Bollywood’s Exploration of Femme Fatale
Indian women are always boxed into the archetype of a perfect mother, a perfect wife, a perfect daughter, a perfect sister, etc. And Bollywood didn’t leave a stone unturned in this regard. The Bollywood heroine was a traditional and sentimental woman carrying herself with a great aura and portraying the culture of the country at best. So, she wore her saree and her huge bun and when in distress waited for the savior to save her from the villain. They were basically damsels in distress. After the 70s and 80s came those who cared less for motherhood and other such archetypes. They didn’t mind dancing to item numbers and portraying their shades of grey. Slowly but gradually the Bollywood of contemporary times explored Femme Fatales.
Femme Fatale is women who are beautiful, mysterious, and seductive. They are responsible for leading their lovers into irresistible darkness. Thus, from Bindu to Alia Bhatt, you now have varied examples to share of women who are twisted in real life. They are seductive in their character, ambitious in their career, and captivating in their personality. Although Bollywood has achieved this realization progressively, the other top film industries in Indian cinema like Kollywood, Tollywood, Mollywood, and Sandalwood still need to wake up to this fact and liberate their heroine.
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In Zanjeer, Bindu is said to have begun this transition of feminine character. Her character as Mona won hearts as well as began the era of femme fatale in Bollywood. Helen was the next in line who played the seductive dancer in Howrah Bridge, China Town, and Sachaai. But the one who personified femme fatale flamboyantly during her era is Sashikala. She for over six decades carried forward this thought process and was hated by some but loved by the others secretly who admired her zest.
Then came Kajol who played a serial killer in Gupt. She won accolades for a perfect representation of a lover who wouldn’t budge on possessing her true love by hook or by crook. Kajol murdered anyone and everyone who came interfered in her love affairs. Urmila Matondkar was the next in line who gave chills to the audiences through a psychopathic performance in Kaun. Swara Bhaskar too essayed a negative role in Prem Ratan Dhan Payo although in real life she became the victim of abuse. The global icon Priyanka Chopra very early in her career in Aitraaz played the ruthless wife who married an old tycoon for his money. She was no doubt a cold-blooded digger of gold but that performance gave her a face that she could take up any challenging role. Therefore, her filmography is a vibrant portrayal of gutsy yet distorted women.
Vidya Balan with her performances in The Dirty Picture and Paa was the femme fatale we had to keep a watch on. But in Ishqiya it is she who Indianised Femme Fatale in all its essence. Although Bollywood is accused of imitating Hollywood most often, the Femme Fatale character type was way better or creatively explored by Indian cinema. And in it, Vidya Balan became the trendsetter. When Vidya Balan was offered this character by Abhishek Chaubey, she is said to have immediately said thank you to him and in an interview, she also said, “For me, it was a huge opportunity because despite the role being against my type, somewhere it was me”. So, far from the archetypal portrayal, we get to know that women are differently characterized and the gaze, therefore, is slow in its transition. Thus, Vidya Balan from being an aggressive woman to portraying feisty and rough body language to aggressive sexuality now had a broader concept of the Femme Fatale.
Katrina Kaif raced her way to the top with her scintillating Femme Fatale performance in Race. Katrina forges her marriage to the brother of her lover and claims his inheritance after having bumped him. Anchal Singh in Yeh Kaali Kalli Ankhein donned the Femme Fatale persona in her quintessential and flamboyant character.
Tabu in Andhadhun was a deviant who flawlessly gave a stellar Femme Fatale performance without even sexualizing the character. Tabu is desperately deceitful as Simi. She wants to live her perfect life the way she believes it should be. She doesn’t mind breaking the rules. She is the queen of her life. She murders her husband Pramod Sinha and thus becomes someone who isn’t ready to conform to the norms set by society.
Alia Bhatt seems to have entered the industry to be the Femme Fatale icon. Being Sehmat in Raazi she becomes a relatable character vulnerable yet gutsy. Meghna Gulzar doesn’t make her like the others we have known so far. Sehmat is different. She is an everyday girl but a tough spy. As Gangubai Kathiawadi she set herself on a tangent that nobody could beat her. She becomes an influential woman who is ready to fetch whatsoever she wants through influence and power. Once duped later ruled. Recently, Alia as Badru in her OTT release Darlings portrayed an economically oppressed abused woman to a violent woman. She literally set a benchmark for the femme fatale trope and so has Bollywood.
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