Game Over to Gully Boy: Female Characters Strive to Break Shackles

A listicle of women in films who feel trapped, literally and metaphorically.

7 min read
Stills from <i>Game Over</i> and <i>Gully Boy</i>.

At a time when roles for women in Bollywood are becoming a lot more layered than they used to be, a common thread connecting lead female protagonists from varied genres has emerged in recent times - the intense urge to break the shackles. Be it literal or metaphorical traps, they are chained by various things, including physical fear, conservative mindsets, patriarchal professions and societal apathy towards accepting who they are.

On one hand, the recently released Game Over sees Sapna trying to liberate herself from her inner demons, on the other, Soni recounts the story of two female cops bogged down by their male-dominated profession. But these women chose to answer back.

Here’s a look at some of the leading ladies from recent films, who refused to stay shackled and fought to break free from their stifling circumstances.

1. Sapna in Game Over

A still from <i>Game Over</i>.
A still from Game Over.
(Photo Courtesy: Pinterest)

In this intelligent, but unnatural thriller, the central character is Sapna, a name that can give you the worst nightmares after you have watched the film. Sapna aka Taapsee Pannu is a video game developer, who suffers from nyctophobia and is trapped in her house because of a past trauma, robbing her of trust, confidence and the ability to feel ‘safe’ in crowded spaces. She cuts herself off from public gaze and works from home.

But there’s more to the film than just her literal confinement. It’s Sapna’s fear that becomes the driving force for the film. No wonder when she visits a coffee shop after a long gap, she runs away the moment some men bring up the terrible tragedy that she had been subjected to a year ago. She attempts to commit suicide, but it results in her being wheelchair bound. A series of gruesome murders heighten Sapna’s anxiety. She has dreams of the killer breaking into her house and strangling her to death. From the ticking of the clock to the creak of a rusty swing, inanimate objects too aid to the tension. The climax has Sapna totally cornered. But does she manage to liberate herself from her fears? That’s for you to find out.


Safeena in Gully Boy

Alia as Safeena in <i>Gully Boy</i>.
Alia as Safeena in Gully Boy.
(Photo Courtesy: Pinterest)

At the centre of this film is Murad (Ranveer), who aspires to become a rapper. But there’s an equally powerful girl in Gully Boy, and she is Safeena (Alia Bhatt). Murad and Safeena are shackled by the sociocultural construct. Murad hails from Dharavi, and Safeena has a comfortable house. A rickety bridge separates the two worlds, but it also brings these two souls closer.

Safeena studies hard to become a doctor, but her family clearly has another goal for her – to get married. She is arm-twisted by her mother to attend a cousin’s wedding, even if it means bunking crucial classes. Safeena terms the marriage “wahiyat”, only to be shouted at by her mom. The pent-up anger gets vented out when she beats up Sky and her friend for getting too close to Murad. “I want to go to parties with friends, apply lipstick, call boys over to my place, and lead a normal life,” Safeena says as she breaks down while trying to explain to her parents that she is tired on the restrictions on her life and wants to break free.

Safeena is brave and passionate, but she yearns to give wings to her dreams. When her family sets up a meeting with a prospective suitor and Safeena is asked whether she can cook, the gutsy girl replies, “No, but if everything goes well, I can successfully do your liver transplant”.


Sweety in Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga

Sonam Kapoor and Regina Cassandra in the film.
Sonam Kapoor and Regina Cassandra in the film.
(Photo Courtesy: Pinterest)

Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga might not be one of the bravest films on homosexuality, but the film did tug at our heart’s strings. Sweety Choudhary (Sonam Kapoor) is dying a slow death because her traditional Punjabi family refuses to acknowledge her sexual identity. The film opens with a wedding sequence, wherein a guest tells Sweety’s father that weddings are the best places to find grooms. The camera zooms in on her face, and we see her expression harden. We learn about her story through flashbacks.

Sweety lives her dreams through her sketches - a place where she isn’t judged, cornered and trapped. She falls in love twice, only to be chided by her brother and told that being a lesbian is a disease. Sweety flees her home to meet her lover Kuhu (Regina Cassandra), but her brother follows her everywhere.

Her family leaves no stone unturned to get her married, but hope comes in the form of a playwright and friend, Sahil (Rajkummar Rao), who acts as a catalyst. The stage becomes a platform for Sweety to liberate herself and narrate her beautiful love story, and in the process, once and for all, come out to the world.

