There are only a handful of instances of seeing women characters on the screen that are written and directed by women themselves. One of those instances is the filmography of Zoya Akhtar. Akhtar’s movies are a cut above for they represent modern-day India.
What really sets Akhtar’s movies apart is how well her characters, especially women, are fleshed out. They have their own shortcomings and flaws that, at the end of the day, only make them human and relatable. At a time when Bollywood only uses the good girl vs bad girl trope to put women in boxes, her complex female characters are a huge win. Despite all their layers, here’s an ode to the complex female characters from Zoya Akhtar’s movies who are flawed, real, and human.
1. Sona in Luck By Chance (2009)
Sona is a struggling actress in Mumbai trying her luck to make it big in the film industry. After leaving Kanpur, she had not been in touch with her family and that is partly responsible for the fact that she looks for attachment from strangers in an unknown city. Even if that comes from the sleazy filmmaker. You can feel a sense of sorrow and even sympathize with her when things don’t work in her favour. She loses the film, catches her boyfriend cheating on her, and later faces flak from the said boyfriend. Sona was just like every other girl trying to make it big in a new city without family support.
Laila has an unconventional job. She is a diving instructor in Spain and she rides a bike. She lives life on her own terms. She knew she was in love with Arjun but despite going with him, she chose her own ambitions and goals. And in hindsight, that was the most practical thing to do.
While we have Laila, there was Rahila who chose her own path in a different era. Narrated by Salman, we get to know Imran’s mother wanted to have the child even when Salman did not want to marry her. Despite this, Rahila went ahead and had the baby amidst all the societal taboos. Everything she faced while raising Imran made her choose to not tell Imran about his father. Both the women chose their own paths.
3. Neelam, Ayesha, and Farah in Dil Dhadakne Do (2015)
Neelam was not the typical mother often portrayed in Bollywood films. She was unknowingly toxic, period. But again what makes her real is the fact that she was a product of patriarchy and there are many Neelams. Also not forgetting the fact that she was in an unhappy marriage and she often catches her husband flirting with other women. The most real part about Neelam was her breaking down and taking solace in food while crying her heart out.
Ayesha lacked support from her family and her husband was no good either. She wanted to divorce her husband but her family never supported her decision because ‘log kya kahenge‘. Despite her business acumen, the family treated her as “paraya dhan“. She stood her ground and made a successful career for herself while choosing to step away from a loveless marriage.
Farah gave us another glimpse of a strong female character. Despite her family’s disapproval, she took off on her own path and chose to work on the ship as a dancer. At one point, Kabir asks her not to practice for he will take care of the pay cut. Farah stood her ground and says she performs on the ship because she enjoys doing that.
4. Safeena in Gully Boy (2019)
Safeena is a medical student and is portrayed as Murad’s possessive girlfriend. Safeena was toxic when she went and hit a girl on the head with a bottle. She was driven by her emotions and had a hard time dealing with jealousy and extreme attachment. She was called out for her behaviour. Murad confronts her about this and so do her parents. But on the other hand, Safeena also had to fight for her education while her parents found rishtas for her. She is flawed but all of us know of a Safeena in our lives.
5. Tara in Made In Heaven (2019)
Tara’s actions have motives behind them. She is a product of her circumstances. Her mother taught her that this was the only right way to move out of poverty. On the other hand, she has her mother-in-law who time and again reminds her of her social standing. She has manipulated Adil in a way that he falls for her and proposes to her. Throughout the series, she is a paradox. You don’t feel sorry for her, but when you know where she comes from you realize that Tara is flawed and uniquely human. Tara is no saint, and neither does she wish to be.
Zoya Akhtar’s women characters do not fit into the mould Bollywood has crafted for women. They are unique, complex, and have their own journeys to fulfil. And that comes across as a refreshing change in a film industry that often uses women characters as mere flower pots.