Hindi Features

From Arth To Lipstick Under My Burkha: The Heartening Rise In Women-Centric Films in Bollywood

The Hindi film industry has, in the recent past, witnessed a heartening rise in women-oriented subjects. While Arth, Manthan, Mirch Masala and other films from the 80s stood out for their bold approach, more recent ones, including Queen, Pink, Lipstick Under My Burkha and Secret Superstar, delivered hard-hitting messages on discovering oneself, consent, equality and women’s sexuality, among others.


Here’s a list of films that highlight the lives of women from their perspective.

Lipstick Under My Burkha (2016)

Four small-town women chase their dreams and desires through secret acts of rebellion in this Alankrita Shrivastava film. The story is about Rehana Abidi (Plabita Borthakur), a burkha-clad college girl  who secretly aspires to become a pop singer; Shireen Aslam (Konkona SenSharma), an oppressed mother of three who secretly lives a life as a saleswoman; Leela (Aahana Kumra), a young beautician who plots to elope with her boyfriend; and matriarch Usha (Ratna Pathak Shah), who has resigned herself to being called buaji but rediscovers her sexuality over anonymous phone calls with her swimming instructor. Caught in the tangles of societal pressure and traditions, these women fight against all odds only in search of a little freedom.

The deep red lipstick becomes the weapon used in the fight for empowerment, to give women a chance to be who they actually are.

Queen (2013)

How often do you see a girl going alone on a honeymoon? A simple, not-so-confident girl turns into a liberated woman after she decides to not wallow in grief after her fiancé calls off the wedding. She, instead, sets out on her already-planned honeymoon, leading to a journey of self-discovery. She makes friends, learns to navigate her way through the world…It is then that Rani or Queen, as her fiancé affectionately calls her, sheds her fears and inhibitions. Kangana Ranaut speaks every woman’s mind in the film. In an industry where women protagonists are often viewed through the lens of men, Queen comes as a breath of fresh air.

Fashion (2008) and Mary Kom (2014)

Madhur Bhandarkar’s Fashion revolves around the middle-class  Meghna Mathur (Priyanka Chopra) who dreams of becoming a top model after winning a small-scale fashion show. In her journey, she battles various clichés – an arrogant, successful rival model (Kangana Ranaut), a bad-ass tycoon (Arbaaz Khan)… She makes it to the top, but loses the plot and returns home to her parents. How she gathers herself after that and rules the ramp is the crux of the plot.

Mary Kom cast Priyanka Chopra in a de-glam version as the boxer who did India proud. The movie chronicled the life of Mary Kom who went through several hardships before audaciously accomplishing her ultimate dream.

English Vinglish (2012)

Shashi, played by the late actress Sridevi, is a mother and an entrepreneur, but all her family, barring her mother-in-law, sees is her inability to speak English. She ends up travelling alone to the US for her niece’s wedding, and she develops the courage to enrol in a spoken English class.

English Vinglish is a gentle yet hard-hitting story of how a woman finds her self-respect after her daughter and husband disregard her. In her debut film, director Gauri Shinde addresses the never-dying issue of how people are judged depending on the language they speak.


Tumhari Sulu (2017)

Here is a woman constantly reminded about her failures. We are told she has failed thrice in Class 12, before she falls in love and gets married. But, nothing can stop Sulochana or Sulu from pursing her desire to work. She grabs the chance to become an RJ for a late-night show ‘Tumhari Sulu’.

Her twin sisters have issues with her working while her husband supports her. When things look difficult, Sulu figures out yet another solution and keeps working while her husband runs a catering company. The film solely rests on the able shoulders of Vidya Balan, and she spoke for millions of homemakers in this Suresh Triveni film. It was a little loosely-constructed, but the good intent made up for it. It is being remade into Tamizh by Radha Mohan as Kaatrin Mozhi, starring Jyothika.

Pink (2016)

Three friends Meenal Arora (Taapsee Pannu), Falak Ali (Kirti Kulhari), and Andrea (Andrea Tariang) are caught in a tricky situation and seek justice. Meenal is kidnapped and abused by Rajvir Singh (Angad Bedi), a young man with a strong political influence. He is also the sole cause of the women’s misery. The film speaks about sexual abuse, objectifying women, and the consequences of living in a patriarchal society. Amitabh Bachchan’s advocate Deepak Sehgal takes up their case and speaks in court about what consent means.

Aniruddh Roy Chowdhury’s Pink can easily be called one of Bollywood’s best depictions of feminism. Pink also touches upon hitherto untouched subjects such as consent for sex and why a woman’s sexual desire is not immoral.

Mardaani (2014)

Pradeep Sarkar’s heart wrenching tale on child trafficking is a star vehicle designed for Rani Mukerji. She plays Mumbai Crime Branch inspector Shivani, who fights against a local goon who kidnaps a street girl whom she is fond of. The title piques interest; ironically, the film speaks of someone who showcases masculinity while also staying feminine.

The film stays clear of getting into the gender and sex debate, and sticks to being a crime drama, which happens to have a female lead. Rani is relatable as the cop who gets the work done without indulging in  testosterone-induced stunts.

Astitva (2000)

Astitva is Aditi Pandit’s (Tabu) discovery about her desires, how she makes peace with her life, and when the past comes calling, how she acknowledges and embraces the change it brings about. A middle-aged Aditi has lost all sense of self and only focusses on her husband Shrikant and son. Shrikant believes a woman must not work and is uncomfortable when son Aniket wants to bring home a working bahu.


Aditi has a past that is linked to music and her guru, and all hell breaks loose 26 years later. Aditi walks out of home, and lending her support is the girl her son brought home.

Arth (1982)

A married man cheating on his wife with another woman is not a new concept. What made Mahesh Bhatt’s Arth tick was the characterisation of Pooja (Shabana Azmi), Inder Malhotra (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) and Kavita Sanyal (Smita Patil). Pooja is an orphan who is emotionally and financially dependent on her director-husband. Inder is involved with Kavita, a successful actress. When he comes clean to Pooja, her life is torn. She gathers herself, fights the odds and gets back to living. Alone. She has grown in confidence and does not want to ever use any man for a crutch.