But this film also has another character who has quietly succumbed to his fate, Sweety’s father, Balbir Chaudhary (Anil Kapoor). Forced to strangle his dream of becoming a chef and instead open a garments business, Balbir seeks comfort in the kitchen, where the aroma of spices reminds him of his long-lost desire.


Soni and Kalpana in Soni

Saloni Batra and Geetika Vidya Ohlyan in <i>Soni</i>.
Saloni Batra and Geetika Vidya Ohlyan in Soni.
(Photo Courtesy: Pinterest)

A woman in a cop’s uniform should signify power, right? Wrong. Soni perfectly embodies the rage women officers feel when the patriarchal hierarchy within the system keeps pointing out to them that they belong to a gender not capable of calling the shots.

The Netflix film revolves around two characters - Soni (Geetika Vidya Ohlyan) and her superior Kalpana (Saloni Batra). Soni is angry, and her justified rage has serious professional repercussions. She slaps an unruly driver while on duty, hits a rich spoiled brat from an influential political family for misbehaving with her, refuses to vacate a ladies’ washroom, and beats up a man who tries to sexually harass her. She is also asked by a caring neighbour to wear sindoor and other visible ‘signs’ of marriage to keep herself safe.

The more Soni tries to break out from this vicious web, the more she gets entangled in it. And so does Kalpana. This reserved, soft-spoken officer receives flak from her own husband for trying to defend Soni and being too soft on her juniors. She goes to family gatherings only to be asked about when she plans to have a child. Soni blurs the line between the superior and her subordinate as it becomes a fight of two women who are being choked by their own profession.


Miloni in Photograph

Sanya Malhotra in <i>Photograph</i>.
Sanya Malhotra in Photograph.
(Photo Courtesy: Pinterest)

On an otherwise mundane Mumbai morning, two people - a tourist and a photographer - cross paths at the Gateway of India and thus blooms a story about an extraordinary friendship. Miloni (Sanya Malhotra) is a reserved, sheltered Gujarati girl who is slowly drowning in the expectations of her parents. Quiet dinners with family followed by late night study sessions - the mundane days in her life are emphasised by these repetitive chores.

She is a studious girl who is the star of her coaching institute. Miloni is also the face of the hoarding that advertises the institute’s success. But the photograph that Rafi clicks reflects a smile that we otherwise don’t see on Miloni’s face.

A chance meeting gives Miloni hope that there’s a person with whom she can share a part of her life that’s getting crushed under the weight of the fat books. She begins doing things guided by her own choices. Rafi gives her a name and a new identity - Noori. From savouring road-side golas to getting drenched in the rain and watching a movie in a rundown theatre, Miloni tastes a life devoid of the staleness. Miloni also opens up about her choice to not have any cola. “When I was a child, my grandfather used to buy me a Campa Cola every day and I loved them. After Campa Cola shut shop, no other cola has tasted the same,” she says. Miloni may not have had her fairytale ending, but she does savour the moments of freedom.


Sulu in Tumhari Sulu

Vidya Balan in <i>Tumhari Sulu</i>.
Vidya Balan in Tumhari Sulu.
(Photo Courtesy: Pinterest)

Sulu (Vidya Balan) is a homemaker. She cooks for her husband and child, looks after them and does all the household chores. But deep down Sulu harbours a dream to do something more with her life. She wins a prize by singing a song for a radio station, only to stumble upon a vacancy for a radio jockey. It’s for a late night show wherein the woman has to don the avatar of a seductive love guru. Sulu knows that she fits the profile, but this saree clad homemaker is met with a sort of disdain initially, from the stylish head of the channel (Neha Dhupia).

Sulu earnestly practices for her role - once by calling a grocery store and ordering a broom in the sexiest way possible, and the other time calling her husband Ashok (Manav Kaul). She ultimately bags the job, and proves that she is good at it. However, not many middle-class families would be alright with a woman staying out late into the night and talking to strangers, that too in a sensual manner? Fights ensue between Ashok and Sulu, and it escalates to the point wherein she has to choose between family and work. However, all’s well that ends well. Ashok, who himself is struggling in a profession that is taking him nowhere, decides to start something on his own and Sulu lends all the support. In the end, Sulu does manage to make her own choices.

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