The female action hero or gun toting bad girl has certainly made big strides in the past decade. Whether this trend continues is far from certain though the indicators from blockbusters such as Dhoom, Dus, Elaan etc., are that the Indian public is now more willing to accept such roles from even their biggest stars and starlets. Currently one of the most popular Bollywood actress is Aishwarya Rai and she certainly survived playing a negative role in Khakee though her action role in Dhoom 2 never really got off the ground. At the moment Bollywood seems in a state of indecision. The posters promise all kinds of female action roles but the films themselves often fail to deliver. Judging by some of the posters and publicity for recent Indian films the inference is that there is an increase in action girl and girls with guns roles in Indian cinema. Films such as Dhoom and Dus still flatter and deceive in this respect, Bipasha Basu, Esha Deol and Shilpa Shetty all being cheated of equivalence to their male counterparts. This was particularly disappointing as Bipasha Basu had previously shown good potential as an action heroine in the earlier release Gunnah. In that particular film Bipasha played a polcewoman split between her loyalty to a corrupt police system and her duty to arrest a criminal she later falls in love with. The role of a policewoman is an acceptable role for a major Bollywood actress. However the film was probably too dark and poorly executed for the majority of the Indian cinema going audience and Bipasha hasn't really been cast in such a forceful role since.
Possibly the baddest girl of recent times has been Laila from the film Qayamat played by Isha Koppikar. The film was based upon the Hollywood film The Rock and closely follows the original plot of a group of terrorists seizing an abandoned prison as a base for furthering their evil intentions. However The Rock certainly did not feature a villainess of the calibre of Laila. Ms Koppikar certainly scores as the screen's female star completely overshadowing fellow actresses Riya Sena and Raveena Tandon. In many respects she is the epitome of a new breed of actress surfacing more and more in modern Indian cinema. Despite getting into the movie industry via the common route of being a successful model Ms Koppikar is so much more than a pretty face being quite an academic, a PETA spokesperson and totally unafraid to do controversial roles. Her big break in Bollywood came doing the stunning "Item Number" Khallas in the gritty crime film Company though she did not do the vocals. Probably her most controversial role was in the salacious lesbian thriller Girlfriend which allegedly so outraged some sections of the Indian public that cinemas showing it were sent death threats.
Whilst Dus and Dhoom 2 failed to deliver much for the genre, there are one or two films which do. Lara Datta and Amisha Patel got to show their action girl credentials in the 2005 release Elaan. Of course the boys get the bigger and better stunts and action scenes. Lara and Amisha do get their moments and a higher quotient than was normal. The early to mid 2000's actually saw an increase in the action roles offered to main stream actresses but maybe the formula did not work for the Indian cinema going public. Anyway since then the roles seem to have contracted which is a shame given how good Elaan was.
A final example of the role of the bad girl is taken from Asembarv. Maybe it is an example of the push towards female equality within the action role genre featuring as it does two bad girls and two good girls. Despite the fact they are pushed to the background for much of the film they do have a few scenes in the film. In fact the film is actually slightly unorthodox in its denouement for the bad girls. ISC cinema actually has quite a long history of the vamp and the good girl engaging in climactic cat fight to settle matters and Asembhav changes the rules slightly. The bad girls are obviously "irredeemable" so are denied the vamp's previous fate of a good slapping by the good girl and are dispatched in a more permanent if improbable manner.
So where next for the genre in ISC film? The first point is one I
made towards the beginning of this article. For the most part few of the
Bollywood films discussed have had little critical acclaim upon their release
and if they have done well at the box office it is down to the status of
the male stars rather than the female actresses. It seems it is still preferred
for the female to play the romantic lead. This is absolutely no criticism
of the industry as there have been some exceptional Bollywood films with
strong roles for women in these roles (Rani Mukhejee in Black for example)
but alas there is little appetite for the female action heroine. Though
the boundaries are sometimes tested and advances made there is little evidence
that things will change too much. The rest of the ISC (Pakistan excepted)
is even more traditional in its film making so don't expect any breakthroughs
for female roles there. As stated the Lollywood production line has largely
dried up. Maybe ISC cinema is right to stick with the genres which it knows
and produces best. Whilst these articles have concentrated on GWG films
the fact is there have been some remarkable films coming from the region
(some real dross too!) over the years. I for one want to see the full gamut
of films from the region and whilst I hope the GWG genre will get a higher
quotient of output it should not be at the expense of the regional identity
of the films being lost.