The film industry, in general, is highly male-dominated, both on and off the screen. When it comes to the depiction of women, cinema as a whole reflected through the male’s perspective. Women are often shown as pleasing eye-candies and plot devices to complete the male character’s storyline. Earlier, cinema was incomplete without the inclusion of a damsel in distress to motivate the male protagonist.
Overtime the trends began to change.
The recent years saw the emergence of women-centric films and more women started taking part in the production process. Apart from that, several actors and actresses started talking about the necessity to include socially relevant contents. More than that, men have spoken about the importance of women empowerment; Aamir Khan, Farhan Akhtar, Shah Rukh Khan and all have taken up the responsibility in using public platforms to speak about proto-feminist narratives. Mainstream actors have tried to promote female directors and filmmakers such as Farah Khan, Zoya Akhtar, Reema Kagti, Meghna Gulzar and all. After all, it is also necessary to have men's involvement in the process of women empowerment, as allies.
Many of their films have had strong feminist messages and challenged social stereotypes that still confine women in the cages of morality and oppression. It reflects men’s role as allies of women empowerment.
Here are male-centric films that challenge stereotypes with a feminist voice.
Stree is one of the most acclaimed films of the year 2018 and became a massive hit at the box office. The film features an ensemble of male actors-led by Rajkummar Rao and is directed by Amar Kaushik. The film takes place in a village named Chanderi, Bhopal where the spirit of a woman comes out for four days during a festival every year. The spirit is termed as "Stree" and she stalks and abducts lonely men at night. Due to this men are prevented from stepping outside the house at night, the reverse of current 6 pm curfew socially imposed on women in the name of safety.
The core message of the film is to respect women instead of reducing her to an object of desire. “Stree” was mistreated when she was a human and the Chanderi, as a place, is facing the consequences of the misogynist actions committed by men against “Stree”. The film also challenges the idea of consent when Rudra (Pankaj Tripathi) says that "Stree" (just like women, in general) is not like a man. She does not force herself on the person she desires but will wait for his consent. The film's satirical take on such issues earned it commercial and critical acclaim. Shraddha Kapoor's performance as an ambitious witch is also well-received.
‘Pink’ became one of the most talked-about films of the year 2016 and many women and girls lauded the film on social media. The film is directed by Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury and has Amitabh Bachchan, Taapsee Pannu, Kirti Kulkarni and Andrea Tariang playing major roles. Three young women Minal (Taapsee Pannu), Falak (Kirti Kulhari) and Andrea (Andrea) face criminal charges for assaulting a man and Deepak Sehgal is hired to defend them. Minal attacks her ex with a bottle after he tries to force himself on her while she was drunk. The highlight of the film is the message regarding the importance of consent and that men should respect the same. Deepak says that boys should be saved with proper social upbringing so that girls don't need to be saved. He also points out the flawed and hypocritical way in which girls are overprotected and cautiously raised when compared to a boy whose actions are not regulated by his parents. He also says that only a verbal "yes" should be treated as a sign of consent.
At the time of its release, 'Dangal' became a record-breaking commercial success and is currently the highest-grossing Bollywood film till date. 'Dangal' is the biopic of Mahavir Singh Phogat a wrestler who trains his daughters Geeta and Babita to become Gold medal-winning wrestlers. Aamir Khan plays Mahavir Singh Phogat and the film is lauded for its message on women empowerment and is also endorsed by 'Beti Bachao Beti Padao' campaign. The film initially shows Mahavir and his wife Daya (Sakshi Tanwar) trying for a male child as Mahavir wanted to raise his son to be a wrestler. He was blessed with four daughters and even his peers make fun of him. Mahavir eventually sees the gift of wrestling in his two daughters Geeta and Babita and trains them both to be wrestlers.
The film shows his journey with his daughters, tackling patriarchy and sexism. In his own words, Geeta's fight in the commonwealth games is not for the gold medal but against the system that oppresses women.
‘Saala Khadoos’ is the critically acclaimed sports films starring R Madhavan and Ritika Singh in the lead roles. The film is about a failed boxer who ended up at the receiving end of dirty politics. He opts to train a woman boxer Madhi (Ritika Singh) who expresses her talents in the field. They face many obstacles including jealousy of her sister Lakshmi, rivalry and other politics. In the end, Madhi's determination and guidance from Adi helps her achieve big in her field. A notable moment in the film is when Adi asks for a “knockout”, Madhi replies by saying, “Is that all?”. The film is about empowering women in their respective fields and to be on par with men.’
The film is directed by Sudha Kongara and is released in the Tamil language as ‘Irudhi Suttru’. Ritika Singh is a real-life boxer and she won National special jury mention award for her performance in the film.
