Bollywood female ensembles: Much ado about nothing

Bollywood female ensembles: Much ado about nothing

Bollywood has recently been upping its game as far as female-centric movies are concerned. However, despite the rise in women-led films, not many female ensemble movies have been made by the Hindi film industry. Will Veere Di Wedding change that history?

poster of kareena kapoor starrer veere di wedding
Veere Di Wedding is an upcoming female ensemble film starring Kareena Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor, Swara Bhasker and Shikha Talsania in the lead

Bollywood has recently been upping its game as far as female-centric movies are concerned. However, despite the rise in women lead films, not many female ensemble movies have been made by the Hindi film industry. The upcoming Veere Di Wedding is an example in case. However, one look at the recent history of films, and one cannot help but be disappointed by the handful of movies that are cited as instances when Bollywood produced female ensemble films.

One movie that in all likelihood popularised the idea of female ensembles in the industry was Rajkumar Santoshi’s 2001 Lajja. The film featured Manisha Koirala, Madhuri Dixit, Mahima Chaudhary, and Rekha in pivotal roles. Despite the starry cast and a budget of reportedly Rs 25 crore, the film’s narrative lost its direction in the second half of the film. And despite it being an ‘ensemble’, the movie primarily focused on Manisha Koirala’s character, who is trapped in an abusive relationship with Jackie Shroff’s character. Rekha plays a badass midwife who stands up to village leaders that exploit the innocent women. Mahima’s character, on the other hand, is an exploited woman herself. Madhuri’s character is portrayed as a ‘progressive’ woman who is pregnant with the child of her lover, someone she has not yet married.

a poster of madhuri dixit's lajja
Lajja starred Madhuri Dixit, Rekha, Manisha Koirala and Mahima Chaudhary in pivotal roles

Basically, Lajja is a mish-mash of a variety of characters who are beaten down by the patriarchy, but it fails to leave the impact it should have. The screenplay, written by Ashok Rawat and Rajkumar Santoshi is a confused and directionless story that goes nowhere, and in the end, it makes Lajja look like another failed Bollywood female empowerment project.

However, Shimit Amin’s 2007 sports film Chak De! India did a better job of playing up its female characters to its potential. Of course, it wasn’t perfect as Chak De is still remembered as a Shah Rukh Khan film despite having a total of fifteen women as a part of the main cast. The focus of the film was Shah Rukh, as is always the case with every Shah Rukh movie. However, the screen time given to at least five of those fifteen women almost made it up for the movie’s imperfections. Anaitha Nair as Aliya Bose, Shilpa Shukla as Bindiya Naik, Chitrashi Rawat as Komal Chautala, Sagarika Ghatge as Preeti Sabarwal, and Vidya Malvade as Vidya Sharma gave credible performances. The film was a hit, Shah Rukh and the female cast was praised for portraying a believable version of their characters.

sonam kapoor and cast in aisha
A poster of the Sonam Kapoor starrer Aisha

Whereas, supposedly ‘inspired’ by Jane Austen’s Emma, the Sonam Kapoor starrer Aisha was at best a failed chick-flick, thanks to Sonam’s incredible prowess as an actor. Aisha further established that Sonam cannot emote to save her life (and she was at best decent in Neerja, so let’s not veer from the path too much). Aisha also featured Ira Dubey, Lisa Haydon, and Amrita Puri in significant roles. But as in the case of Chak De, Aisha was pretty much a Sonam Kapoor film, where for two hours, the audience was supposed to sit and wait for the great reveal about Aisha’s character (portrayed by Sonam Kapoor). The reveal in question being that Aisha should stop being so nosy and annoying and mind her own business. A basic but important lesson that most of us need to learn. But as far as ensembles go, the characters of Amrita, Lisa and Ira weren’t developed enough.

Pan Nalin’s film Angry Indian Goddesses was the poor cousin of 2017’s controversial film Lipstick Under My Burkha. While the former raised the subjects of rape, caste, and relationships, it failed to do it effectively. On the other hand, Tanuja Chandra’s Lipstick Under My Burkha raised quite a few eyebrows with its in-your-face campaigns about patriarchy, feminism, and the freedom of women. Much was made of the movie prior to its release, and while the Ratna Pathak Shah and Konakana Sen Sharma starrer did some things well, some not so much. The story had the potential, but its narrative tried a bit too hard to be the flag-bearer of feminism.

Bottomline: We still need to cover a lot of ground, and I am not very hopeful about Veere Di Wedding, to be honest. A Sex in the City for Bollywood, at least that’s what the released songs and promo suggest. And I am not here for it.