India Independence: So many female freedom fighters, but so little screen space. Why?

New Delhi Published: Aug 13, 2021, 06:15 PM(IST)

The first Hindi feature on a female freedom fighter, Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi, was released in 2019. The film was headlined by Kangana Ranaut and she has won the National Award for it Photograph:( Instagram )

Story highlights

If Bollywood took a whole of 70-odd years to hash out the specifics for their first ever woman-centric film on the nation’s rebellion, how long before they make one on another significant Laxmi— Capt Laxmi Sehgal, a revolutionary in her own right? You do the math.
 

"If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman," Margaret Thatcher once said about women’s innate quality to act, not react. These resounding words hold true everywhere in the world, and more so in India.


What started as a religious rebellion against removal of greased cartridges with one’s teeth—the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857—led to the overthrowing of British Raj from an angry, suppressed India. Everyone fought the good fight: some externally, others within.

Capt Laxmi Sehgal
Like men, women too have pelted stones and barked orders and sung praises of their motherland; demanding the 'Simons to go back'. 


Over generations, magically, leaders like Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Azad adore the textbooks of Indian education system—both private and public—while Begum Hazrat Mahal and Aruna Asaf Alis linger on in the shadows of history. 

Aruna Asaf Ali
"There is no occasion for women to consider themselves subordinate or inferior to men," said another freedom fighter, Mahatma Gandhi, and yet, he is globally known as the Father of this Nation while Sarojini Naidu’s stature as the Mother, remains vastly unknown.


We dare not think that the track record has enhanced with the changing time. One would be appalled to learn, if not completely astonished, that the first full-blown Hindi feature film on one of the few widely read figures attached to India’s freedom movement—Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi—was released only in 2019. 

Kangaga Ranaut in 'Manikarnika'


If Bollywood took a whole of 70-odd years to hash out the specifics for their first ever woman-centric film on the nation’s rebellion, how long before they make one on another significant Laxmi— Capt Laxmi Sehgal, a revolutionary in her own right? You do the math.


In one of the Bhagat Singh movies—yes, there are at least seven of them—Indian actor Amrita Rao, then in the prime of her career, had played the role of Singh’s fiancée Mannewali in the National Award-winning film ‘The Legend of Bhagat Singh’. 

Ajay Devgn and Amrita Rao in 'The Legend of Bhagat Singh'

Only trivia that we should know is that no such character exist in reality, or so historians claim. It is strange that fictional first ladies find a space in the lives of those who fought, not the women freedom fighters themselves who were here in flesh and blood.


The heavyweights of Bollywood, who had the gravitas to pull off meaty roles of women behind Independence, have either settled for the role of a lover in a brothel or that of a lonely wife at home. 

Begum Hazrat Mahal


Ameesha Patel, then (relatively) fresh off the success of cross-border love story ‘Gadar’, wailed away swirling along the curtains in ‘Mangal Pandey’. As for Rani Mukerji, another sidekick in the film meant for Aamir Khan’s titular character, was the steamy affair outside of home. 


The film was largely criticised in the media, not once for lack of justifiable female depiction.

Ameesha Patel and Rani Mukerji in 'Mangal Pandey: The Rising'
The rightly deserved school of female athletes have found their own biopic makers—the Mary Koms and Saina Nehwals of India; proud—but why has Bollywood and Indian cinema at large never shed light on those who cut the path out for these women to shine?


For Savitri Bai Phule of Maharashtra, an educationist and social reformer, to carve a small place for herself, an entire university had to change its name. So much for recognition these days.


This trend in cinema is in stark contrast with what poet Rumi had said centuries ago, “Woman is a ray of God… She is creative, not created.” 


Bollywood needs to get on that boat of thought.

 

(Disclaimer: The views of the writer do not represent the views of WION or ZMCL. Nor does WION or ZMCL endorse the views of the writer.)

Pallabi Dey Purkayastha

 

I write about movies, TV shows, relationships, trips I did or did not take, goals I am yet to realise. One day I will write a book, till then let’s go along with the madness called life.

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