The evolution of the Bollywood Heroine
In Bollywood, nothing works to your advantage than a 100-crore hit. The 1980s was defined as the action era. The era where Bollywood heroines had to forfeit their space and their importance to actors. They were reduced to just being glam quotient in films. Only after Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, Bollywood came to know what 'woman-oriented success' meant. That film redefined the ground-rules for hiring women actresses. It was followed by a slew of ‘women-oriented successes’ – Kahaani, Queen, NH10, English Vinglish, Dirty Picture and MOM. These films proved that women were as capable as men of creating success. So, the question is, what led to this success?
Two reasons for it:
Firstly, lets take a look at the beginning. Post-indepence era, 40s and 50s, veered towards social and realistic cinema and the industry witnessed the entry of pioneers and some of the most talented actresses of the era with Nargis, Madhubala, Meena Kumari, Nutan and Geeta Bali. Their thirst to learn, their organic talent, their untapped beauty and extraordinarily natural acting made them potential money-makers. With stellar portrayls in Awara, Amar, Mughal-e-Azam, Sahe Bibi aur Ghulam, Pyaasa, Madhumati and Mother India remain unparalleled till today. They left such an indelible mark on us that we still haven't been able to replace them. To top it all, its amazing that these ladies looked stunning despite of the absence of surgeries or photoshops. They truly set the barometer for measuring true talent in Bollywood. So, the bar was set high.
Secondly, the game-changers. The Southern Sensations, The Western babes, The Marathi Mulgis to the author-backed roles. The 60s and 70s gratified the open minded by displaying more skin, more emotions, more anger, more hostility and a more commanding presence on screen. The modern woman wasn't afraid to speak her mind. That's why we called them game-changers. They were raised to be liberated, they were of modern views and actually believed that they wer equal to men. These modern sensations like Rakhi, Hema Malini, Neetu Singh, Rakhee, Parveen Babi and Reena Roy, that decade saw the reign of an actresses that had the caliber to give powerhouse performances and leave men drooling after her beauty. The ultimate actress who could easily mold herself in any given character. So then they just didn't live to the standards set by the "beginners" but they diversified the parameters within which these standards were set.
So its ironic that Bollywood, even though tends to stereotype characters, these actresses changed the perception of cinema altogether. Be it dressing, mannerisms, attitude or characteristics, a good portrayal was lauded nonetheless. Stereotypes exist because the industry is largely, numbers-driven. The viewers want to watch what conforms to their beliefs, attitudes and values, which is determined by the social framework of their environment. Which is the same environment that the scriptwriters, directors, producers live in - so change is based on change in society. Change is the only constant. Change is what has led to this evolution. Change is what will further drive the popularity of these capable women.