Bollywood has always portrayed women in similar categories like bholi bhaali abla naari, the damsel in distress, sanskaari bahu/beti, bold and outgoing, the item song dancer and the vamp (be it a step-mother or a girl who loves the protagonist of the movie).
But, somewhere along the lines, there were daring actresses who broke through those stereotypes and set a benchmark for the younger lot. They showed the world that it is not necessary for a woman to be fair and have a size zero figure to be considered as beautiful. It is ok to be fat, to have a wheat-ish complexion and still be beautiful, because 'True beauty comes from within'.
So, today on the occasion of Women's Day let's take a look at 10 such Bollywood actresses who are till date known for breaking the stereotypical image of a woman in the Indian Cinema.
In an era where heroines played the role of obedient wives and lovers, Zeenat took the Hindi Cinema by storm with her western heroine looks and bold on-screen appearances.
She created her own identity by playing unconventional roles in 'Roti, Kapda Aur Makaan', 'Ajnabee', 'Manoranjan', 'Prem Shastra', and many more. Her songs 'Dum Maaro Dum' and 'Chura Liya Hai' were a massive hit.
In 1987, she starred in Raj Kapoor's Satyam Shivam Sundaram, where the actress was heavily criticized for the exposure of her bodily assets. At a later stage though, the movie was highly distinguished as a work of art. Often referred to as Bold and Beautiful, Zeenat has been honored with Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award.
Shabana Azmi was celebrated as one of the few lead actresses of the parallel cinema, a new wave movement in Indian Cinema. She played the role of a lesbian alongside Nandita Das in the movie Fire (1996).
Fire is one of the first mainstream Bollywood movies that solely focused on homosexual relationships, a movie way ahead of its time. Homosexuality is a touchy subject in India, it really was a bold step taken by Shabana and Nandita. 'Fire' was Nandita's debut movie.
Doing a movie like Bandit Queen for her debut, Seema took great risks at the beginning of her career. Where heroines were busy playing sundar-sushil bahu/beti, this courageous woman portrayed the role of Phoolan Devi.
She did not shy away from doing the half-naked or rape scenes. This daring step could have gone two ways either good or bad. Thankfully, we still see Seema portray strong characters that seem to leave a positive impact on the young generation.
Smita, One of the leading actresses of the Parallel Cinema (a New Wave Movement in Indian Cinema) was celebrated for not only her choice of movies but also for being an active feminist. Throughout a short span of 31 years of her existence, Smita was deeply committed to the advancement of women's issues and their empowerment.
She did not shy away from exploring the role of a woman in a traditional Indian society.
Her movies till date are inspiring the women to not cry over superstitious beliefs but to stay strong and conquer them. In spite of her girl-next-door image, her powerful acting made a great impact as she tried to bring a change in society through her movies.
Bebo has given Bollywood many iconic characters like Poo in Kabhie Khushi Kabhie Gham, Geet in Jab We Met, her stellar performances in the movies 3 Idiots and Heroine will always be remembered. Another character that will always be remembered is Chameli.
Kareena played the titular role in the movie. She played the role of a prostitute who meets an Indian businessman and how they form a friendship. Kareena made a bold decision by taking up this role much earlier in her career.
Nargis had worked with Raj Kapoor for half a decade of her career. Mother India came as an opportunity for Nargis to prove herself. Mother India is a story of a peasant's family who struggles to survive in a rural community.
Nargis portrayed the character of a young bride with painted eyebrows who takes up the role of a strong matriarchal figure that doesn't seem to even run a comb through her hair.
Her playing a mother to two grown men at such a young age was very commendable.
Sushmita Sen started her career by modeling and was crowned as Femina Miss India Universe in 1994 at the age of 18. She was the first Indian to win the competition. Sushmita not only has captured the hearts of people with her acting but also changed the meaning of parenting when she adopted her first daughter in the year 2000 and her second daughter in 2010.
She proved that women can work, take care of a family without needing the support of a man in one's life.
The First Female Superstar of Bollywood or better known as Sridevi was well loved by everyone. Sridevi took the period of the '80s by storm with some of her amazing movies like 'Himmatwala', 'Sadma'.
She broke the stereotypical belief of a serpent-woman with her evergreen role in 'Naagin'. Her pairing with Anil Kapoor in Mr. India, her famous songs 'Hawaa Hawaii' earned the actress much more recognition.
These are just a few achievements of Sridevi, there is so much more the southern beauty managed to attain. She was truly named the Bollywood's first female superstar after her acting, grace, sophistication, and poise.
Starting a Bollywood career as a plus-sized girl in the crowd of size zeros can be pretty difficult, but Bhumi with her cuteness won the hearts of many in her debut movie 'Dum Laga Ke Haisha'. Even after a superb debut, Bhumi has continued impressing the audiences with her unique movie choices, each dealing with a social issue may it be 'Toilet: Ek Prem Katha', 'Shubh Mangal Saavadhan', 'Sonchiriya'.
All of the drama and tantrums revolving around her aside, Kangana has definitely set a benchmark in the history of Indian Cinema. Not only did she single-handedly make a successful career on her own, but also broke the stereotypical image of a girl through movies such as 'Fashion', 'Gangster' and how can we forget 'Queen' and 'Manikarnika'.
There are many more actresses, who have proved themselves repeatedly. Breaking a stereotype is not easy; it's like trying to change someones believes and perspectives. Kudos to these women for trying something unique and challenging the gender roles that are set for men and women by society.
On this note, we wish every woman out there a Happy Women's Day and Thank You for your contribution to society.
Cheers to the Wonder Women of Indian Cinema!