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As we gear up to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, here’s a look at our on-screen talents who shone bright on our screens with their compelling performances and cut a commanding figure by being fierce and flawed. These female actors from Bollywood and Hollywood took on roles that had considerable heft and agency. They backed projects that celebrated women in all their complicated glory. Here’s our top picks of films and series fuelled by girl power. These women are unapologetically ambitious and aren’t scared to display agency:
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Deepika Padukone in ‘Gehaiyaan’: Here’s the deal about Deepika Padukone’s character Alisha. She wasn’t particularly likeable as a person and she made some morally questionable life choices as she embarks on a clandestine affair with her cousin’s dishy fiancé Zain (Siddhant Chaturvedi). While she was humanised, there was no attempt by its makers to make her appealing and endearing in this film that evoked polarising reviews. Even her missteps in her life were acknowledged and there was no attempt to sugarcoat her flawed existence. Towards the end, when her on-screen father, played superbly by Naseeruddin Shah, speaks to her about being more forgiving towards herself, Alisha becomes emblematic of strength, redemption, and resilience. It was refreshing to see a high profile and bankable actor like Padukone take on such a fractured role who learns to make peace with her life choices and her turbulent past. Director Shakun Batra took a leap of faith when it came to making a film with a protagonist who’s both vulnerable and vicious.
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Moxie: This charming high-school romp streaming on Netflix, directed by Amy Poehler, is about a downtrodden teenager who unleashes a feminist revolution by launching an underground magazine calling out sexism around her. This fun and zany film addresses bullying, harassment, and rape with humour and defiance. This is feminism 2.0 tome.
Image Credit: Instagram/moxie.netflix
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Taapsee Pannu in ‘Rashmi Rocket’: Bollywood actress Taapsee Pannu took one for the women’s team globally with her searing drama ‘Rashmi Rocket’. This engaging film explored the controversial process of gender testing among female athletes and its validity. Pannu played the titular role of a star sprinter who undergoes a gender verification test and is found to have higher testosterone levels than an average woman. “All that rage that you see in this film comes from my love and admiration for sports. I have always thought that sports is the fairest field on earth where only your talent counts... But the practice of gender testing is just unfair and tells you that it’s not good enough to be just good on the field,” said Pannu in an earlier Zoom interview with Gulf News. In the film she took on the sports establishment and slammed testing based on arbitrary definitions of femininity. Pannu took this film to the finish line with impressive surefootedness and didn’t even stumble once.
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Nicole Kidman in ‘Big Little Lies’: This star-studded glossy series about a clutch of Monterey moms has the stellar talent Nicole Kidman play Celeste who secretly battles domestic abuse. The gripping series will remind you that you never know what happens behind closed doors and how women can stand united trying to protect their own even in the midst of a murder investigation. Based on author Liane Moriarty’s best-selling book by the same name, the series tackles fractured marriages, parenting troubles, and shady lives behind palatial Californian homes with a deft hand. The women are collectively courageous and are a joy to watch. They have each other’s back and that’s oddly liberating.
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Alia Bhatt in ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi': Here’s a film that celebrated a woman who lived in her society’s peripheries. Alia Bhatt plays the titular role of a fierce and gutsy sex worker who champions the rights of those working in Mumbai’s red-light district Kamathipura. Gangubai – who’s respected and feared in her circles -- yearns for dignity and is willing to fight with all her might. Based on the chapters from Hussain Zaidi’s book ‘Mafia Queens Of Mumbai’, here’s a film that had a woman who had a lot of agency even if she belonged to a profession that isn’t widely respected. She championed for the forgotten tribe and became a feminist icon in her own right.
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Jennifer Aniston in ‘The Morning Show’: Aniston as popular broadcast journalist Alex Levy who becomes tainted by association is a treat to watch after she outs her co-anchor Mitch Kessler (Steve Carrell) as a sexual predator. Levy – who isn’t wholly likeable -- admits to her own complicity in her beloved colleague’s sexual misdemeanors. The second season set against the #MeToo era tackles cancel culture and being a flawed feminist icon in the most humane manner. Her attempts at making amends in the second season makes this a powerful series about women taking ownership and being accountable.
Image Credit: AP
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The Gilded Age: The makers of Downtown Abbey does a neat job of presenting a cluch of progressive women in 1880s New York society. Set in an era where women's rights to vote were yet to take off, here's a lavish show on OSN with an incredible cast of women who chose to make a difference.
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Huma Qureshi in ‘Maharani’: This ten-episode political drama set in the late 1990s shines the spotlight on a woman who enters Bihar politics reluctantly and has to battle patriarchy and rampant sexism at her workplace. Actress Huma Qureshi is brilliant in this role and show creators Subhash Kapoor and Nandan Singh are splendid at weaving a politically-charged tale of a women fighting for power and her rightful place on the table. If you can past the complicated plot twists and blood feuds, then this series which may remind you of real-life former Bihar CM Rabri Devi – who’s pushed to the political front by her tainted CM husband Laloo Prasad Yadav -- is a keeper. There’s a certain sense of vulnerability that Qureshi injects in her role here. The scene in which she breaks down during her first public speech is all heart.
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Anya Taylor-Joy in ‘The Queens Gambit’: Based on the 1983 novel by Walter Tevis, Netflix’s hit mini-series ‘The Queens Gambit’ chronicles an orphan Beth Harmon’s rise as a chess champion and how she becomes the master of that game. She just happens to be a woman emerging a winner in man’s sport in this well-crafted show. This series about a female chess prodigy is subtly feminist and stays away from the usual girl power tropes by shining its light on a strong, but sensitive female lead.
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Little Women: This coming-of-age period film, written and directed by Greta Gerwig, was yet another adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women. But Gerwig manages to mine the themes of feminism and individuality without compromising on its charming story with a dazzling cast. She proved that some tales are truly timeless. The sibling story of four March sisters – Meg, Jo, Amy, and Beth – gets a smart and modern update on a beloved classic novel.
Image Credit: OTHERS