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Article Hindi

Are actresses in title roles a trend that’s here to stay?

This year has seen a welcome change in the number of women-orientated films being released in theatres.

Sonal Pandya

Walt Disney Studios’ 50th animated feature, Tangled (2010), which cost $260 million to produce, took the safe route by changing its name from Rapunzel to the gender-neutral Tangled, hoping to bring in little boys as well as its core audience, little girls.

The failure of Disney's previous feature, The Princess And The Frog (2009), prompted the studio to add an adventurous co-star, Flynn Rider, to share the spotlight with Rapunzel. The gamble worked. The next film based on a princess-style fairy tale, Frozen (2013), broke the mould and became the highest-grossing animated movie ever, earning over a billion dollars worldwide.

In Hindi cinema, however, the past two years have seen the emergence of a welcome trend — actresses in title roles. It began rather quietly in 2015 with the crowd-pleasing Piku and, to an extent, Dolly Ki Doli. There were two others that year — Barkhaa, starring Sara Loren, and Ek Paheli Leela starring Sunny Leone — though they failed to make a mark.

The impact of Shoojit Sircar’s Piku, starring Deepika Padukone, can still be felt today with the number of film projects headlining women that are being announced.

In 2016, Ram Madhvani’s Neerja featured Sonam Kapoor as the brave purser, Neerja Bhanot, who lost her life trying to shield passengers from terrorists who had taken over Pam Am Flight 73 in 1986. The superhit film, which recently won the National award for Best Feature Film in Hindi, was made on a budget of Rs20 crore and ended up making Rs75 crore from theatrical collections, a return on investment of 275%! The film also boosted actress Sonam Kapoor’s career; she got several awards for her emotional performance.

Other notable women-orientated films of 2016 featuring actresses in title roles were Happy Bhag Jayegi starring Diana Penty and Akira starring Sonakshi Sinha. The first was the sleeper hit of the year while the latter failed to revitalize Sinha’s career in an action avatar.

There were more films like Luv U Alia starring Sangeetha Chauhan, Warrior Savitri starring Niharica Raizada and Ek Kahani Julie Ki starring Rakhi Sawant which also came and sank without a trace.

Promisingly, 2017 looks to build on the success of films like Piku (2015), Neerja (2016) as well Queen (2014) and Mary Kom (2014) which came at the peak for the careers of Kangana Ranaut and Priyanka Chopra, respectively. So far this year, we seen the journeys of Taapsee Pannu’s Naam Shabana (one of the first prequels that Hindi cinema has seen), Swara Bhaskar’s Anaarkali Of Aarah, and the true-life saga of young Poorna Malavath’s climb to Mount Everest with Poorna, starring newcomer Aditi Inamdar.

The coming weeks will bring forth the stories of Vidya Balan’s Begum Jaan, Sonakshi Sinha’s Noor and Parineeti Chopra’s Meri Pyaari Bindu. Looking ahead to the second half of year, Shraddha Kapoor, Kangana Ranaut and Deepika Padukone will take centrestage with Haseena: The Queen Of Mumbai, Simran, and Padmavati, respectively. In fact, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s take on the period love triangle is one of the year’s most awaited films.

The fact that filmmakers are seeking to base their features around the actresses is a positive development. Another promising outcome is that filmmakers are discovering that such films can be profitable, especially since they are made on less than half the budget of films with male stars leading the line.

Unfortunately, this also means, with the wide pay gap between the sexes, that actresses are headlining these films at but a fraction of what the actors would make. But there is no doubt that the popularity of stars like Padukone and Ranaut draws audiences to films like Piku and Queen.

"It is a wonderful time to be a Hindi film actress," is a line we hear most actresses echo. Maybe it is, indeed.