Are There South Asian Female Role Models in Film?


Interesting female roles are hard to come by in Indian cinema – especially when the movie is set outside of India. Here are a few good ones which go beyond the clichés.


By Anne John

 Anne John

It is not always that one sees Indian women playing meaningful roles in Bollywood movies. Real and sensible roles for women are few and far apart, with most roles written for female leads being shallow and predictable. Although there are several impressive women in Indian cinema who can do justice to strong roles with their nuanced acting skills, sadly most heroines only serve as eye candy in Bollywood. This is more so the case if the movie is set abroad. Indian cinema is notorious for splurging huge amounts of money by making movies at exotic foreign locales, where the heroine is yet another stereotypical caricature, simply incidental to the movie itself.


However, there are a handful of interesting movies which strive to look beyond this façade. These movies give us a peak into the lives of Indian women abroad and makes us think about the challenges that countless other women like them face every day. While there are also a number of movies about NRIs which pander to stereotypes, here are 4 great movies that portray Indian women abroad in a different light:


Provoked: Starring Aishwarya Rai and Nandita Das and directed by Jag Mundhra, this movie is based on a true story. Aishwarya Rai plays Kiranjit Ahluwalia, a traditional Punjabi woman who moves to the UK following her marriage, only to discover that the man whom she married is a monster who turns her life into a living hell. Provoked depicts the reality of abusive marriages.

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While domestic violence is widespread in several Indian homes, many NRI women find themselves specially disadvantaged. Even today, countless Indian women leave behind their family and friends and follow their husbands abroad only to find their dreams of a happy married life shattered. Bereft of a support system to fall back on with family usually miles away, alone in an alien land as a “dependent”, often not knowing whom to reach out to for help, these women’s lives are a tragedy. Provoked shows us what a woman is capable of doing if pushed beyond her limits.   


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Mitr, My Friend: Boasting of an all-women crew, this movie was directed by Revathi and won the best English Film Of The Year award at the 49th National Film Awards. The movie’s female lead Shobhana also bagged the Best Actress award for her role as Lakshmi, a small town girl who moves abroad after her marriage. While this movie does not deal with domestic violence and Lakshmi leads a normal married life, it highlights the cultural differences that Lakshmi faces as an Indian mother bringing up her Indian-American daughter. It also touches upon the numerous sacrifices that Indian women make for their families – without even pausing to think about it – and how they typically neglect themselves, relegating their own hopes and aspirations to the bottom of the priority list.

Mitr, My Friend stresses the importance of not falling into this trap and instead encourages Indian women to build a life that goes beyond the walls of the home.


Bend It Like Beckham: is a delightful film, set in the UK. Directed by Gurinder Chadha, this movie stars Parminder Nagra and Keira Knightley. This film talks about overcoming cultural stereotypes to follow your dreams – without being heavy or preachy about it. The performances are refreshing and at its heart is also a lovely friendship between the two leading ladies. The movie aptly captures the dilemmas and dreams of immigrant families, who struggle to find a balance between two different ways of life.

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English Vinglish: Touted as yesteryear dream girl Sridevi’s “comeback” movie, English Vinglish is a simple and heart-warming tale of Shashi – a housewife whose skills and contributions are taken for granted by her family. She is often ridiculed for her bad English by her children which she accepts, albeit with a heavy heart.

But when she goes to stay with her sister in the US, she faces further challenges, until she finally decides to do something about it. The rest of the movie is about how Shashi gains confidence in herself and her abilities and makes her family sit up and take notice of her.

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This film definitely strikes a chord with its female audience, since it captures the essence of the quintessential Indian woman.

These are some of the interesting movies about Indian women abroad that made it to my list. Which ones are in yours?

More about the author:

Anne John is the Content Manager at Women’s Web. Connect with her @annejwrites.


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