‘Chak de India’ is considered as one of the best films in Shah Rukh Khan’s career as well as one of his best performances. Directed by Shimit Amin and written by Jaideep Sahni, ‘Chak de! India’ is the most relevant feminist films in Bollywood. The film features Kabir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan) coaching the women's hockey team for the world cup. The team members consist of girls from different backgrounds and personalities. The team has a married woman who faces sexist obstacles from her marital home and husband but she chose to be with the team. A woman engaged to a cricket player who considers hockey as a sport inferior to cricket. A South Indian girl and two Northeast Indians who face racist stereotypes. Under Khan's leadership, the girls fight for their dreams which is to bring the cup to India. The highlight of the film is when the women play a hockey match with men's hockey team who was given preference by the hockey association. Women lose the match but the male players and the coach laud their determination and step aside on behalf of the girls so that they could go for the world championships.
The song 'Chak de India' became a mantra in the field of sports and it is played after every major sports match.
‘Manto’ is a film based on the writer Saadat Haasan Manto. Written and directed by Nandita Das, the film has Nawazuddin Siddiqui in the lead role. In the film, Manto says that his books are mirror intended for the society so that they will see themselves. Manto has written stories about women and their plights in the patriarchal society where they cannot have what they desire.
He also wrote about the horrors of the India-Pakistan partition which took a massive toll on people, especially women and children. Countless women were assaulted during the time. Manto is an atheist but during the times of communal violence, he was forced to confront his identity. Manto’s work is relevant even today.
‘Padman’ is one of the most relevant films in Akshay Kumar’s career and became a success at the box office. Directed by R Balki, ‘Padman’ is based on a short written by Twinkle Khanna as a tribute to Arunachalam Muruganantham who made budget-friendly sanitary napkins for rural women. Arunachalam Muruganantham is also credited for innovating grassroots mechanisms for generating awareness about traditional unhygienic practices around menstruation in rural India and on speaking about the stigma. The film shows Laxmikant's (Akshay Kumar) wife asking him not to indulge in women's matters but he himself discovers the necessity to have hygienic menstruation. The film then shows Laxmikant and Pari (Sonam Kapoor) going from village to village to sell and spread awareness on hygienic menstruation.
‘Swades’ as a film, was considered ahead of its time after its release. Directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, the film is about an NRI named Mohan (Shah Rukh Khan) who visits his hometown in rural India only to feel attached to the place. He wanted to take his nanny Kaveriamma back with him to the US after finding out that she is living in an old age home.
The attraction of the film is the character Gita (Gayatri Joshi). She brought Kaveriamma with her in her home. She runs a school in Charanpur and worked for gender equality, empowerment of girls and improving the living conditions of people in the village.
Kaveriamma wants Gita to get married and settle down but Gita is ambitious. Her driven nature attracts Mohan to her. Mohan also helps her in her work.
The film shows Mohan's attempts to help the poor and bring development and comfort to the rural village.
Gita refuses to go to the US with Mohan and prefers that he stay with her which is a turn of circumstances in terms of gender. Mohan then chose to return to India.
Both Shah Rukh Khan and Gayatri Joshi won acclamation for their work in the film.
R.S. Prasanna directed this comedy film with Ayushmann Khurrana and Bhumi Pednekar in the lead roles. The film deals with erectile dysfunction and a much-needed discussion on the same. Erectile dysfunction is a common issue and men face tremendous pressure due to this. Added to that, oftentimes women are blamed for the lack of spark in a relationship. The film itself shows the rituals done to make marital life a bliss, in a satirical manner where Sugandha (Bhumi Pednekar) was asked to marry a tree. Mudit (Ayushmann Khurrana) admits that he is the one with the problem and takes it upon himself to spare Sugandha from embarrassment.
The film was lauded for showing female lust in a positive manner as opposed to stereotyping lusty women as 'vamps' or 'manipulators'. It shows that women have desires as well. Sugandha's parents wanted their daughter to have a good sex life after marriage.
'Baabul' did not get the recognition it deserved due to the film's slow pacing and melodramatic storyline. Directed by Ravi Chopra, the film was mostly praised for the chemistry between Salman Khan and Amitabh Bachan in their respective roles as son and father. What 'Baabul' threw light on is the mistreatment of widows by their family members.
Amitabh Bachchan plays Balraj Kapoor, a man with a modern and liberal outlook in life. His wife Shobhna Kapoor has the same viewpoints. His brother Balwant (Om Puri) is a highly conservative man who still follows the misogynist practice widow system. Balwant believes that widows are "bad luck" and prevents Pushpa (Sarika) from participating in public events like weddings.
He believed that her participation in the wedding of Malvika (Rani Mukherji) and Avinash (Salman Khan) led to Avinash's death eventually.
What follows is Balraj immense support to Malvika after she became a widow and his attempts to help her move on and rebuild her life. Balraj encourages Malvika to marry Rajat (John Abraham) who was in love with her. Although Balwant opposed to the idea of widow remarriage at first, he came to terms with it. The movie ends with the marriage of Rajat and Malvika.