later.

When Meera Avenges The Death of Her Husband In NH10

Violent movies rarely see women characters helm the action, which is where this thriller sets itself apart. Meera (Anushka Sharma) avenges her partners death by ramming her SUV over his killers. Her actions represent not only her attempt to do something about her helplessness but also fight for her survival in a lawless land.

Buaji Reading Erotica In Lipstick Under My Burkha

Sexual desires aren’t just specific to the young and the restless—they are a natural bodily phenomenon common to people of all ages. What better way to bring out this fact than have a 55-year-old woman read erotica? Usha ji (Ratna Pathak Shah) has to conform to societal expectations by donning a sanskari mask, but nobody understands her aspirations, yearnings and disappointments. Hopefully, this bold moment should make us more empathetic.

 

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