Women Centered Movies - TopTen

What better way to kickstart the Bollywood TopTen than by celebrating women in Bollywood. So here are our 20 nominees for Top Ten Bollwood movies with women in the lead role and where women are the pivot around which the movie revolves. 

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Kahani (2012)​

Vidya Balan plays a pregnant woman in search of her missing husband in the city of Kolkota. As she struggles against formidable obstacles in a male-dominated environment, she takes viewers on a fascinating trip that keeps them intrigued right through to the surprising twist at the end. Viday Balan is thoroughly convincing. Director Sujoy Ghosh, who also co-wrote this intelligent script with an understated assurance, uses the story to pay a sensitive tribute to the city of Kolkota. Top notch cinematography by Setu (especially evocative as the film is set during the festival Durga Puja). Slick editing by Namrata Rao. A film with no male lead and no mind-numbing Bollywood songs. Just plain-old suspense in storytelling. It won three National Film Awards and five Filmfare Awards on its way to box office success both in India and globally. A sequel - 'Kahaani 2' - was released in 2016.

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Queen (2014)

Kangana Ranaut plays a diffident Punjabi girl from Delhi who is ditched a day before her wedding, but who proceeds to go it alone on the honeymoon, that had already been booked to Paris and Amsterdam. This decision takes her down a challenging, but exhilarating path where she not only makes new friends, but also faces her own demons. Winner of six Filmfare Awards and two National Film Awards, 'Queen' is as much a story about self-discovery as it is about learning to live to the fullest and accept the unplanned that can come into life. Directed by Vikas Bahl (who also co-wrote the screenplay), the cast also includes Lisa Haydon and Rajkummar Rao. Its box office success has ensured that this celebration of ‘the road not taken’ has kick-started remakes in a number of regional languages.

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Chameli (2003)

Rahul Bose is a depressed widower who, on a stormy night, meets a prostitute, Chameli (played by Kareena Kapoor) and moves (over the course of events played out that night) from being judgmental to understanding, accepting and eventually treasuring the unique person that she is. Between fending off hostile cops, corrupt politicians and ruthless criminals, the pair develop a bond that becomes decisive in their futures. Initially directed by Anant Balani, who died whilst shooting, the film was completed by Sudhir Mishra. Chameli remains a pivotal role in Kareena Kapoor’s filmography as it showcased a breadth that many of her previous roles did not suggest that she had.

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Mother India (1957)

Clearly the 'mother' of all women-centric films in Bollywood, 'Mother India' stars Nargis as Radha, a poor woman who battles alone against injustice and exploitation. The personification of dignified empowerment, Radha tapped into the religious and nationalist sentiments of the public ten years after India achieved independence and helped the film break box office records. The first Indian film to be nominated for an Academy Award, it apparently lost out by a wafer thin margin! Arguably, Nargis' finest performance, the film remains for Indians the epic that sets the benchmark for all other self-proclaimed epics. Directed by Mehboob Khan, the film was a remake of his 1940 film ‘Aurat’. The cast also included Sunil Dutt, Rajendra Kumar and Raaj Kumar; with music by Naushad. Revered as Bollywood’s ‘Gone with the Wind’, ‘Mother India’ not only defined Hindi cinema for a number of generations, but also immortalised the Indian mother as personification of nobility, courage and sacrifice.

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English Vinglish (2012)

With 'English Vinglish' Sridevi returned to the silver screen after a 15-year break. She plays the role of a wife and mother who is mocked by her husband and daughter for her abysmal grasp of English. In New York to attend a wedding in the family, she joins a conversational English course and surprises her family (and herself) with the results. In this fascinating and uplifting portrayal of metamorphosis, Sridevi delivered one of her finest performances ever. Written and directed by Gauri Shinde (her directorial debut which won her the Best Debut Director Filmfare award), the cast also included Mehdi Nebbou, Adil Hussain and Priya Anand. The film enjoyed amongst the best overseas box office performances of any Hindi film and was remade in Tamil and Telugu.

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Andhi (1975)

Bengali actress, Suchitra Sen stars as a politician who is torn between reconciling with her estranged husband (played by Sanjeev Kumar) and the demands of her political career. The movie was banned soon after its release on account of apparent similarities of the main character with then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. It was eventually given its full release in 1977 after the change in government. Winner of two Filmfare Awards (Sanjeev Kumar - Best Actor and the Filmfare Critics Award for Best Movie), the film was Suchitra Sen’s last role in Hindi and a fine showcase of yet another inimitable Sanjeev Kumar performance. ‘Aandhi’ is also remembered for some of R.D. Burman's most loved songs (with lyrics by Gulzar), sung by Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar (including the classic, "Tere Bina Zindagi Se").

