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Friday, July 22, 2011

Iconic Female Characters in Hindi Cinema part 4

In the final episode of our series on iconic female characters with Ira of Old is Gold, we move from Sridevi in Chandni up to Konkona Sen Sharma's mature, modern working woman in Wake Up Sid. Despite both of these women making choices we don't quite understand - picking an irritating Kapoor father/son pair over the much better Khanna set - they're fascinating artifacts of their eras. No discussion of important characters of the 1990s would be complete without Simran, the girl millions of fans wanted to be. Does she still seem enviable in 2011? We're more impressed by how family attitudes towards daughters have changed by the time movies get to Geet of Jab We Met barely a decade later.

And yes, there is another detour about Shashi Kapoor...and Dharmendra's thighs. Trust us, they make sense when you listen to the whole thing.

"O Meri Mehbooba" from Dharam Veer. And here's Amrita's theory about thighs in case you hadn't read it.

You can listen to Masala Zindabad: Iconic Female Characters part 4 by clicking the player above, subscribing to our feed, on iTunes, or downloading here. The other parts of this series are here:
• 1: the Bharatiya Nari
2:  Fearless Nadia, Chhoti Bahu, Sujata
3: Mother India, Seeta, Geeta, and Bobby


  1. I was intrigued by the comment that Simran and Geet were essentially the same character, because to me they seem like such different personality types. Simran is shy/introverted/standoffish and Geet is the ultimate extrovert. Simran is happy to sit on the train and read; Geet immediately starts up conversations with the other passengers. When travel plans are interrupted, Simran freaks out, but Geet dives into the adventure.

    As a feminist, I wouldn't necessarily put a value judgement on either type, but it does seem like the former is more of the historical "ideal" in film heroines.

  2. The problem is to do as much with the take a production house has on what's "acceptable"! I'm yet to see yashraj and karan johar do a movie that depict a real woman. Fem empowerment is more than just skin deep and the duo have consistently turned a blind eye to that point!
    I can somehow never forgive Karan Johar for 'changing' Kajol in KKHH so shahrukh coul marry her!
    Geet's fresh... and endearing...enduring!

  3. dustdevil liz, Simran and Geet are the same character in the sense that they both come from traditional Punjabi families and dream of love and marriage. The differences between their personalities are - to me - illustrative of how the ideal of womanhood (at least in films) has changed in just over two decades. There have been extrovert heroines in Bollywood, but nobody ever quite like Geet, while Simran has been the quintessential Bhartiya naari for decades before that!

  4. I recently found out about this podcast and listened through all the episodes in a row. As somebody who loves to watch movies and then talk about them, this was so much fun. Plus, I love the detours you guys take whether it is discussing Dharmendra's thunder thighs or Shashi, his cute smile, oh Shashi. What was I saying? I forgot.

    On a different note, I was wondering why you guys did not include Pooja (Shabana Azmi's character) from Arth and Umrao Jaan in your analysis of female characters from the 80's. I understand that both these movies were not the biggest hits but they are often talked about for the way the women were portrayed. I was 3-4 years old when Arth was released and I clearly remember my mother and her friends (middle class, educated, stay at home moms from small town India) discussing this movie and the choice Pooja makes at the end. As for Umrao Jaan, I find it especially interesting how Umrao Jaan as a woman comes across very differently in the Rekha version versus the Aishwarya Rai version. Love the former hate the latter.

  5. Zeeniebaby - Welcome! Thanks for commenting too!

    That's a really good question about Umrao Jaan. I have no idea why we didn't include her. We recorded this back in January or so, so I'm a little foggy on our development process, but I think we were only looking at mainstream/popular films, which would rule out Arth. If we didn't clearly state that in the intro to the series, we definitely should have.

    It'd be fun to do another round of these sometime and include both characters from popular films we forgot AND characters from art films!

  6. Perhaps I'm biased, because it is one of my favourite films (in fact Simran Singh is my username on the BollyWHAT forum), but I couldn't disagree more with your assessment of DDLJ. Of course I wouldn't go so far as to call it a feminist movie, but it certainly has its moments. And I don't think Simran is a doormat at all, but instead offers resistance where she can. And I agree with Liz, besides being Punjabi women looking for love, I don't think of Simran and Geet as being essentially the same.

  7. Larissa - So glad to see you here! :) Ira and I are very, very familiar with being in a tiny minority on DDLJ. I'm mulling over your point about Simran offering resistance where she can, and I would tentatively agree that that is true - with the giant caveat that she does so within a philosophical system that I think is not only problematic and espoused by a character who doesn't really live according to his own ideals (I've never understood why Amrish Puri hasn't been back to India to see his beloved mother in all those years if he's such a believer in the homeland and traditions) but also harmful to her. So while she resists in ways she feels she has open to her, she doesn't seem to do much to change her scope of options. But that probably makes her an internally consistent character, at least, so I can accept that that makes sense on such a level.

    I'd be interested to know what about the film appeals to you so strongly - maybe I should go check on Bollywhat! :) Part of what I think is fascinating about DDLJ is that I am pretty certain that the majority of my resistance to/dislike of it is because of my personal cultural context, but I also realize that people of similar contexts respond to it very differently. That's going to be true of any film but this one is so beloved and so popular that I want to understand more about it.

  8. After listening to these episodes, I posed the question about favorite heroine from Hindi movies to my eldest sister, and she came back with one that I can't believe I had forgotten - Madhuri Dixit's fabulous Saraswati from Beta (1992)! She was a tough cookie ... smart, resourceful and willing to dole out revenge when necessary. I know Beta is from the era you avoid, Beth, but Saraswati was a great character! Amrita, any thoughts on Madhuri in Beta?

  9. Hey Amaluu - that was a rare Hindi film heroine indeed. I loved the fact that she first had the brains to tell him she wasn't interested, then defend him when everyone was attacking him, stand up for herself, and even seduce her husband. Good for her! Unfortunately, then the movie woke up and realized it was time for the hero to be heroic and you had the whole poison fight thing which was hilarious. But all in all, it was pretty good. In fact, I'd say Mads Dixit did her finest work with Anil K. Tezaab, Zindagi Hai Ek Juaa, Beta et all are pretty great.

    Remember the movie with Hema Malini, though, where this script is basically flipped with Anil K. subverting his tyrannical mother in law's empire while Mads Dixit plays the ditz? It's like both leads can't be sentient at the same time.