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New Delhi: An industry that has long forced its female actors to conform to stereotypes of age is finally seeing its women break norms and challenge them. A bunch of female actors, no longer at the peak of their mainstream Bollywood career, are now headlining projects- both feature films and digital offerings. This December, Rani Mukerji will return as the brave cop in the Mardaani 2, the sequel to her 2014 crime drama Mardaani. Shilpa Shetty returns to screens after a 13-year sabbatical with a film called Nikamma that she has just announced shooting for even as Karisma Kapoor preps for the release of her web show Mentalhood on Ekta Kapoor’s video streaming platform ALTBalaji.

“Things have definitely changed for female actors in the industry. A lot of stereotypes have been broken, and we’re telling better stories where the focus is on the strength of performers," said Sabbir Khan, who is directing Shetty in Nikamma.

Khan refers to the fact that the current crop of filmmakers is looking at realistic, slice-of-life stories that allow actors—male or female to look and act their age, besides bringing in narratives about people audiences can identify with.

Of late, several films with major stars in the lead have failed to create ripples at the box office. The list of flops includes Karan Johar’s period drama Kalank (with box office collections of 80.03 crore), Yash Raj Films’ action adventure Thugs Of Hindostan ( 138.34 crore), Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Zero ( 88.74 crore), and Salman Khan’s Tubelight ( 114.57 crore), which was directed by Kabir Khan. These have been accompanied by sleeper hits such as Ayushmann Khurrana-starrers Dream Girl ( 134.68 crore) and Badhaai Ho ( 134.46 crore), as well as director Nitesh Tiwari’s comedy drama Chhichhore ( 145.56 crore).

“We’ve also come a long way from having only a handful of women on film sets, primarily for hair and costume because that is all they were considered capable of," said Mentalhood director Karishma Kohli adding that the 1990s saw a few films front-led by female actors such as Sridevi’s Lamhe and Madhuri Dixit’s Anjaam. Things changed with better writing and a lot more women being on the sets of films in the 2000s as directors, editors and cinematographers.

“Women are also now willing to play their age," Kohli pointed out. Besides, given that most of these actors have remained active on social media, their relevance among younger audiences is understandable as is the fact that web offerings allow for a certain format and voice that traditional media like film and television did not accord women.

“Hindi cinema has always been ageist when it came to roles for women. Mother India is often quoted but it must be noted it was a rarity in its time. However, as the new writing for web series is character-based, there is much more scope for mature characters and thankfully these include good roles for women. We must remember the audience is also made up of vast numbers of women who want to see their stories played out on the screen," said film critic Nasreen Munni Kabir.


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