Khubsoorat (1980)

Not one, but two women dominate this film. The first - an overbearing matriarch (played by Dina Pathak) who is a hard taskmaster to her husband and adult children. The second - a vivacious young girl (played by Rekha) who is in love with the third son of the home and is out to dismantle the excessive and unhealthy power wielded by the matriarch. Also starring Ashok Kumar and Rakesh Roshan, the film won two Filmfare Awards. Directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee, the film is one in his series of endearing comedy classics (including ‘Chupke Chupke’ and ‘Golmaal’) that embodied an era of simple, wholesome, family-based entertainment which Bollywood tried hard to replicate in later decades, but found hard to.

Gulab Gaang (2014)

Madhuri Dixit plays the leader of a vigilante group of women who not only fights against the injustices done to women and girls, but also empowers them through education and employment. Juhi Chawla plays her nemesis, the ruthless politican who will stop at nothing to retain absolute power. Inspired by the real life model of the Gulabi Gang group that started in Uttar Pradesh, this 'good vs evil' drama did not achieve box office success, but is remembered most for Juhi Chawla's against type and intense performance as a villainous symbol of a corrupt and destructive system. Director Soumik Sen also co-wrote the script and composed the music for the film. The cast includes Tannishtha Chatterjee, Divya Jagdale and Priyanka Bose.

Neerja (2016)

Sonam Kapoor plays the role of Neerja Bhanot, the courageous flight attendant who helped save lives during the ill-fated hijacking of Pan Am Flight 73 in Karachi, Pakistan, on 5 September 1986. Winner of two National Film Awards (Best Feature Film in Hindi and Special Mention for Sonam Kapoor) and six Filmfare Awards (Best Supporting Actress, Best Film (Critics), Best Actress (Critics), Best Cinematography, Best Editing and Best Production Design), 'Neerja' is not only an inspiring true story, but also a gripping film with solid performances and sophisticated direction. Director Ram Madhvani lets the raw emotion of a terrorist attack come through without distraction or cliche. Also in the cast - Shabana Azmi, Yogendra Tiku, Shekhar Ravjiani, Kavi Shastri and Sadh Orhan.

Arth (1982)

Starring Shabana Azmi, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Smita Patil, Raj Kiran and Rohini Hattangadi, 'Arth' is the story of how a woman finds her feet (and meaning in her life) after being deserted by her husband for another woman. Directed by Mahesh Bhatt, the film plot has parallels to his own extramarital relationship with actress, Parveen Babi. A moving performance from Shabana Azmi. Authentic and unvarnished storytelling by Mahesh Bhatt. Winner of a National Film Award (Best Actress (Shabana Azmi)) and two Filmfare Awards (Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress), the film is also remembered for its wonderful music, with songs by famed ghazal duo, Jagjit Singh and Chitra Singh.

Ek Hasina Thi (2004)

Starring Urmila Matondkar and Saif Ali Khan, this thriller tells the tale of a gullible young woman who is framed and convicted for her husband's crimes. Escaping from hellish conditions in prison, she plots revenge. A simple storyline. No song and dance routines. Just intense performances, a taut script and assured direction by Sriram Raghavan. Saif Ali Khan – as the suave but malicious villain –plays against type and Urmila Matondkar delivers one of her most compelling performances as she transforms from naïve victim to ruthless killer, looking for payback. Also in the cast are Seema Biswas, Pratima Kazmi and Aditya Srivastava.

Damini (1993)

Meenakshi Seshadri plays the gutsy witness to a rape in her own home, who goes on to fight for justice with the help of a disgraced lawyer (played by Sunny Deol). The cast includes Rishi Kapoor (as Damini’s husband), Amrish Puri (as the malevolent lawyer against who Sunny Deol is pitted), Kulbhushan Kharbanda and Rohini Hattangadi (as the in-laws), Tinu Anand and Paresh Rawal. An intelligent script and dramatic power in the coutroom scenes make this a memorable film. Yes, the Sunny Deol one-liners grabbed centre stage, but it is Meenakshi Seshadri's finest performance (as the strong and determined woman, battling a perverse social order to get justice for another woman) that stays with the viewer. Directed by Rajkumar Santoshi, the film has Aamir Khan making a special appearance.

Mardaani (2014)

Rani Mukerji is in 'no holds barred' mode as she plays Shivani Shivaji Roy, a driven police officer in Mumbai combatting the leader behind a well organised child trafficking mafia. As the foul mouthed, non-nonsense cop who is not afraid to break a limb or two, Mukerji is both believable and watchable. Intense performances and a taut script help bring out the tragedy behind a very real disease and the importance of individuals taking a stand. Directed by Pradeep Sarkar, the cast also includes Tahir Raj Bhasin (as the unnerving underworld don running the child trafficking ring), Jisshu Sengupta (as Shivan's husband) and Saanand Verma.

