Meet the women who changed Hindi cinema by choosing the road less traveled

Dia MirzaDeepika PadukoneAlia BhattVidya Balan and Taapsee Pannu have carved their path by making creative and personal choices that are brave and unconventional.

The Hindi film industry is decisively male-centric, where women do not get equal space in boardrooms, on and off the screen and are expected to conform to pre-existing and outmoded moulds. Here are, however, a few women who made their own rules and did not let anyone dictate their creative and personal decisions.

They refused to be relegated to one-dimensional parts in male-centric films, broke away from what conventional Hindi film heroines are meant to do and went on to work, create and live on their terms.

Here is how they did it:

Dia Mirza

After winning the Miss Asia Pacific International crown in 2000, Dia Mirza went on to become a successful actor, producer, entrepreneur and climate champion. Today she is a globally respected voice of change as the UN Environment Goodwill Ambassador & United Nations Secretary-General Advocate for Sustainable Development Goals. As a young mother, she is also constantly highlighting the importance of preserving the environment for future generations. The actor, who turned 40 in December last year, is also being offered some of the most challenging roles of her career. These include an award-winning turn in the hit series, ‘Kaafir’ and a pathbreaking part in the forthcoming film ‘Dhak Dhak’ where she plays a Muslim biker on her way to the world’s highest motorable pass. Her first look in the film, where she is seen riding a bike in a hijab, took everyone by surprise. The Tarun Dudeja-directed movie is to be released in 2023. Be it choosing to have her marriage solemnised by a female priest, doing away with rituals like ‘Kanyadaan’ and ‘Bidaai’, founding a production house ‘One India Stories’ to make clutter-breaking content, or investing in green businesses, Dia has never failed to demonstrate how to live and create with conviction.

Deepika Padukone

As a jury member at the 75th Cannes Film Festival and the brand ambassador of the French luxury brand Louis Vuitton, Deepika Padukone may have turned many heads this year but she is more than just a red carpet sensation. Remember Homi Adajania’s short film, ‘My Choice’? Deepika’s monologue, ‘My body, my mind, my choice,’ is still remembered for the polarised opinions it evoked. The film and her subsequent choices have proved that she is not afraid to stand by her beliefs. Even during some of the most intense online attacks and negative media campaigns, she never lost her cool or dignity. Her candour when she spoke about her depression and her subsequent decision to start her foundation LiveLoveLaugh (LLL) in 2015 show that she does not do things for effect. Her production ‘Chhapaak’, took a stand for India’s acid attack survivors, and her poignant, yet the strong portrayal of Malti was a tribute to the inviolable spirit of one such braveheart. Be it, Veronica, in ‘Cocktail’, Leela in ‘Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela’, the title role in ‘Piku’, Mastani in ‘Bajirao Mastani’, Malti in ‘Chhapaak’ or a star turn in ‘XXX: Return of Xander Cage’, Deepika has essayed many strong and fierce women who just like her, take life and all its challenges in their stride.

Alia Bhatt

The little girl from ‘Student of the Year’ has now become a powerhouse performer with a stunning body of work that includes films like ‘Highway,’ ‘Udta Punjab’, ‘Raazi’, ‘Dear Zindagi’, and ‘Gully Boy.’ After becoming the only female actor this year to give a solo blockbuster like ‘Gangubhai Kathiawadi’, she is off to London to share cinematic space in ‘Heart of Stone’ with ‘Wonder Woman’ star Gal Gadot. Despite unwarranted negative attacks online, Alia has kept her focus on doing good work and the fact that her film entered the 100 crore club within the 13th day of its release, shows that she lets her talent speak for her. She is now venturing into production and has prudent investments in multiple businesses. She has also spearheaded CoExist, a platform that speaks up for animal issues and ecological welfare. In her personal life too, she has maintained a fine line between her public and private persona.

Vidya Balan

Be it Vidya Venkatesan Bagchi from ‘Kahaani’, Reshma from ‘The Dirty Picture’, Sabrina Lall from ‘No One Killed Jessica’, Vidya Vincent from ‘Sherni’, or Sulochana (Sulu) Dubey from ‘Tumhari Sulu’, every uniquely written character is safe in the hands of actor extraordinaire Vidya. Along the way she has smashed beauty stereotypes, demonstrated how to deviate from norms with a smile and changed the trajectory of the Hindi film heroine. As a trailblazer and the radiant face of women-led cinema, Vidya’s most endearing quality is her humility, her easy laughter, and her sense of humour. That she has become one of the most awarded and acclaimed female actors in the history of Hindi cinema seems incidental because the only thing Vidya seems to be truly interested in is to create a bigger space in the industry for female actors who are not willing to play second fiddle to male superstars.

Taapsee Pannu

One of the few actors to have succeeded in a big way in every industry they have worked in, Taapsee Pannu is no ordinary superstar. She is conscious of being a change-maker and in the past few years has chosen films where she has steered conversations towards important issues like domestic violence (Thappad), the struggles faced by female athletes ( Rashmi Rocket), sexual violence (Pink), violent misogyny (Game Over), bigotry (Mulk) and more. She played the titular character in ‘Naam Shabana, ‘ stole many scenes in the male-centric ‘Baby, ‘ essayed a grey character in ‘Badla’, an ISRO scientist in ‘Mission Mangal’ and one of the world’s oldest sharpshooters in ‘Saand ki Aankh.’ She is now venturing into production with a film called ‘Blurr’ and is showing by example how to manifest success that has a purpose. She also runs an event management company called The Wedding Factory and owns a badminton franchise called Pune 7 Aces.

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  1. There are a number of genres and styles of Hindi cinema that a viewer encounters, such as, romantic comedies, slapstick comedies, gangster films, horror films, thrillers, sports movies, westerns, melodramas, musicals and historical epics. While some of these genres are present in Indian cinema, often as a consequence of the impact of the western films, the Bollywood filmmakers have also created some styles of their own that are acknowledged as their own. This is clearly discernible in the popular tradition of filmmaking in India.
    https://www.indianetzone.com/28/landmark_films_hindi_cinema_indian_cinema.htm

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