The good and bad girl – two tropes often planted in films to pit against each other. For decades, if not longer, Bollywood has showcased the hero ‘overcoming’ the bad girl (often painted a vamp), to win the love of the ‘good girl’.
Over the years, with introduction of women who were more than just an ‘arm candy’, we saw movies and characters change slightly.
While trying to shed some stereotypes, we still carried the ‘bechari’ woman trope along with us. And especially the widowed ‘abla naari’ who remained a character that demanded sympathy and rescuing at times.
And then came Abhishek Chaubey’s Ishqiya, set in rural Uttar Pradesh. It offered us Krishna, the lead role essayed by Vidya Balan, who headlined the premise and fully controlled the narrative.
The film broke the conventional stereotypical notions of a ‘helpless woman’ as well as blurred the lines between a protagonist and antagonist. While speaking of her character in an interview, Balan told Filmibeat that Krishna has gray shades much like any other woman.
The thing is mostly women roles in Bollywood are not etched out well in most of the films and they are made either the vamp or the ever suffering Bharatiya nari. Women are rarely portrayed as real characters.
-Vidya Balan to Filmibeat
When we are introduced to Krishna, wife of a guerilla warrior, initially she is keen on having a happy life with her husband. However, when she loses her husband to a fire, rather than taking a step back she hatches a plan (revealed way later in the film) with the help of thieves — Khalu (Naseeruddin Shah) and Babban (Arshad Warsi). She sees through her husband’s malicious plan to kill her off and live a life free of any hindrances.
A woman not waiting for saviours was refreshing to watch in a Hindi gangster film, and that too as a well-woven and complex character.
With near to no submissiveness and extremely expressive in her desires, Krishna owns her sexuality and turns the table on the male gaze. She identifies her power here and isn’t afraid of using it for her benefit. But don’t get us wrong. We aren’t cheering her for those schemes here but the attempt of presenting a flawed female character that can be rooted for.
None of us is a doodh ki dulhi (pure) and we react as per the requirement or the demand of the relationship. Sometimes we are manipulative, sometimes we are scheming but we are not necessarily bad.
-Vidya Balan to Filmibeat
Not that we haven’t seen vengeful women in our films prior to this. Rekha, a widowed mother, in Khoon Bhari Maang returns with a new face and identity to kill the man who tried to murder her. Krishan is the same, and yet, different. And it’s all thanks to the comparatively realistic approach of the makers and a well played act.
And, as a viewer, you see Krishna’s flaws and so does Khalu and Babban (after a point) but along with us they, too, vouch for her.
She emerges as a someone that’s beyond good or bad, one of those unconventional characters that can’t be put in a box, let alone be labelled ‘bechari‘.