Women characters have often been used as a means for the male characters to steer and lead the film in their direction. The woman character is at times roughly chalked out, or just used as a support for the male character. Sadly, a lot of Bollywood films fall into this category (barring biopics, of course). Now, what if filmmakers turned the tables and let women take the centre stage?
Well, this has happened and there are a handful of movies where the popular male leads played supporting roles and let women take charge of the movie. We compiled a list of 19 such movies. Read on to find out which ones have made it to this list.
1. Queen (2013)
Kangana Ranaut owned this movie. Vijay, played by Rajkummar Rao, had only one job in the movie – that is, refusing to marry Rani just a day before their wedding. This move made Rani go to Paris and Amsterdam alone for her pre-booked honeymoon and what follows is a journey of exploration, and identity formation. Queen, undoubtedly, paved the path for modern-day women-centric films in Bollywood.
2. English Vinglish (2012) Shashi Godbole, a successful entrepreneur, has just one thing lacking – her inability to speak English – and that makes her an object of humiliation by her husband and her daughter. This only pushes her to take up English-speaking classes and stand her ground. Played by Adil Hussain, the husband does not take up the screen space and he lets Shashi take the lead. And we were all bowled over by Shashi’s speech.
3. Heroine (2012)
With actors such as Arjun Rampal and Randeep Hooda, this was Kareena Kapoor Khan’s movie. These two actors only helped Mahi come face to face with her mental issues, her life, and her career choices. This was also the first movie which showed a heroine with bipolar disorder albeit melodramatic, at times.
4. Mardaani (2014)
If men had Chulbul Pandey as the cop who can save the world, Rani Mukherji’s Shivani Shivaji Roy is the female counterpart of that. Shivani investigates and busts a human trafficking racket. What’s interesting is how almost all of her colleagues at the office bureau are men who do not overshadow her. Even her husband (played by Jisshu Sengupta) is a supporting character and so is the antagonist (played by Tahir Raj Bhasin).
5. Akira (2016)
An action movie with a female lead. The lead role is played by Sonakshi Sinha and one cannot miss Anurag Kashyap’s role as the villainous police officer, Rane. Rane’s notorious habits lead him to his downfall and it only helps Akira and SP Rabiya (Konkona Sen Sharma) drive the movie in their direction, thereby giving us not one but two female leads taking the stage.
6. Raazi (2018)
Sehmat leads us through the lives of secret agents and army personnel. Her husband, Iqbal, (played by Vicky Kaushal) only plays a supporting role to help her complete her agenda and job as a secret agent. Even though Iqbal finds out Sehmat’s truth, the movie does not divert the plot towards Iqbal. It still keeps us glued to Sehmat while she navigates her duties and personal relationships.
7. Panga (2020)
There are countless tales of women leaving their passions and ambitions after childbirth for a plethora of reasons. And Jaya is one of them. With Jassi Gill as Jaya’s husband, Prashant, he only plays a supporting role. It is actually the child who pushes her mother to take charge of her narrative. The support of the child and the husband gives Jaya the strength to mark her comeback in Kabaddi.
8. Kahaani (2012)
This movie had a power-packed cast – Vidya Balan, Parambrata Chatterjee, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, and Saswata Chatterjee. Yet, it was Vidya’s movie all in all. The characters only help her exact her revenge for her dead husband and unborn child.
9. Laaga Chunari Mein Daag (2007)
With three strong female leads (Jaya Bachchan, Rani Mukherji, and Konkona Sen Sharma), this movie was way ahead of its time. The movie explored how cruel circumstances led the female to a path where injustice was rampant while she proved to be a “worthy son” to her father. The male characters simply helped with the flow of the narrative and didn’t steal the limelight.
10. Khoon Bhari Maang (1988)
With the only aim of exacting revenge on her husband who pushed her into a lake with crocodiles, Aarti was not going to back down. The movie had Rekha, Kabir Bedi, and Shatrughan Sinha. While Rekha played the meek and mild adarsh woman, the second part saw a massive transformation. The movie was written in such a way that even Shatrughan Sinha’s character could not steal the limelight from Rekha.
From a single role in the first film to a double role in the next film, Kangana Ranaut shone as Tanu Trivedi in this movie. With male characters such as R Madhavan and Jimmy Sheirgill playing supporting roles, Tanu was written in such a way that reflected her flawed yet completely human nature.
12. Piku (2015)
Piku was the representation of a modern woman that we all needed. Struggling with her professional and personal life and also with the whims of her father, Piku on some levels was all of us. With Amitabh Bachchan and Irrfan Khan as the leads in supporting roles, Deepika Padukone’s Piku was fiercely opinionated and stood her ground.
13. Dear Zindagi (2016)
Kaira’s journey from her downturn in Mumbai, to her coming face to face with her problems in Goa, and her final reconciliation is beautifully portrayed by Alia Bhatt. With Shahrukh Khan playing the endearing psychologist, he only helps Kaira to heal and become a better version of herself.
This movie brought to the forefront a topic which needs discussion – consent. With Amitabh Bachchan as the retired lawyer, he does initiate a lot of uncomfortable yet needed questions. But it is actually the story of the women, especially Taapsee Pannu. And also of all women in the country.
15. Highway (2014) Randeep Hooda’s Mahabir is used as a plot device through which we learn about Veera and her traumas. Veera then unravels Mahabir’s story in bits and pieces. While they do get close by the end of the journey, it is only through Mahabir’s support that Veera is finally able to confront her family at the end.
16. Gangubai Kathiawadi (2022)
Gangubai is a timid sex worker who slowly rises as the matriarch in the Mumbai mafia. The movie explores the lives of sex workers and Alia Bhatt’s performance is truly spectacular. The men in the movie (Ajay Devgn, Shantanu Maheshwari, Vijay Raaz) only play pivotal roles.
17. Bulbbul (2020)
In supernatural thriller movies, women are shown as the first ones to seek refuge and often the most powerless. Bulbbul turns this around and shows us a child bride who secretly fights against the injustice the women face in her village. The male characters played by Avinash Tiwary and Rahul Bose only act as side characters to lead the story forward.
18. Nil Battey Sannata (2015)
The movie explores the relationship between a mother and a daughter. A single mother, Chanda, wants her child, Apu, to pass her exams and in order to motivate her, Chanda enrolls herself in the school along with her daughter.
19. Mom (2017) With Sridevi as the mother who sets out to avenge her stepdaughter after she is sexually assaulted at a party, the movie shows us a fierce female lead. While the movie has fine male actors such as Akshaye Khanna and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, they only play a supporting role in the movie.
Which other movies do you think have popular male leads taking the sidelines?