The best women-centric Hindi films from old times

Women empowerment films of Bollywood



If we look into the rich history of India, there's no doubt regarding the fact that women have been treated really harshly and unmannerly by the patriarchal society. The very same thing has been reflected in the films as well where female actors have mostly been a mere eye candy to give more masala to the film. Recently, however, women empowerment has appeared like a juggernaut in the cinema too with a lot of females starring as the lead characters in the films. It is a step towards the right direction by Bollywood but even until a decade back, things were not the same. The 70s, 80s and 90s of Indian and specially Hindi cinema were dominated by the films which depicted patriarchy like nothing else. 

Even in those harsh times when barely anyone talked about women empowerment, there were a handful of films made on subjects revolving around a female character. Here are some of those movies which deserve a shout-out since most of them barely got their dues when they were released :- 

Chandni Bar 

Women empowerment films of Bollywood

Tabu has to go down as one of the best female actors this country has ever produced. It's not just because she is a phenomenal talent but it has a lot to do with the experiments that she did when no other female actor dared to do such films, especially when the actor was doing efficient work in the usual commercial cinema where you were required to play the love interest of the male lead and feature in a couple of romantic tracks. Chandni Bar was one of the landmark performances of her career. This film will completely change your opinion about prostitutes.

Tabu plays the character of Mumtaz whose parents die in communal riots and life leaves her no option but to dance in a bar. It's a very realistic attempt at how disgusting is the life of prostitutes and may prove to be depressing too. But this is hands down the best work of Madhur Bhandarkar who went on to make many great films in future, Page 3 and Fashion to name a few. It would have been received much better in this day and age when feminism and women empowerment is talked about very often. 

Bandit Queen 

Women empowerment films of Bollywood

It is a biographical film based on the life of Phoolan Devi, who happened to be an Indian bandit and later on a member of parliament. This movie shows you how atrociously women used to be treated in rural areas of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Phoolan Devi got married in her early teens to a person twice as old as she and she would suffer sexual abuse every single day. She later joined the gang of bandits and after a couple of years, she became the leader of the gang. In this whole journey, she suffered through a lot of sexual assaults. 

She is sexually assaulted by her husband at the age of 11, she is sexually assaulted by policemen, she is assaulted by the leader of the gang she was a part of initially and in one of the most heartbreaking scenes, she gets abducted by the rival gang of bandits and is repeatedly sexually abused and assaulted for consecutive days, stripped in the middle of a village and is forced to fetch water from a well being completely naked. The film has been shot very realistically and may even tear your heart apart. Shekhar Kapur, who made "Mr India" which happens to be one of the best superhero films from India, helmed this project and he did the job perfectly. Brilliant acting, brilliant direction and one of the finest films ever was the result! 

Astitva 

Women empowerment films of Bollywood

Here's another Tabu starrer in the list and it happens to be one of her finest works as well. Astitva is a bilingual film primarily made in Marathi language and considering the fact that it was made way back in 2001, you need to give it to the director for coming out with this issue which needed to be taken into the account. This film has a unique take on the subject of women empowerment and has compared the male egos with the female ones and makes it conclusive how the former happens to be always given a priority over the latter. 
Although one may be critical of how this movie showed only one side of a relationship while others were completely ignored, the essence is captured beautifully in the project. Gender discrimination and its impact has been conveyed beautifully in this subject with remarkable and realistic performances by Tabu and Sachin Kadekar. You need to give it a watch for once! 

Mother India 

Women empowerment films of Bollywood

Talking about a film that was amazing in its own rights, earned the box office acclaim, got amazing reviews, received awards and of course a nomination at Oscars, the first nomination coming from India. You know we are talking about Mother India here. It is crazy to think that this film was released way back in 1957 and is still regarded as one of the best products coming out of India in terms of cinema. This was truly one of its own kind. 

Nargis, the main lead of the film, won several awards for her outstanding performance in this piece of art. At a time when people wouldn't even think about a film without a "hero", this really took everyone by surprise. Mehboob Khan captured the essence of the story effectively where a woman struggles to raise her children but she never gives up and fights all odds. It is still considered a benchmark for women-centric films which speak volumes about the impact it has created and will continue to create for the generations to come. You cannot think of any better examples than this when you talk about women empowerment, absolutely astounding for the time period that it released in.

Bhumika 

Women empowerment films of Bollywood

It is a film based on the life of a very famous stage actress named Hansa Wadkar. This woman would live life on her own will and choices and has to bear repercussions for it at the same point of time. She goes on to become this huge star who sees a downfall due to personal life problems. The film is all but a take on a woman who lives her life like a man would but no way does she get respected like a man would for doing the same bunch of things. It exposes the society which oozes nothing but hate and inequality for women out there. 

The good thing about this project is that it doesn't blame the woman for her actions which we would have rather seen in other films belonging to the same era. It simply tells you that a woman can live her life the way she wants to but in that case, she has to lose everything that belongs to her. So much for women empowerment, isn't it? A marvellous directorial for Shyam Benegal with national film award for a groundbreaking performance by Smita Patil! 

Damini 

Women empowerment films of Bollywood

Remember the iconic "Tarikh pe Tarikh" dialogue of Sunny Deol which is impersonated by so many people even to this day? Yes, this iconic dialogue is the highlight point of this film. It is the most impactful performance of Sunny Deol's career but he doesn't play the lead in this movie, he features in a supporting character. Damini stars Meenakshi Seshadri in the lead role around a very important topic directed by Rajkumar Santoshi.

It is a story of a woman who catches his brother-in-law and his friends raping the housemaid but she is not allowed to speak about it in the public eye as it would hurt the image of the family. The story evolves how the same woman fights for the justice of the housemaid and hires a lawyer played by Sunny Deol to do the job. Although a commercial potboiler unlike the other films on this list, the film definitely leaves a huge mark with some iconic dialogues, a riveting screenplay, awesome performances which are all backed by a great direction. This is one of the basic steps towards women empowerment which this film took and got its acclaim too! 

Pinjar 

Women empowerment films of Bollywood

When we talk about best female actors in the history of Hindi cinema, we barely bring Urmila Matondkar into the conversation. But there's no doubt in my mind that she was always an exceptional performer although her career was cut short early on. Pinjar is one of the pillars in her acting career as the character of Puro played by her was truly one of its own kind and a remarkable performance by all means. A true trailblazer which depicts why women empowerment is so very important.

Pinjar focuses on the time period around the partition. A Hindu woman is abducted by a Muslim and when she somehow escapes, her family abandons her and she is forced to go back to the Muslim named Rashid played by Manoj Bajpayee. You gotta keep a box of tissues alongside cause by the end of it, you will be an emotional mess. A stunning work by Chandraprakash Dwivedi to make this one of Hindi cinema's iconic works! 


Which of these films have you watched? Which other films should have featured in the list according to you? Do let me know in the comments! 

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18 Comments

  1. Woahhhh this was really good and yeah I gotta watch all these movies once for sure!

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    1. Go for it if you haven't gone yet, I am sure you won't regret!

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  2. Replies
    1. You need to check out the rest of them too brother!

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  3. It was very informative and eye opening. Thanks.

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  4. Such an empowering list! Thank you got this, I'll definitely try to watch them.

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    Replies
    1. Ya go for it, you wouldn't be disappointed!

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  5. bandit queen 🔥
    The character itself is revolutionary
    And When u realize its a true story.. Omg... Breaks my heart to even think of the reality behind it....
    Still very much relate to current Indian society 💔

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    Replies
    1. Ya Bandit Queen is heartbreaking and Inspiring at the same point of time!

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  6. This is an amazing. I'll surely watch all these movies.

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