Why I Found These Five Fictional Characters Refreshing In 2023

I notice myself inclining towards fictional characters that deliver an unstereotypical version of their archetype, and these brought something unique to the table and struck a chord with me this year.

Tanya Savkoor
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five fictional characters i found refreshing

Ali Wong in Beef, Kartik Aaryan in Satyaprem Ki Katha; Images: Screenshots

What a year 2023 has been! As I look back on some of the movies and shows that I enjoyed indulging in, I notice myself inclining towards characters that broke trope stereotypes and delivered a refurbished version of their archetype. The lines between good and negative characters are slowly blurring in cinema and TV, making them more realistic and easy to connect with, which made me more drawn to them. Even amid the Hollywood writer's strikes, this year saw some great creativity in fictional characters.


Portraying refreshing characters is not a layman's cup of tea. It requires artistry that comes with extensive research and expertise as reflected by the writers and actors of these characters. Here is a list of the top five characters that brought something unique to the table and struck a chord with me this year.

Amy Lau, Beef

amy lau beef
Ali Wong as Amy Lau from Beef. Image: Screenshot

Ali Wong played the character of Amy Lau in Beef, a rich Asian first-generation immigrant woman who seems to have it all-- a large mansion decorated just the way she envisioned it, a doting husband, a career that she mostly loves, and an adorable daughter gifted with artistic abilities. However, behind this polished mask are childhood trauma and mental illness, which go unnoticed. 

Asians, especially women, are typically portrayed as collected and composed characters in Hollywood, who rarely ever show complex emotions. Giving Amy a persona that transcends this two-dimensionality and expresses the trauma that most first-gen immigrant people go through guides realistic Asian representation as well as representation of mental health.

When her car almost gets hit and the chase scene happens in the pilot episode, Amy's pent-up rage finally exposes itself and continually worsens throughout the show as the two protagonists attempt to out-violate each other. A scene of Amy masturbating with a loaded gun is symbolic of the anguish that she holds within herself, despite seemingly having a perfect life. 


Bulbul Johari, Made In Heaven

bulbul johari
Image: Screenshot

Bulbul Johari from Made in Heaven screams empowerment as an iron-willed businesswoman and mother. Beyond just a surface-level portrayal of working mothers, Bulbul's character accurately personifies the psychological discord that plays out in their minds as they balance the two demanding professions.

Whether it is friction at the workplace or devastation at home, Bulbul holds a tight grip on her conscience while also showcasing her defenceless side. Unlike characters who are all or nothing-- the tropes of glorified "I don't know how she does it all" or the working woman with crippling family life-- Bulbul's character shows a believable blend of the two worlds.

She is gutted when she hears of her son's involvement in a sexual offence case, especially as a survivor herself, and starts questioning "If only I was more present at home." Meanwhile, she slowly loses focus at work, unable to give her all because of turmoil in the family.

Played with poise by Mona Singh, Bulbul Johari served as a realistic depiction of working women who are imperfectly navigating their two separate personas, which is something we rarely get to see in Indian movies or shows. Moreover, her emphasis on financial independence as a catalyst for upliftment was just the cherry atop the cake.


Ken, Barbie

Image: Know Your Meme

Ryan Gosling; Isn't he a total dream? Is he even real? Not in Barbie, he isn't. He plays the Ken doll in the Barbie movie, personifying a character who is a rookie in real life. In Barbie-land, as the name suggests, the Barbies run the show and the Kens are just there. All they do is adore Barbie and "beach."

That is until Ken enters the real world and notices patriarchy, which is depicted in an augmented and comedic way. He then returns to Barbie-land and chaotically takes all the power. Ken's transition from Barbie's devotee to an alpha macho was a fun imagination of how an extraterrestrial would perceive our society.

Later in the movie, Ken realises that he is "Kenough" and need not make fawning over Barbie his entire life's purpose. Barbie also explains to him that there are better and less harmful ways for him to express his individuality. Ken's character opens an important dialogue on individual expression and being content with oneself, especially for young boys and men who often depend on adverse approaches to assert their temperament.

Dr Vidushi Kothari, Who's Your Gynac?

dr vidushi kothari
Image: Screenshot

Who's Your Gynac explores tabooed topics of women's reproductive health with a comedic, attention-grabbing approach. The protagonist, Dr Vidushi Kothari played by Saba Azad, is a nascent gynaecologist on the lookout for a pregnancy case, believing it could mark the breakthrough of her career.

Dr Vidushi is imperfect and admits to her flaws. She can come across as too eager and sometimes oversteps boundaries with her coworker nurse. However, she is determined to hold onto the demands of her profession and is particular about calling the vagina as vagina and sex as sex. That is just how she wants the world to be more aware of sexual health.

Who's Your Gynac also delves into her personal life, chartering waters of adult friendships, dating as a busy doctor, and coming to terms with the guilt of her missteps in past relationships. Vidushi does not seem like the usual career-oriented woman who has it all figured out, which makes her a unique addition to memorable fictional characters from this year.

Sattu, Satyaprem Ki Katha

satyaprem ki katha
Image: Screenshot

Kartik Aaryan, contrary to the role he is best known for in Pyaar Ka Punchnama, plays a man who is sensitive to women in this film. Satyaprem is an aspiring law student, keen on marrying Katha, whom he met years ago at an event. Katha, although hesitant to tie the knot, agrees anyway to avoid confrontation with her family.

Although Satyaprem knows she is disinterested in marriage, he is blinded by his infatuation with her. However, everything changes when Katha reveals that she was sexually abused in her past relationship. Sattu (Satyaprem) then does all he can to make Katha feel safe from then on. But wait. This minimal standard reaction is not what I liked about Sattu.

Sattu embodies a man who is not embarrassed to admit that he is sexually inexperienced and portrays the pressure that men in our society face in this matter. As all his friends get hitched and have children, Sattu is left envying them from a distance. Aside from this, in the end scene, he also admits to his creepy, stalker-ish behaviour towards Katha before their engagement. 

Sattu recalls how he ignored Katha when she expressed disinterest in the marriage, without asking her the reason even once. He apologises and also helps Katha file a case against her attacker. This scene comes across as a typical "Prince Charming saves damsel-in-distress," but to the character of Katha, it made a great deal of difference, showing the reality of how grimly sexual abuse can shake a person's mental strength.

Views expressed are the author's own. 

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