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No One Killed Jessica (2011)

No One Killed Jessica' is based on the true story of the brazen murder of New Delhi model, Jessica Lal, in 1999, and the subsequent hush up orchestrated by the powerful family of the main suspect. The film stars Rani Mukerji (as a foul-mouthed news reporter; a performance that won her the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress) and Vidya Balan (as Jessica's older sister) who fight against the blatant abuse of power in politics and the judicial system. Directed by Raj Kumar Gupta (who also penned the script), this film benefits from a good supporting cast and a sensible balance between fact and fiction as it draws attention to how farcical the law can turn when intimidated by the powerful.

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Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi (2019)

Kangana Ranaut delivers a rousing performance as the famed warrior princess, Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi who fought the British in the rebellion of 1857. She also co-directs the film (along with Radha Krishna Jagarlamudi) that is cast on a sufficiently grand scale, befitting the inspiring story. The screenplay - from KV Vijayendra Prasad (who wrote 'Baahubali') and the dialogue from Prasoon Joshi lift the nationalistic rhetoric to fever pitch, but it is the fierce and captivating performance of Kangana Ranaut that stays with the viewer long after the battle has ended.

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Fashion (2008)

Despite a lot of common ground shared by the fashion and film industries, it is ironic that Bollywood has rarely set its stories in fashion world. This film goes about rectifying this discrepancy. The story of the transformation of a small town girl to supermodel, 'Fashion' stars Priyanka Chopra in the lead, with Kangana Ranaut, Mugdha Godse, Arjan Bajwa and Arbaaz Khan (and a number of real life fashion models) also in the cast. A scathing commentary on the fashion industry, the film successfully reveals the significant trade-offs that come with fame. Directed, co-produced and co-written by Madhur Bhandarkar, the film won two National Film and Filmfare Awards (Chopra receiving the Best Actress award and Ranaut the Best Supporting Actress award) and delivers across the board - cinematography, screenplay, music, dialogue and costumes.

Bandit Queen (1994)

The biopic of Phoolan Devi – directed by Shekar Kapur - is based on Mala Sen's book 'India's Bandit Queen: The True Story of Phoolan Devi'. Starring Seema Biswas as the bandit queen, Manoj Bajpayee and Nirmal Pandey, the film won three National Film Awards (Best Film in Hindi, Best Actress, Best Costume Design) and four Filmfare Awards. Seema Biswas is mercurial in the role of the diminutive, but formidable bandit who dared to take on the powerful. An unflinching and brutal depiction of the violence and injustice done to women. Especially those born to poverty. A bitter indictment of the caste system in India. Credible characterisation and acting performances. A remarkable tale, made all the more powerful because it is not fiction.

Lajja (2001)

Manisha Koirala, Madhuri Dixit, Mahima Chaudhry and Rekha play memorable roles of women who suffer unspeakable horrors in a society where they have no voice. Also starring Jackie Shroff, Anil Kapoor, Ajay Devgn, Gulshan Grover and Danny Denzongpa, the film - produced and directed by Rajkumar Santoshi - is a stark reminder of how far we are from true empowerment for women. Juggling a heavyweight all-star cast and straddling diverse settings (from the elite rich to the middle class to the rural poor), Santoshi manages to pull off a neat balance between commercial Bollywood stereotypes and a meaningful social message.

Mary Kom (2014)

In a cricket and movie-mad country, it is not often that a sports-themed film based on anything but cricket can cut through the clutter. ‘Mary Kom’ does just that. Priyanka Chopra stars as Mary Kom, the only woman to win the World Amateur Boxing championship a record six times and the first Indian woman boxer to win gold at the 2014 Asian Games and the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Priyanka Chopra packs a solid punch, making her transition from Bollywood diva to pugnacious boxer both credible and engaging. Winner of the National Film Award for Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment, this film - directed by debutant, Omung Kumar - is inspiring, entertaining and in the end, a wonderful testament to the courage of a poor village girl who dreamt big.

MOM (2017)

Sridevi's 300th and final major screen appearance before her death, 'Mom' sees the legendary actress play a mother seeking revenge against men who raped and almost killed her stepdaughter. Winner of two National Film Awards (Best Actress for Sridevi and Best Background Score for A.R. Rahman), the film combines interesting plot twists with a riveting performance from Sridevi to do the unthinkable - achieve critical and commercial success with an over 50-year-old heroine receiving top billing! Directed by Ravi Udyawar, the cast also includes Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Akshaye Khanna and Adnan Siddiqui. But its Sridevi all the way - simply exceptional!

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