STARS OF THE YEAR
In one of 2012's best conceived scenes, an old woman and her daughter-in-law (Kamlesh Gill and Dolly Ahluwalia), who bicker and drip sarcasm by day, sit together in their modest Lajpat Nagar drawing room and get drunk. It's a nightly ritual, we learn, and such a refreshing break from stereotype! In the same film, the hero sits at his girlfriend's feet and gives her a pedicure in his mother's beauty parlour. The film was Vicky Donor, a critically and commercially successful comedy written by Juhi Chaturvedi.
In small-town UP, a feisty young woman (Parineeti Chopra) drives her father's jeep to a gun-maker and pawns her jewellery to buy a pistol. She hopes to be a MLA like her father someday while her dumb brothers are content brandishing guns to assert their power. It's another matter that in the second half of Ishaqzaade, the writer robs Zoya of her independence by tying her destiny to a hero who is no match for her. Yet she must love him and pay for it with her life... Not unlike Veronica in Cocktail who too must die and be reborn a tamer version of herself, chastised and 'reformed' into a vision palatable to the Indian male.
On the other hand, in the badlands of Bihar, live women like Najma (Richa Chadda) and Durga (Reemma Sen) who may appear disadvantaged, but are clearly more in control of their destinies than many educated urban women are. When Najma catches her husband red-handed in a brothel, she thrashes him in public and even when he deserts her for another woman, she doesn't mope around but puts her boys to work and continues living fearlessly on her own terms. Durga, who woos Najma's husband, refuses to share house with her rival and when she feels betrayed she gets her own back without begging or pleading. A significant contributor to Gangs of Wasseypur's success was Sneha Khanwalkar, the upcoming music director who went all over the region (and all the way to the West Indies too) to pick up authentic sounds and rhythms of the land.
Writer-director Gauri Shinde made an impressive debut in Sridevi's comeback vehicle English Vinglish. What worked most for the film, other than the veteran star's charsima, was that Shinde kept it simple––a middle-class housewife's journey to America and belated introduction to the English language which goes a long way in boosting her self confidence. Shashi, who makes laddoos to earn some pocket money while living in Pune, is treated with subtle derision both by her husband and teenaged daughter. As she tells her American-Indian niece, "I am not looking for love, just some respect." Watching her, it's easy to accept that a little bit of encouragement and validation can go a long way in restoring a woman's faith in herself.
Sujoy Ghosh had the audacity to put a heavily pregnant woman at the centre of his thriller, Kahaani. One doesn't know how he sold this idea to the producers, but if the cost-to-collections ratio is an indicator for success (as it ideally should be), Kahaani is possibly the biggest hit of the year. Made on a paltry budget of Rs 8 crore (minus the bloated pay packets most male stars take home), it ran for more than 50 days in cinemas (no mean feat these days) and grossed over Rs 100 crore worldwide. Ghosh's little gem hinged on three key factors—Advaita Kala's script, Vidya Balan's arresting performance and Namrata Rao's editing which didn't let the pace flag for even a moment and made the chaos and bustle of Kolkata exciting to watch.
Reema Kagti on the other hand took a denser, psychological approach to her Talaash. Penned by her and Zoya Akhtar, the unravelling of a high profile accidental death is linked to the protagonist's personal journey in overcoming his guilt over his young son's death. Kareena Kapoor may have believed Heroine would be her crowning glory this year, but its suffering, oppressed protagonist wasn't half as enigmatic and engaging as Rosie. In fact, for it's horrific sexual stereotyping and exploitative representation of the lead character, Heroine harks back to the pseudo women-centric films of yore where women were widowed, raped, humiliated before they either conformed or rebelled violently against the system. In Heroine, Maahi has to walk away from it all after the cycle of humiliation and despair is completed. Like there literally is no place for independent women in this society.
Ultimately, it will take more and more women's involvement in the filmmaking process to shatter patriarchal myths so deeply embedded in our cinema, we believe in them blindly. Like Rasika Duggal's Chhaya in the indie gem Kshay who first falls in love but also gradually gets obsessed with an idol of goddess Laxmi and pays a terrible price for it. Duggal's was arguably the finest performance of the year. But let's also doff a hat to the aforementioned actors, writers, directors, composers and editors for taking a tiny step towards changing how women are projected on the Hindi screen.
In the light of the recent real life horror story that has shaken urban India out of its stupor, it's imperative that women slowly stake their rightful claim on cinema as a medium of self-expression, of introspection and finally, change.✑