Are Bollywood female protagonists in vogue?

Vidya Balan in The Dirty Picture

As Vidya Balan was speaking to the press at the recently concluded Hindustan Times Leadership Summit in New Delhi about her new release, The Dirty Picture, the conversation changed to how the perception of women-driven movies is changing in Bollywood. The facts are this: The Dirty Picture has opened better than any recent Bollywood movie with a female protagonist and is well on its way to being declared a super hit; it is also part of an evolving trend in Bollywood that sees women-centric movies as bankable options for production companies and studios.

Vidya welcomed this trend by discussing how women protagonists were now not limited to roles of “drudgery” – they are increasingly being given options to take on projects that focus on entertainment instead of merely social issues. Vidya’s co-panelist at the HT Leadership Summit, the actor/director Farhan Akhtar, also agreed, saying that in the past most “women oriented movies were about very heavy issues. Now the films are entertaining and about content, not just issues.”

Ultimately, the changing image of women-centric films is linked to the changing marketability of movies with women protagonists. The Indian movie industry has always had a heavy reliance on a series of male superstars who can carry movies solely based on their superstar image – few would argue that there is much else behind the successes of Dabangg and Bodyguard than the aura surrounding Salman Khan. For studios to risk big budgets on women centric movies, there needs to be demonstrated box-office success from heroine-led movies – with its early success set to continue, The Dirty Picture can definitely add a huge boost to the image and marketability of female protagonists and help this trend to continue.

5 Factors that have helped increase the marketability of women protagonists:

1)      Shift of focus – As demonstrated in The Dirty Picture, women-centric films in Bollywood are benefitting financially from the decision to shift the focus from exclusively social issues to entertaining material that can appeal to a wider audience.

2)      Emergence of women superstars – The recent emergence of women A-list actresses naturally increases the marketability of films that they star in. The likes of Priyanka Chopra and Kareena Kapoor attract a greater media focus than most of predecessors.

3)      Changing demographics – Particularly in urban markets, factors such as changing income levels and relaxing social restrictions on women is driving the emergence of the female movie-goer as a targetable section of society.

4)      Relevance of films – Recent filmmakers behind movies such as No One Killed Jessica and The Dirty Picture have learned to better connect with their target audiences by presenting strong female characters in recognizable urban settings.

5)      Smarter image management and marketing – The teams behind these movies are better capitalizing on the image of their leading ladies to promote their films using their glam quotient and controversy factor.


Female protagonists since 2008 -- a rising trend?

Written by Kunal Pal for Image Management.

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