It can be challenging to build any kind of character, but given the history of Hindi cinema, it is clear that creating powerful female characters is exactly not their forte.
However, I’d like to make it clear that this statement does not claim that Indian cinema has completely failed to provide us with inspiring on-screen female protagonists before the ‘Bollywood supremacy’ brigade charges at me.
But it is obvious that Hindi flicks still being made today haven’t fully figured out how to create a good female character. Certain characters are exceptionally well written, but are they enough?
When compared to now, the situation for women in real life was very distinct during the golden age of Bollywood, and the characters that were shown on-screen placed more emphasis on breaking down barriers. Even though we have a lot more leeway now to construct a fierce, badass female protagonist, we nevertheless sometimes choose to let them be shadowed by the male leads.
One artist, however, must be remembered for his outstanding contribution to the presentation of authentically feminist characters during a time when the idea was hardly known. And that would be Guru Dutt, an actor, and director.
The independent, brave, and feminist protagonists in Dutt’s movies stand out for more reasons than only highlighting the struggles that artists face in real life.
The films were excellent at capturing the changing nature of the modern world and the women who live in it, even though they were seen through the eyes of a male character. However, the feminist nature of Guru Dutt’s films cannot be contested.
The way he explored female characters within the confines of traditional societal structures was another intriguing aspect of his tales. From within, they questioned those norms and conventions.
Mr. & Mrs. 55, one of his best-known pieces, was as original as it was possible to be at the time of its creation. The film contains a powerful message about not reducing the character to just one aspect, despite the fact that it centres on a young woman and her financial gain via marriage.
(1955) ‘Mr & Mrs 55’ – Guru Dutt, Madhubala. pic.twitter.com/Xw3Idr5PGd— Film History Pics (@FilmHistoryPic) September 3, 2019
There is no disputing that Seeta Devi, who was portrayed by Lalita Pawar, is one of the early feminist figures we saw in movies, despite the fact that it undoubtedly had its flaws. Her perspective on marriage and the notion that women should not be confined to it at all costs must have caused the audience to reflect.
If we discuss another classic that is still highly relevant, Pyaasa, it showed us a sex worker who isn’t looking for a saviour in her life. Gulaabo, who is competent and headstrong, ends up keeping Vijay, the main character, on edge.
It’s fascinating to note that Guru Dutt’s storyline nevertheless emphasised the idea that women’s work is crucial for creating ideal citizens. Even the work of prostitutes is recognised not as a personal moral failing but rather as a requirement for their livelihood. Plus, thankfully, Dutt’s movies don’t have the idea of the social-patriarchal state of ethics.
One of the cornerstones of Dutt’s vision for a progressive nation was the idea of women participating equally in social upheaval. And that was precisely evident in his works. In one of his early works, Geeta Bali played the lead role of Nisha, a ferocious princess who takes on a Portuguese slave ship to become a pirate monarch and rebel.
Baaz appeared to be much ahead of his time in Bollywood, where it is still difficult to portray women as the main characters rather than just as arm candy in action movies. This specific movie shows a civilization where new nationalist acting styles are defined by the responsibilities women play in society.
Later, as the 1960s drew near, Guru Dutt released Kaagaz Ke Phool, another outstanding work in which the actor portrays a distraught film director. Waheeda Rahman portrays the female lead, Shanti, in the movie who enters his life at a particularly difficult time, but she isn’t merely a “savior” in the story. She is shown to be the one who takes charge of their relationship and to be a woman with aspirations and desires.
And to Hindi cinema’s misfortune, we never saw Dutt take the helm again after this particular film. A greater understanding of how to craft a female protagonist can be sought in the classics made by the filmmaker with great aesthetic sensibility and vision of seeing beyond the obvious.
The films of Guru Dutt continue to influence filmmakers and pique the people’s interest in similar artistic abilities. Despite the fact that there will never be another like him, we can just let his works serve as the yardstick for a better and greater cinema.