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Female Protagonists Of Two Most Successful Bollywood Films

Mother India (1957) and Hum Apke Hain Kaun (1994) are the two most successful Bollywood films. Both these films have portrayed Indian society and culture, but in completely different ways. There are many differences between the two films like the messages they want to convey; the setting, the tone etc. However there is one major similarity between the two films and that is, the portrayal of women as central characters around which the films revolve. But the representation of women in the two films is not similar.

In Mother India, the female protagonist is shown to be very daring and strong to the point that she even kills her son when he trudges the wrong path. While on the other hand in Hum Apke Hain Kaun (HAHK), the female protagonist is so docile that she easily sets aside her own emotions for the happiness of others. The similarity between these two characters is that irrespective of being strong or weak, they are both sacrificing and take actions that is good for others but detrimental to their own emotional well being. A woman cannot be happy without her love or child.

In fact in India these two are considered the most important facets of a woman’s life. In the background of such cultural belief the filmmakers chose to exploit the inner powers of the protagonists by making them dare to loose their most valuable reasons of a happy life. Writers Wajahat Mirza and S. Ali Raja had taken a very bold step of portraying a completely different image of a woman way back in 1957. This plot of projecting a woman as the killer of her son was extremely odd not only in those times but also a couple of decades after that.

In fact, until now there have been just one or two films that have dared to portray such a strong and unusual character of a woman. Perhaps the filmmakers tried to bring home the point that if women have been bestowed with the powers of nurturing, they have also been bestowed with the strength of destroying something or someone who is a threat to the well being of others. In fact to do this she can even take extreme steps that is difficult to expect from her. She can possess not only the qualities of Goddess Sita and Lakshmi but also the qualities of the fierce Goddess – Kali.

The synchronization of the characters of different Hindu Goddesses in Radha of Mother India makes her an extremely strong and complex character. On the other hand writer Sooraj R. Barjataya who is also the director of HAHK, elaborates the qualities that are expected from a woman no matter how much the world progresses. The setting of the film is modern; the characters are modern and are shown to be extremely rich, yet the woman who is the central figure of the film is expected to carry the same old values.

Even when she learns that she is being married to her bother in law instead of her lover, she does not let her shock and grief known to even her dear ones. This is something that can be expected of any Indian woman even now. The makers weaved the central character on the lines of Goddess Sita, who is considered one of the epitomes of sacrifice, love and patience. The film got successful in making the youth of early nineties to stay rooted to their culture in the times when the western influence on them was getting highly evident.

The youth had started to drift away from traditional ways of marrying but after this film their interest towards arranged and/or traditional marriages got resurrected. According to Upperstall. com “The feel good film propagating so called ‘Indian traditional values’ and an ‘ideal Indian family’ is dedicated by Barjatya to all the families of the world. ” (para. 5, 2008) Through Nisha, Barjatya tried to spread the message that no matter how modern a society becomes there are a few qualities that would always be embedded in a woman’s personality.

One of these qualities is the power to sacrifice the most valuable happiness of one’s life for the sake of the happiness of her family. Like Goddess Sita Nisha’s character links her happiness to the happiness of her near and dear ones. She is on the verge of killing her own wishes to ensure that the family remains happy. Voi You observed, “I consider HAHK a movie with a moral about how one’s love of the family supercedes personal desire for romantic love and how one feels compelled to sacrifice one’s happiness precisely because of one’s love for the family.

” (para. 4, 1994) Woman chastity has always been an important aspect of the central characters of the Bollywood films. No matter what the circumstances are, the woman always emerges a winner in conquering the inner or outer demons that pose as a threat to her dignity, which lies in being virgin before marriage and honest towards her husband after marriage. Both Radha and Nisha of Mother India and HAHK, have been portrayed as being strong enough to maintain their dignities in the most testing circumstances.

In Mother India, Radha gets a chance to alleviate her extreme poverty in return of marrying the moneylender, Sukhilala. But she chooses to remain loyal to her husband even when he is not with her. She single-handedly fights Sukhilala’s lecherous moves and the demons of hunger by working in extreme conditions to ensure food to her small children. For her, falling prey to Sukhilala’s ambitions is like selling herself to him and she emerges a winner in protecting herself from his clutches.

For Nisha the test is different but she has to prove the same point and that is to maintain her physical sanctity intact even when she is madly in love with someone who reciprocates her feelings. The love between her and her lover is pure and they don’t cross the limits even when they are alone. This is why when there are circumstances of her getting married to someone else there is no question of her cheating someone. Rather the viewers are made to sympathize with her because of the price she is paying for the happiness of her future husband and his motherless child.

As mentioned by Thomas (p. 70) “The film’s resolution produces Radha – and her upholding of female chastity – as the savior of the village and implicit cause of its prosperity and liberation from oppression…” In the same way Nisha’s upholding of female chastity builds her status as the savior of a family, which is suffering from the death of its only female member who was the nurturer of the entire household. From a bold, fun loving young girl Nisha gets transformed into a submissive woman.

She undergoes this transformation when the interests of her family demand this. Submissiveness has been projected as one of the characters of a good woman in the film. This quality is also highlighted in all the positive female characters of the film, for e. g. in the characters of Nisha’s mother and sister. Contrary to this ‘mamiji’ is projected as a bad woman as she is always disobeying her husband and scheming against people. Instead of acting in accordance to her husband’s wishes, she is shown to bully her husband.

These are the qualities that put her in bad woman’s category. At the end of the film her character undergoes a change. She gets transformed to a good woman when her husband stops acting as a puppet to her. Hence the filmmaker relates the positive and negative qualities of women to not only what is inherent in their personalities but also to the authority that their husbands have in their conjugal lives. Thus not only thinking and doing good but also acting according to the wishes of her husband has been portrayed as the character of a good woman in HAHK.

Both Radha and Nisha are not just simple film characters, rather sources of inspiration for a number of Indian women whose plight is that in their single personalities the society expects an amalgamation of several personalities. They have the pressure of playing many roles simultaneously. Through a family drama of a few hours the filmmakers of both these films present before the society, the power of womanhood that needs to be celebrated. Not only this, they provide strength to women especially those who are entrapped between their minds and hearts to deal appropriately with the tricky circumstances laid out to them.

Both these characters provide a ray of hope for Indian women. They have been shown to deal with immense mental trauma. But due to their inner strength, in the end they emerge as winners. In Mother India, Radha is given immense respect by the villagers as they choose her to inaugurate the dam, which stands as a mark of the beginning of economic prosperity of the village. While Nisha gets her real love at the end of the film as her actions impresses all the members of the extended family. Her would be husband particularly helps her in getting back her love.

Hence even being different in many ways, both these female characters can be considered equally important for studying the portrayal of womanhood in the Indian society by the mainstream cinema. References Thomas R. (year of publication). Sancity and Scandal: The Mythologization of Mother India. Place of publication: name of publication house Upperstall. com (2008). Retrieved Nov. 5, 2008 from http://www. upperstall. com/ films/1994/hum-aapke-hain-kaun Voi, You. A. (1994). Retrieved Nov. 5, 2008 from http://www. brns. com/bollywood/ pages1/bolly92. html

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