The year 2018 was a great one for Hindi cinema. From big budget behemoths to funny family films, strong content succeeded at the box office. This Thanksgiving we’re not only thankful for the literal and figurative queens we saw on the big screen, but also to theater-goers who supported movies with female leads!
Films centered around an actress have come a long way since the 1980s revenge dramas and the 90s swan songs where heroines, sensing their film careers had peaked, played thoughtful central characters, versus being the hero’s glamorous love interest. “Women-oriented” movies were often somber tales of protagonists finding their way in a man’s world with much baggage and little makeup. Though actresses would reap rave reviews and collect awards, such films would be made on tiny budgets as having a female lead usually meant shorter ticket lines.
The last decade has seen these clichés slowly crumble as the star system loses shimmer: hyped extravaganzas starring Hindi cinema’s leading men have been rejected by audiences in favor of smaller films with superior content.
The last year, 2017, saw many successful films starring a woman front-and-center in the form of Bareilly ki Barfi, Lipstick Under My Burkha, Qarib Qarib Singlle, Tumhari Sulu and Secret Superstar (Secret Superstar owes it success to massive box office earnings from China). However, plenty did not fare well — like Phillauri, Anaarkali of Aarah, Naam Shabana, Begum Jaan, Noor, Mom, and Simran — despite some of these films and/or performances garnering critical praise.
The films on this 2018 list feature at least one female protagonist and were super hits, and in some cases blockbusters, making 2018 the year women ruled the box office. Why are ticket sales important to our list? Nothing succeeds like success in the movie biz and sizable profits mean more stories focused on females, with diverse backgrounds and motivations, will be made.
Padmaavat: Based on a 16th century poem on Queen Padmini, this epic period film was 2018’s first hit. Despite controversy surrounding the movie including allegations of the director glamorizing self-immolation, Padmaavat became an all-time blockbuster. Posters prominently featured Deepika Padukone, and it became undeniable that the heroine playing the film’s namesake was its biggest star. Padukone was allegedly paid more than her A-list male co-stars, which highlighted the need for more artists to be paid their worth, regardless of gender.
Hichki: Dubbed “Queen of Hearts” by fans, actress Rani Mukherjee who reigned in the early 2000s, starred in Hichki as a teacher with Tourette’s syndrome. Her portrayal of a woman who inspires and is inspired by underprivileged teens at a prestigious private school got her stellar marks audiences. What made success of this film sweeter was that a forty-something actress who took maternity leave returned with a bang after a four-year absence — a feat many trade pundits thought impossible. After being crowned a success in India, the film went on to do tremendous business in China. Could Rani become China’s Indian film queen?
Veere Di Wedding: Described as India’s answer to popular American series Sex and the City, but set in South Delhi, Veere Di Wedding featured Kareena Kapoor Khan, Sonam Kapoor, Swara Bhaskar and Shikha Talsania playing long-time friends who together navigate challenges and learn to live life on their own terms (while wearing coveted couture, speaking snappy one-liners and dancing to catchy numbers). While most women, who made up the lion’s share of the film’s theater audience, could not relate to the ultra-luxe lifestyle, many connected to the journey of becoming comfortable with themselves in a world in which they’re constantly judged. From opening day, it was evident VDW was an event film, as social media was filled with images of many cinema halls hosting girls’ night out.
Raazi: In Raazi we see newlywed Sehmat Khan begin a new life but learning to adapt to her marital home isn’t her sole mission, as she must convey top secret, Pakistani military plans to Indian officials — plans which have serious consequences for the 1971 war between the two nations. Actress Alia Bhatt plays no blushing bride, but an undercover RAW agent who must avoid traps set in all directions. Meghna Gulzar who also co-wrote the screenplay with Bhavani Iyer helmed Raazi, which makes the movie a great example of girl power!
Stree: A town in Madhya Pradesh prepares for a yearly festival but the men have little to celebrate as Stree, the spirit of a broken-hearted woman, is on the prowl. Described by the town’s wise man as a woman belonging to today’s India, Stree is a literate spirit who abducts men who not only travel alone, but also give her their consent. As town’s people devise solutions to keep males safe, a mysterious ghost slayer, played by Shraddha Kapoor, visits during the festivities. This comedy horror film’s fresh, progressive take on the supernatural produced plenty of footfalls in cinemas and a sequel was recently announced.
It remains as important as ever to highlight quality cinema with female protagonists that have struck box office gold if we as an audience want to see better and greater representation of women. With the 2019 Hindi film release calendar featuring films such as Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, Gully Boy, and The Zoya Factor, either being led and/or directed by a female, it looks like the days of awards but no rewards for female-centric films, are officially over.
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Shivani cannot remember a time when she wasn’t madly in love with Indian cinema, which now inspires much of her writing. She lives in both New York City and Twitterpur at @Shivani510.