Where are the women in mass commercial Bollywood films?

Why don't we get films like Piku, Dear Zindagi, Queen, or English Vinglish anymore? Are women in mass commercial Bollywood films once again taking a backseat?

Sakshi Sharma
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Piku and English Vinglish

Piku and English Vinglish

March is the month of finance as the financial year ends, but it is also for women, especially the first week of the month, as Women's Day is celebrated on March 8. You might be tired of seeing thousands of campaigns everywhere around women and their empowerment at this time, and one might even argue that celebrating women on just one day, a week, or a month is not enough! But at least this works towards generating talk that otherwise might get sidetracked or ignored. With that focus in mind, March is a great time to ask Bollywood where the women are in the mass commercial Bollywood films.


In the last few years, other than toxic male and machismo hero-centric cinema, there hasn't been much happening, especially in terms of women on the big screen! This realization dawned on me more strongly when I was working on listicles for Women's Day. I couldn't help but repeat the same old Bollywood titles from before because there weren't many new ones, except for a few like Gangubai Kathiawadi, Chhapak, Badhaai Do, or Mrs. Chatterjee vs. Norway, that I could find. Sure, OTT had some titles like Darlings, Gehraiyaan, Mimi, Jalsa, Sherni, Pagglait, Monica O My Darling, Bhakshak, Qala, Bulbul, and more. However, apart from a few films, women generally can't find a proper space in cinemas, especially in mass-commercial Bollywood movies released in theatres! 

Even though the narratives are more inclusive than before, with females doing crazy action sequences in films like Jawan, Pathaan, Tiger 3, or Fighter, yet they still remain the second fiddle to the hero- the savior. In rom-coms like Tu Jhoothi Main Makkar, Teri Baaton Mein Aisa Uljha Jiya, or Stayaprem ki Katha, they still can't have a voice of their own even if the issue is centered on them. In pan-Indian films like RRR or Pushpa, female characters can't even find a breathable space except to strengthen the hero's story. Let's not discuss films like Animal, Dream Girl 2, or Kisika Bhai Kisiki Jaan, where women are degraded or pushed aside to invisibility (read more here). In the last almost four years, we haven't even had more than twenty films focused on women, including films on OTT and those not female-led! 

Also Read: Poor Things review: Emma Stone is wonderfully weird in this quirky coming of age journey about female desire!

This tokenism in the name of representation has made me wonder about women in our mass commercial Bollywood films and where they have gone. Honestly, only a few years back, there were films like Piku, Dear Zindagi, and Queen, which were relatable to every female out there, and they felt like they understood real women and represented them. There were films like Lipstick Under My Burkha or English Vinglish that talked about older women and their issues, Pink or Thappad that talked about crime against women and gender issues, Raazi or Neerja that showed us the strength and power of a woman, The Dirty Picture, Mary Kom, Mardaani, Kahaani, or NH10 that were female-led. Even in hero-led films, women had space and value, like the pregnant mother in Badhaai Ho, an independent writer from Kolkata in Wake Up Sid, a deep-sea diving instructor in ZNMD, an extrovert Punjabi kudi in Jab We Met, or so many more. SRK's girl's hockey team in Chak De India had more to do than his gang in Jawan


Women-centric cinema, or women telling women's stories, is not a very old concept. In fact, it could be dated back to somewhere between 2012 to 2014. Since then, we have taken quite a leap ahead in mass commercial Bollywood cinema, especially for women, where female-led projects and women-centric stories have taken center stage. And even if they are not centered on women, females have always found a respectable space in films. Hence, it isn't ideal to see it all go back to women being reduced to the hero's love interest, second-fiddle, voiceless, or a stepping stone in his journey. 

Films like Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani, Merry Christmas, and the upcoming The Crew give me hope that this slide back is just a setback for mass-commercial Bollywood and that, once again, strong female characters will dominate the screen together with men and find their worthy space in hero-led cinema, too. Even if Rubai in Pathaan is a good start for women in action, I truly crave to live in a time when I can see Deepika Padukone as a Piku again! 

What are your thoughts on this? Tell us in the comments below! 

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