Ashok Bhatia recently wrote a terrific two-part article on the way women are portrayed in Hindi films. In part one and part two of “Women Through the Bollywood Lens,” Bhatia elaborates on the various character types that female performers have played in a section he titles “Sixteen Shades of the Bollywood Eve.” Bhatia compiles an impressive list of films featuring archetypes as varied as The Vamp, The Victim, and The Simpering Beloved. His subsection on the different kids of onscreen mothers details the innumerable circumstances that would drive actress Nirupa Roy to tears in her various maternal roles in the 1970s.
What stands out is how often female character’s roles are defined in relation to men: not only their co-stars on-screen, but the men in the audience as well. If the predominantly male paying audience most wants to see women as either sex symbols or victims in need of protection, filmmakers increase their odds of turning a profit by depicting women in that light.
Fortunately, filmmakers are proving that movies with strong female protagonists can succeed at the box office. One need only look to the career of Vidya Balan — the actress at the center of films like The Dirty Picture, No One Killed Jessica, and Kahaani — to see that that’s true. Here’s hoping that if Bhatia writes a third installment in the future, he’ll be able to find even more progressive examples of female character types.