Humans have multi-faceted personalities. It is impossible to box them in binaries or put them in a distinct black or white category. But it seems like Bollywood movies cannot grasp this simple concept and hence through all these years they have only given us two shades of women characters – the good girl and the bad girl.

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In filmy parlance, the good girl is someone who upholds the Indian sanskaar. She is someone who works tirelessly for the family often putting her needs and wants on the back burner, and is the ideal wife and the ideal daughter-in-law, while also performing all the religious rituals. The bad girl, on the other hand, is someone who lives life on her own terms and defies societal norms.

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Let’s start with an example. In Cocktail, there are two women with two distinct personalities. Their personalities do not work in a grey shade and they are boxed in binaries. Meera is the good girl while Veronica is the bad girl. Meera is the sanskaari woman, while Veronica is free-spirited. All good girl vs bad girl movies often ends with the good girl winning the unsaid battle. And Cocktail is no exception. Bollywood conveniently forgot the fact that the boyfriend cheated on the bad girl with the good girl while making sure it was only the good girl who was done right in the movie.

Another example is Aitraaz. Sonia is portrayed as the bad girl because she chose to abort the child to pursue her ambition. While Sonia is wrong for cheating and for her false case of harassment against Raj, the way the movie portrayed her as a bad girl for choosing her career over the child was problematic. She was villainized for being ambitious. On the other hand, Priya was portrayed as the good girl who lived happily ever after.

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Let’s also talk about Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Anjali is a tomboy while Tina is her complete opposite. Tina sings a bhajan when asked to sing a song and this move only etches her place as the good girl. Anjali wasn’t put across as the bad girl but the only thing that makes her undesirable to Rahul is her tomboy personality. Funnily, he married her when she became the “good girl”.

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The problem with the good girl vs bad girl portrayal is how this depiction completely erases the fact that women are human and have their own agency and autonomy. It only goes on to propagate how there can only be two kinds of women – the good and the bad. It takes away a woman’s agency to be a complex and multi-layered human who can make mistakes. Another problematic fact is how it is always the good girl who takes away the cake. This depiction only goes on to pit women against each other.

The normalisation of the good girl – bad girl trope only goes on to solidify the societal idea that women have their primary role as caregivers only. The fact that being independent and living life on your own terms is seen as a trait reserved only for the bad girl makes women feel guilty for even choosing to put their needs ahead of others. In an age-old fight between the good girl and the bad girl in Bollywood, it is only women who lose the battle ultimately.