By Reya Mehrotra
Cinema is undergoing a significant evolution. Pathbreaking stories that shatter stereotypes are being increasingly preferred by the audiences. With Women’s Day around the corner, we bring to you an eclectic selection of movies over the years that broke stereotypes by sensitively portraying a woman’s story.
Coco before Chanel
The 2009 biographical drama by Anne Fontaine features Audrey Tautou as French fashion designer Coco Chanel. It follows the story of a young Gabriel Chanel who, after leaving her orphanage, works in a bar and as a cabaret singer. The film further traces her rise as an iconic designer as she ventures into designing fashionable hats and eventually the French high society. The movie won several awards under various categories, including a BAFTA, European Film Awards, Cesar Awards and an Oscar.
The Great Indian Kitchen
The 2021 Malayalam drama by Jeo Baby is the story of a newlywed woman struggling to be the submissive wife that her husband and family members expect her to be. After a series of trials and tribulations and battles with conventions and rigid practices, she leaves her husband’s house and chooses to become an independent woman who follows her passion. She becomes a dance teacher and is shown arriving in her own car, while her husband has remarried another woman who has met the same fate as hers. The film has opened conversations around kitchens being viewed as gendered spaces.
The 2012 Saudi Arabian film is not only the first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, but also the first feature film to be made by a Saudi female director. The film entered the 86th Academy Awards and was also nominated at the BAFTA awards. The story is of a 10-year-old girl Wadjda living in Riyadh. She dreams of owning a bicycle and riding it, something which is frowned upon in her homeland. She eventually wins a competition, which awards her a cash prize, which she uses to buy the bicycle.
The 2012 Indian drama by Gauri Shinde featured actor Sridevi in the lead role. The story revolves around homemaker-cum-entrepreneur Shashi who makes laddoos, but is often mocked for her deplorable English. When she travels to New York for her niece’s wedding, she enrolls herself in a learn-to-speak-English class and, at the end of the film, surprises everyone by speaking the language while raising a toast at the wedding. The movie has gained the status of a cult film.
The 2019 coming-of-age drama by Greta Gerwig was the seventh adaptation of the 1868 novel written by Louisa May Alcott. The story is of four March sisters, namely, Jo, Meg, Amy and Beth, living in 19th-century Massachusetts. It follows the years after the Civil War where Jo is a writer, Amy is studying painting in Paris, Meg is married, while Beth develops an illness that unites the family. The movie starred Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, among others.
The 2014 comedy drama starring Kangana Ranaut, Lisa Haydon and Rajkummar Rao in leading roles is the journey of a young woman that starts with the preparation of her marriage. Rani, the protagonist, embarks on her honeymoon to Paris alone after her fiancé calls off the wedding and explores a new world. As she gathers experiences alone, she makes friends and finds confidence. After her sojourn, she returns to India a changed woman who now rejects the proposal of her ex-fiancé. Critically acclaimed, the film has been labelled the ultimate feminist film and a groundbreaking one. Its success brought a shift in conventional Hindi cinema.
On the Basis of Sex
The American biographical drama is based on the early life and cases of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She served as Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1993 to 2020 and was only the second woman to serve in the Supreme Court. Actor Felicity Jones portrayed the role of Ginsburg. The film begins in 1956 when she is a first-year law student at Harvard. Her husband, a second-year student, is diagnosed with cancer and the film traces her upward journey.
The 1982 Indian film starred Shabana Azmi, Kulbhushan Kharbanda and Smita Patil in lead roles. The movie is about a woman who finds her husband involved in an extramarital affair. She leaves the house and decides to live in a hostel, finds a job to sustain herself and becomes independent while facing emotional trauma. The movie concludes with her finding new meaning in life. She adopts the daughter of her maid and continues on her journey with her newly found freedom and independence and chooses to remain single.