In her book Bad Feminist: Essays, Roxanne Gray talks about how society invented a whole new term "anti-hero" to admire, for the want of a better word, men with unlikeable qualities. But women, especially ones with "unlikeable qualities" were still expected to fall into stereotypical boxes.
However, women exist beyond the narrow boxes patriarchy tries to stifle them in. And as the saying goes, art imitates life. So here's a look at some of the most badass female anti-heroes from Bollywood, who earned our begrudging admiration:
1. Aarya: Aarya
Aarya was a grieving widow, a protective mother, and a betrayed daughter. But, she was also running a drug syndicate. Yes, she did it for family. But so did Walter White in Breaking Bad. The very fact that the vast majority of us hated the cop trying to capture drug lords more than the woman running the drug syndicate shows how hard we fell for this anti-hero.
2. Susanna: 7 Khoon Maaf
Being unlucky in love is certainly no bed of roses. But if it pushes you to murder people, despite how good or bad they were, then you do earn the moniker of an anti-hero (which is a far better term than 'black widow', IMO). Neither Priyanka's phenomenal act, nor Susanna's enlightenment at the end, can brush aside the fact that she orchestrated 6 murders.
3. Pushpavalli: Pushpavalli
Perhaps the one character that's the easiest to categorize as an anti-hero, Pushpavalli shattered so many stereotypes when it came to female representation on-screen, even within the comparatively progressive world of web series. But ultimately, Pushpavalli was our very own Joe, and her machinations may seem funny at times but are undoubtedly deadly.
4. Beena Tripathi: Mirzapur
This was a tough character to categorize. On one hand, she is trying to survive in a nest of vipers and thus her unscrupulous actions can't be judged in solitude. But, it was a choice to cheat on her husband and plan the murder of all the male members of the Tripathi family to protect her child. And that makes her an anti-hero, albeit one you admire more than her Western counterpart, Cersei!
5. Nimmi: Maqbool
Everybody believes Macbeth aka Maqbool is the 'anti-hero' of the story, conveniently forgetting that if it wasn't for Lady Macbeth, aka Nimmi, Maqbool would have never let his greed and ambition take over. And while Tabu's phenomenal act (matched equally by Irrfan's stellar performance) is nothing short of heroic, Nimmi is easily one of the greatest anti-heroes on the list. Because being an anti-hero, in a world of gangsters, is no easy feat.
6. Sarika: Ek Hasina Thi
What makes you an anti-hero? In some cases, like Maqbool, Pushpavalli, it's obvious. But in Ek Hasina Thi, it's a thin line separating revenge from cold-blooded murder. But one that Sarika crosses. Yes, Karan's actions make it hard to pity him. But what can also not be denied is that while Sarika is not a victim by the end of the film, she is no hero either.
7. Madhavi Devi: Saheb, Biwi Aur Gangster
The sequels may not hold a candle to the original, but when Madhavi Devi first came on the silver screen, she definitely challenged the notion of an ideal heroine. Whether it was owning up to her desires, or manipulating her lover and her husband for her personal gain, Madhavi Devi was without scruples. And in a world bereft of Indian web series (at the time), she proved to be an unexpected leading lady.
A special mention to Tara Khanna from Made in Heaven, and Bharti Mandal from Geeli Pucchi (Ajeeb Daastaans). While I'm inclined to believe that both of them were simply surviving in a man's world with the tools in hand, it's hard to ignore the fact that not all of their actions were what you'd call moral. For the time being though, I'd just fall back to calling them "grey" characters, that you simply can't ignore.
Who's your favourite from the list? Let us know in the comments section below.