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From Sherni To Pagglait: Hindi Films Of 2021 That Let Women Take Charge

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Best performances 2021: The year 2021 did not see many theatrical releases, however, there was no dearth of women-centric films, thanks to OTT. With digital content we not only had movies led by women, or based on issues that affected women, we also witnessed women in meatier and more complex roles, with their shares of hits and misses (looking at you, Haseen Dillruba).

One of the most common themes in women-centric films that were released this year were stories where women took charge of their lives and surroundings, holding their ground against challenges created by society, system and gender. We saw two widows realise that life doesn’t stop when your partner passes away, we saw a forest officer stand up to a corrupt system that cares more about politics than wildlife, we also saw a version of one of India’s most powerful women leaders, who is shown to a strong-minded leader who doesn’t suffer nonsense.

As we inspect the good, bad and ugly of the year 2021, here are five beautiful performances by women in Hindi cinema that made us root for them unconditionally.

Sherni, Vidya Balan

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Vidya Balan in a still from Sherni.

A newly transferred forest officer Vidya Vincent finds herself battling political manipulation, office politics and fear when she tries to save a tigress and her young cubs from being hunted down. This bitter-sweet film by Amit Masurkar unwinds at an unhurried pace and yet it is engaging. Balan’s Vidya Vincent is a woman of few words, who lets her actions speak louder. We rarely do see her lose her cool, but like a rock, Vincent stands for what she believes is ethical even if it means going against her superiors and sabotaging her career. Sherni gives us a rare working woman who grapples with work-life balance, while holding an unconventional job.


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Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi, Supriya Pathak

When Ramprasad passes away suddenly, he leaves behind his wife to deal with mounting debt and children who have vested interests. Amma’s kids hold numerous grudges against their parents and are more concerned about sorting out the financial mess that Ramprasad has left behind, than caring for their mother.

When Amma finally realises that she has to continue living despite losing the epicentre of her universe to death, she makes a decision that leaves her children stunned. Supriya Pathak excels in the role of a grieving widow who is lonely despite being surrounded by her loved ones and extended family. You feel her pain at being seen as a burden, now that her partner is no more – a fate many older widows in India, who are not economically independent, face.

BellBottom, Lara Dutta

When Lara Dutta’s look as Indira Gandhi for BellBottom was unveiled, the viewers were hooked. But here’s the deal with prosthetics, not many actors manage to carry them well and they end up coming across as a hindrance for an actor, rather than a tool. Of course, there are exceptions to this – and thankfully, Lara Dutta is now one of them.

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Lara Dutta’s BellBottom look

We all know Indira Gandhi was a force to reckon with, what Dutta brings to her character is a strong poise, along with her rich authoritative voice. Dutta’s Gandhi trusts her instinct (which obviously means she will bet her money on our hero, but that is not the larger point here). Even in a role that barely lasts 20 minutes or so, she stands out and leaves you wanting more of her interpretation of India’s first and only woman Prime Minister till date. Can we have a spin-off, maybe?

Pagglait, Sanya Malhotra

On the surface, it might seem like Seema Pahwa’s Ramprasad Ki Terhvi and Pagglait, directed by Umesh Bisht have many parallels. They both focus on two widows dealing with the loss of a partner, they both show how death becomes more about money and property than grief, but this is where the similarities end. Unlike Pahwa’s film, Pagglait tells us the story of a young widow who was in a loveless marriage and doesn’t feel any grief on losing her husband.


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Sanya Malhotra brings a certain quirkiness to Sandhya who is as unconventional as an Indian widow can be, both on and off the screen. Sandhya is in fact grieving the relationship that she never had with her husband, knowing that he was in love with someone else. When her families, both her parents and dead husband’s side try to take control of her life, Sandhya finally rebels, at the cost of being labelled mad, thus giving the film its title.

Shershaah, Kiara Advani

After BellBottom, this was the second film released in 2021, where a woman actor left a big mark with her performance and role in a film revolving around its male lead. Advani made a u-turn from Kabir Singh‘s meek and indecisive Preeti to Captain Vikram Batra’s dependable partner Dimple Cheema in Shershaah, and we are grateful!

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Kiara Advani and Sidharth Malhotra in Shershaah.

Advani’s Cheema stands by Batra’s choice to join the army but also stands up to her father when he doesn’t approve of her boyfriend. She makes it clear that it is Batra she intends to marry, although sans all the melodrama that is usually piled on such confrontational father-daughter scenes in Hindi films. Perhaps the fact that Advani’s character was based on Batra’s actual girlfriend who chose to stay single lifelong after his death, made us empathise with her character so much. Nonetheless, many viewers will remember this as Advani’s most lovable performance to date.