For the longest time, most Indian movies and shows carved female characters from the same mould, lending them little depth. But finally, in recent years, certain movies and web series have given us a wide variety of relatable, brilliant and complex female characters.
Here's a look at some of the best female characters from Indian web series and movies in 2020:
1. Aarya Sareen: Aarya
The show that proved, hopefully once and for all, that real talent does not fade away with age, Aarya gifted us a relatable female lead, even though she didn't belong to a world the average moviegoer inhabits. Aarya was a dedicated mother, a grieving wife, a betrayed sister and daughter, and a badass crimelord on the rise. And each part of her personality shone through, making her one of our favourite fictional characters.
2. Bulbbul: Bulbbul
In Bulbbul, we saw both, the harsh reality that afflicts most women under patriarchy and the fantasy that more than one woman has dreamed of - a female warrior that puts an end to patriarchal hell once and for all. What made Bulbbul's journey relatable wasn't the suffering she went through, but rather the way she responded to the torture - rising from the ashes like a phoenix but retaining her core identity.
3. Pushpavalli: Pushpavalli
While moving cities, kidnapping pets, and breaking your leg, for a crush, is definitely taking things a little too far, Pushpavalli is still one of our most favourite characters. Because she is unlike most female leads, vamps or protagonists, that Indian cinema has served. A nuanced performance and exceptionally layered writing make Pushpavalli more than just a crazy stalker - it makes her a character you want to know more of, even if you're not rooting for her (she deliberately caused an explosion, after all).
4. Beena Tripathi: Mirzapur
Whether it's using the perception family members have of her to her own advantage, or manipulating facts and reality for her gain, Beena Tripathi is one clever player. As she proves in the second season, she is more than capable of ruling Mirzapur from the sidelines. Her actions may not always be morally right but they fit right in, in the world of deceit and treachery.
5. Jugnu Chaudhary: Churails
Most creators, when writing the modern woman, make her accomplished but not relatable because they make her completely unidimensional, stripping her of the qualities, personality traits, and mannerisms that the audience can relate to. But not Jugnu. Flawed, independent, sassy, and badass, Jugnu was one of the most memorable and interesting on-screen characters from the year.
6. Zubaida: Chudails
Zubaida represented the struggle that most women, who choose to walk away from patriarchal set-ups and toxic families, face - the deep-rooted desire to have your family accept you for the person you are. Women may move away to write their own destinies, much like Zubdaida did, but it's still hard to let go of the innate love we have for our family.
7. Nikhat Hussain: Criminal Justice S2
From helping Anuradha understand the long-lasting impact of emotional abuse to standing up to her own mother, Nikhat became a representation of the women who choose to learn from their experiences and grow, rather than get bogged down by how unfair life has been. Sensitive, woke, and willing to fight for what's right, Nikhat was truly a realistic feminist icon.
8. Dolly and Kitty: Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare
Cousins first, friends later, Dolly and Kitty--through their individual adventures and shared experiences--held a mirror to why some women choose to chase the forever elusive freedom. Because in a patriarchal society, the dreams and desires of women, no matter how commonplace or fanciful, are constantly stifled and put under unnecessary scrutiny. Flawed but relatable, Dolly and Kitty were characters most of us saw ourselves in.
9. Upasana and Chanbi: Axone
While Axone was a clever, endearing, and emotional example of how citizens can be made to feel 'strangers' in their own country, it was also a beautiful look at the intangible but powerful bond of friendship. Offhand offensive comments, past trauma, cooking struggles, Upasana and Chanbi take it all in their stride, simply because they wish to cook an authentic dish for their friend. And that makes Axone as much a tale of prejudice, as of friendship.
10. Fatima Begum: Gulabo Sitabo
Fatima Begum was a representation of all things cool, standing in proud defiance of an ageist and sexist society. Not only did she have the ultimate trick up her sleeve, but she also proved to be far more clever, self-aware, and most importantly, confident than what either Baankery or Mirza believed. If only our future selves could be half as witty and badass as she was in the movie!
11. Vivek: What Are The Odds
Vivek took us back to our awkward teenage years, with never-ending angst that turned into silly rebellion and questionable choices in crushes (though for some of us carried the latter into adulthood). Sarcastic and sensitive at the same time, watching Vivek was like taking a delightful, if at times embarrassing, nostalgic trip.
12. Manju Devi (Pradhan): Panchayat
Sometimes the things that appear deceptively simple to us, can be the very mountain across which lies a woman's sense of self-worth and independence. Like learning the National Anthem was for Manju Devi. Equally progressive and conservative, she accurately represented the generation of women who wish to break the shackles of patriarchy but at the same time, have also become comfortable with and conditioned to the way things are functioning.
13. Lata: A Suitable Boy
It may have been set decades before 2020, but the struggles Lata experienced, with a mother obsessed with her marriage and a love life that was far more complex than she'd have liked, Lata could have easily fit into today's world. Wonder what that says about 'progress' in Indian society?
14. Sarita: Taj Mahal 1989
Sarita was a revelation! At first glance, she may appear to be yet another woman suffering under the ennui of marriage. But as the story progresses, you catch glimpses of the person she was, even as the woman she has become makes her presence felt. Amateur detective, inquisitive teacher, and a partner who'd rather divorce than be cheated on, Sarita is all that and more. The only thing she is not, is 'plain and simple'.
15. Amrita Sabharwal: Thappad
Amrita's story showcased how, even in 2020, women, irrespective of their class, continue to become a victim of toxic masculinity, till the time they take an active stand against it. With an emotional, evocative performance, Amrita became the voice of reason, urging us to take a long, hard look at how we might be enabling the very system that threatens to crush our individuality and spirit, simply because we've become accustomed to a broken, unequal society.
Who has been your most favourite character? Let us know in the comments section below.