There was time when weepy melodramas used to be called ‘Ladies Picture’ by the film trade circles. In these films, women underwent major suffering, but everything was sorted out in time for the happy ending. Wandering husbands returned, nasty mothers-in-law were softened, ungrateful children chastised. Women in the audiences wept with the character on screen, and came out of the theatre after a cleansing catharsis, so that they could return to their own dreary lives.
The industry recognized this ‘Ladies’ demographic and catered to it, till the family social went out of fashion. But after the success of Kangana Ranaut starrer Tanu Weds Manu Returns, which has made the mandatory Rs.100 crore to stand alongside the hits by male stars, the ‘Ladies Special’ might just have made a comeback.
Kangana’s Tanu Weds Manu and Queen did very well too, and suddenly, she is the superstar whose success nobody could have anticipated. The change happened quietly and gradually — films like Kahaani, English Vinglish, Mary Kom and Piku being driven by their female stars. Now the industry is not so resistant to making what they call “women oriented films”.
Apart from a change in movie content, there is a change in the audiences too — a film that has romance, strong women and family values attract more female audiences too. Unlike the old days when the man of the house decided on the family’s entertainment because he doled out the money, now women can buy their own tickets and see whatever they want.
The multiplex audience consists of more youngsters, who go for date movies, which also means women have a somewhat larger say about their movie preferences, than they did a few years earlier. The films with female stars are no longer weepy melodramas about tormented wives, but are about gutsy women.
In Hollywood, the films dismissively labeled ‘chick flicks’ are actually empowering in a way, since they are about women, and are more often than not, produced by female stars. This makes it possible for frothy romances as well as films like Wild (about a solo female hiker played by Reese Witherspoon) to get made. It’s still not a level-playing field in Hollywood, but the female stars are not such an abject bunch as they are in Bollywood — with just a few exceptions.
What makes Kangana Ranaut’s achievement noteworthy is that she is not an industry kid, or beauty queen or supermodel – she came from a small town and struggled her way to the top. If she leads the change in the status of women in Bollywood, she deserves to.