5 of Bollywood’s Best Anti-Heroines That Are Not Kangana
From Alia in ‘Gully Boy’ to Taapsee in ‘Manmarziyaan’
If there’s anything I took back from Judgementall Hai Kya, it’s the extent of Kangana Ranaut’s self-assertive onscreen characters. Whether it’s her psychotic obsession with Keshav (Rajkummar Rao) in Judgementall Hai Kya or her impulsive gambling habits in Simran, there’s no doubt about the fact that she seems to carefully pick and choose her scripts. Scripts that not only ensure a powerful female character, but also stray away from the age-old vanilla characterisation of women.
In some ways, Kangana has managed to own the anti-heroine archetype in Bollywood. And to do that in an industry that has traditionally reduced women to convenient plot points and simplified stereotypes, I believe, could not have been cakewalk.
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The women in this third category, the anti-heroines, are flawed as hell, and there’s no sob story to justify that.
Some might argue that it’s unfair of me to pretend that nuanced, unconventional female characters have never been a part of mainstream cinema. After all, we’ve seen Priyanka Chopra really bring out her devil horns in Aitraaz and Kajol emerge as the unexpected murderer in Gupt. However, Priyanka’s character in Aitraaz is not so much an anti-heroine as she is the femme fatale that stands out like a red flag. And Kajol, on the other hand, is one of the many female villains that are explicitly bad. Both easily digestible and accepted tropes in popular media.
However, in the recent past, Bollywood seems to have taken the leap by giving us female characters that are very different from these two tropes. The women in this third category, the anti-heroines, are flawed as hell, and there’s no sob story to justify that. They’re far from society’s problematic assumption of what an ideal woman should be but they’re also not...bad. They’re not virtuous, they’re unlike-able and brash, and occupy space in ways female characters normally don’t.
So while Kangana may seem like she has somewhat perfected the anti-heroine (with both her onscreen and offscreen presence), there are others too who’ve contributed to the wave.
1. Taapsee Pannu in Badla
Playing the unreliable narrator, Taapsee Pannu in Sujoy Ghosh’s Badla is fiercely unapologetic about the crimes that she has committed. After accidentally killing a stranger she doesn’t, for a moment, flinch before lying to cover up her mistake. She displays qualities (think selfishness, manipulation, on-the-spot decision making) that have traditionally only been reserved for men. A refreshing deviation from the self-sacrificing women characters fed to us in the past.
2. Radhika and Sanya in Pataakha
In Pataakha, we see two bickering sisters, played by Radhika Madan and Sanya Malhotra, at their worst. They’re unbelievably violent, untame-able, and out to get each other no matter what - traits that are sometimes acceptable in younger siblings but in full grown adult women? Not so much. While the Pataakha sisters are not exactly ‘sibling goals’, their characters are still a brilliant exploration of female rage. I say ‘female’ rage specifically because the concept of rage has, for the most part of it, been reserved for men. Or women who have been severely wronged and seek revenge.
3. Tabu in Andhadhun
Tabu’s character in Andhadhun shares many qualities with Taapsee Pannu in Badla, but the former doesn’t have the cushion that often comes with an unreliable narrator. In an attempt to frantically cover up her husband’s death/murder, she ends up destroying many other lives. She’s untrustworthy and unpredictable but never in doubt of her end goal. Tabu’s character is as flawed as an anti-heroine can get. Does that make her endearing? No, because it doesn’t have to. However, it does make her real.
4. Taapsee Pannu in Manmarziyaan
There’s no sugarcoating the fact that Taapsee Pannu’s Rumi in Manmarziyaan is not just flawed but also toxic. She can’t seem to make up her mind, and her indecisiveness directly affects everyone else in her life. But here’s the thing - throughout the film, Rumi is well aware of her adulterous and stubborn way of life. And yet, she doesn’t budge. Even her guilty conscious isn’t enough to lead her to the supposedly right path. In Rumi, we get the opportunity to see a woman stumble through life without having to worry about log kya kahenge (what will others think)?
5. Alia Bhatt in Gully Boy
Personally, Alia Bhatt’s character Safeena in Gully Boy is the anti-heroine Bollywood needs. Unfortunately, we only got a glimpse of Safeena’s feisty and impulsive persona as most of the spotlight was taken away by Ranveer Singh. But in those few moments, our anti-heroine proves herself to be an insecure and possessive lover, and a generally ambitious will-stop-at-nothing force of nature. From smashing a bottle on Kalki’s head to actively rebelling against societal norms, Safeena is a reminder of how even a problematic woman is more than a simplified sob story.
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