2023’s unknown side: The Female-Centric Film gets prominence

Rani Mukerji in Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway. Photo: Publicity Photo 

A scarcely-noticed aspect of the year gone by is the strengthening of the female-centric film (and even web series). This was a welcome paradox, especially in a year when male-dominated subjects like Animal, Jawan, Gadar 2 and Pathaan ruled.

Yes, clearly, the female-centric films did not rule the box-office, but the fact that eight of them made significant waves was the really vital factor.

It was in 2005 that moneys earned in totality at the box-office and big names first overruled the time-tested parameter for judging a film’s quantum of success. Since movies began, it had always been “return on investment” (ROI) that mattered more than the total box-office collections. This seemingly out-of-context remark does have a connection here, however.

Because the woman-centric The Kerala Story collected (worldwide gross) about Rs. 300 crore on a production budget of less than Rs. 20 crore! And in that sense, a female-centric film topped every mammoth blockbuster in 2023!

As its leading lady (and not a star!) Adah Sharma told the media, “I hope this success opens doors for every heroine in India, giving them similar opportunities to those I had.” Adah revealed that the impact of the film was such that when she once watched the film incognito, she became aware of how many in the audience had tears in their eyes. The film was inspired by real stories and has also became the highest earner ever among female-driven movies, eclipsing Tanu Weds Manu Returns, which earned Rs. 150 crore and Gangubai Kathiawadi, which made Rs. 132 crore.

Taking the rest of the sagas in alphabetical order, we had Apurva, a thriller that featured Tara Sutaria, hitherto considered the histrionic equivalent of the proverbial dumb blonde girl, in the feisty role of a cornered woman who doughtily fights a caucus of goons who want to kidnap and later kill her. Not only was the film appreciated on Disney+Hotstar, its release platform, but it proved that this seemingly fragile maiden was an actress of substance.

Fatima Sana Shaikh, Aamir Khan’s Dangal find, was also a revelation in Dhak Dhak, a road-cum-adventure saga of four women out to reach a summit in Leh Ladakh. Ratna Pathak Shah, Dia Mirza and Sanjana Sanghi essayed ladies from different age groups and backgrounds who come together for an adventure in which they also achieved personal triumphs. And each of the actresses was exceptional in this warm film that looked at broader issues and not just gender equality.

This film had the gumption to have a theatrical release, but obviously it was a no-go and thus it won its real hosannas only when streamed on Netflix. Another such film was Sajini Shinde Ka Viral Video, which, like Dhak Dhak, spotlighted the flipside of social media. Featuring Radhika Madan as a teacher who is crucified for a small slip, it also had a strong role for Nimrat Kaur as a ruthless and fearless investigator. Again, the theatrical release lost out, but it has appeared on Netflix and the platform has ranked it as #1 in streaming.

A negative angle in a way, thus, was the fact that all these films had a low theatrical quotient, because even the star-driven Mrs. Chatterjee Vs. Norway did not really become a big earner. But careful economic planning made this film a box-office winner and Rani Mukerji got her fourth heroine-oriented success in a row after Mardaani, Hichki and Mardaani 2. Without undue modesty, Rani has already stated that such subjects actually gravitate towards her.

The other three films of note were straight OTT releases—a smart move today in many ways as a global showcasing is attained and the producers do not lose the sums invested. Jaanejaan featuring Kareena Kapoor Khan in the pivotal role, the delightful Kathal: A Jackfruit Mystery with the redoubtable Sanya Malhotra and Khufiya about Tabu, playing a determined intelligence officer who makes her latest mission personal as well were all clear winners.

As Sanya Malhotra told Bombay Times, “Wherever women go, they bring so much empathy in whatever they are doing. That was special to see. We see these macho men in police uniform. Through stories like Kathal and Delhi Crime, it’s beautiful to see that side of authority.”

The Web Series scenario was also strobe-lit by some further examples of woman power, with Sonakshi Sinha’s Dahaad, Karishma V. Tanna’s Scoop, Sushmita Sen’s Taali and Wamiqa Gabbi’s Charlie Chopra & The Mystery of Solang Valley heading the list. And conceptually, in the way Sanya and Sonakshi were shown fighting adversity, there were some parallels between Kathal and Dahaad in terms of their character development.

And yet…and yet… an axiom remained both predominant and paramount: the film (or series) had to have a connect and quality. Bad or worse would not be tolerated just because a woman was the protagonist. Radhika Apte’s mediocre Mrs. Undercover, Kangana Ranaut’s Tejas or the wannabe-erotic Thank You for Coming were absolute no-nos. Yes, Tarla was a well-made biopic on the ace chef Tarla Dalal, but the treatment and the screenplay emerged a shade too dry. The Alzheimer’s Disease-based story of Goldfish too had only a very niche appeal.

Vidya Balan’s charisma was not enough to rescue the hyped Neeyat, which attempted unsuccessfully to create an Agatha Christie ambience, and  Starfish, further hampered by a wrongly-conceived title just like Goldfish, went into anonymity, as a saga of the emotional turbulences of a deep-sea diver.

Female power in cinema thus had the same basic needs: The content had to be made audience-friendly and relatable, even if the quantum of acceptance was less.

But the fact remains that 2023 was a great year in terms of the way the female significantly spearheaded the narrative. As trade analyst Girish Johar put it, “The biggest change, at present, as compared to a couple of years ago, is that films and web series headlined by women are released quite frequently and all this is taken as a routine matter rather than an aberration.”












Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here