Most of the time, the desires, struggles, dilemmas, and the longings of women are overlooked in mainstream cinema but the success of many women-led films shows that storytellers are evolving to keep up with the times. Here are a few such power-packed films you can watch this International Women's Day. These are films that will make you pause and think deeper than usual about gender issues plaguing society.
200 Halla Ho: Dalit oppression is ever-present in Indian society and sexual violence against Dalit women is tragically normative and the crimes against them, are innumerable. Let down by society and a lopsided law and order machinery, how can Dalit women change this dehumanizing narrative? Yoodlee Films’ '200 Halla Ho' beautifully captures not just the emotions of oppressed Dalit women but depicts what happens when they decide to take a stand like never before. Based on a true event in which 200 Dalit women lynched Akku Yadav, a gangster, robber, serial rapist, and killer in an open court in Nagpur in 2004, '200 Halla Ho' boldly talks about a theme that cinema has barely skimmed the surface of. This 2021 drama directed by Sarthak Dasgupta and Alok Batra features veteran actor Amol Palekar along with Rinku Rajguru, Barun Sobti, Ishtiyak Khan, and Sahil Khattar in pivotal roles.
Thappad: Domestic abuse is a topic that has been normalized in society and angry, egotistical men are considered to be perfect role models even in the cinema. In such a scenario, Anubhav Sinha's 'Thappad' magnificently speaks on the behalf of the survivors and normalizes a wife's refusal to take any version of domestic abuse in her stride. As she says in not so many words, "even if it is just a slap, he cannot hit me." The film underscores that it is not okay to remain quiet, even if it's "just a slap" because no one has a right to treat you inappropriately even if that someone happens to be a husband you are devoted to. Co-produced by Sinha and Bhushan Kumar of T-Series, 'Thappad' is a story about a woman's self-esteem. Taapsee Pannu sensitively etches the dilemma of a woman who has been slapped by her husband in front of countless guests and is still being gaslighted by her family to not take this as an affront to her dignity. And the film asks, why even today, we don't challenge the constructs of a patriarchal society where a man's ego is prioritized over a woman’s dignity.
Ajji: Rape continues to be an everyday headline in India and now barely evokes a response because it has been taken for granted that no woman is safe. The apathy towards gender crimes is even more disheartening when the truth is crystal clear, is not confronted and injustices continue to be perpetuated. 'Ajji'', a Yoodlee Films production and a Devashish Makjhija directorial shows how rotten the system is and how incapable of righting a grievous wrong. It depicts how society looks away if a heinous crime is committed by someone with power. The story revolves around an old woman who decides to not take this travesty in her stride when her granddaughter is raped by a local politician’s son and justice is denied. How she avenges this terrible crime is an eye-opener because it reveals hard-hitting truths about the society we live in. Sushma Deshpande etches a bravura, goose-bump inducing performance as 'Ajji' while Sharvani Suryavanshi, Abhishek Banerjee, Sadiya Siddiqui, Vikas Kumar, Manuj Sharma, Sudhir Pandey, Kiran Khoje, and Smita Tambe are seen in major roles.
Sherni: India is a country where gender-based prejudices follow women into professions that are traditionally considered to be male-centric as they require survival skills, courage, and the qualities of a fearless leader. In a world, where people believe that women cannot do labour intensive jobs and men cannot do household work, arrives director Amit V Masurkar's 'Sherni' with a female protagonist who not only takes on the challenges of mapping and coordinating a time-sensitive wildlife mission but also grapples with casual and intentional sexism every step of the way. This T-Series production showcases a female Indian Forest Service officer who, despite being pushed back by an inept system, retains her integrity and her voice till the end. Vidya Balan as always stuns with her histrionics while Sharat Saxena, Vijay Raaz, Ila Arun, Brijendra Kala, Neeraj Kabi and Mukul Chadda play supporting roles.
Pagglait: Widowhood is considered to devastate a young wife but what if it unleashes hidden emotions and opens a doorway to freedom? As the title of the film conveys, would a woman, who refuses to grieve because she is beginning to decode the truth about her loveless marriage, be considered mad by a judgmental society? 'Pagglait' tries to uncover what death leaves behind and how it affects many lives in startlingly different ways. Directed by Umesh Bisht and produced by Balaji Motion Pictures, 'Pagglait' is the story of a widow Sandhya, who is expected to mourn her husband but ironically, cannot bring herself to do it. The movie with amazing bravery questions the norms which expect a woman to stop living and enjoying her life after her husband’s death. The movie also highlights the issue of chipping away at a woman's agency first via marriage and then after widowhood. Sanya Malhotra steps perfectly in the shoes of Sandhya and portrays the character in a humorous yet poignant way. Ashutosh Rana, Shruti Sharma and Raghubir Yadav, and Saayani Gupta play other important roles.