In the past, directors and producers were unwilling to make commercial movies with a female lead. Many movies were made like ‘Arth’, ‘Mirch Masala’,'Rudaali' etc. But all these belonged to the genre of parallel cinema. But still there were movies that broke this jinx and forayed female-centric movies into commercial cinema. Here is a list of few commercially successful female-centric movies made in the 20th century.
Mother India (1957)(Hindi)
Director: Mehboob Khan
Any list about female-centric movies should start with ‘Mother India’. The story of a mother who brings up her children amidst all the hardships was an instant hit. Sunil Dutt played the role of Nargis’s son in this movie. The movie got nominated for Oscars in the Best foreign film category. It was also a big commercial success at that time.
Nagina (1986) (Hindi)
Director : Harmesh Malhotra
This was the film that lifted Sridevi into stardom. It was basically a fantasy film that dealt with the character Rajni(Sridevi), who is supposedly a venomous snake that shifts shapes. Rishi Kapoor played the character of her husband. Amrish Puri was the main antagonist. The movie was a blockbuster and one of the top profit making movies of that year.
Panchagni (1986) (Malayalam)
Director : Hariharan
Written by the legend M T Vasudevan Nair and directed by crafty Hariharan, “Panchagni’ was a revolutionary success. Even though the movie had Mohanlal as its male lead, the story revolved around Indira(Geetha), a naxal activists, who comes out from jail on Parole. Geetha shouldered the entire movie with her acting skills and was a revelation to the Malayalam film industry.
Karthavyam (1990) (Telugu)
Director : Mohan Gandhi
Ente Suryaputhrikku (1991)(Malayalam)
Director : Fazil
Fazil is one such director who made movies that really mattered. He had that inherent habit to experiment with his movies. He made ‘Nokkethadoorathu kannum nattu’ early in his career. In the 90’s he came up with ‘Ente Sooryaputhrikku’ with Amala in the lead. The movie was a resounding success and one of the strongest female oriented subjects to have released in Malayalam. The movie focussed on Maya(Amala), a fatherless child and her hardships to convince her original mother(Srividya) to let her know who her father was. The movie had some stunning moments in the climax portions that relied entirely on the acting prowess of Amala.
Roja (1992) (Tamil)
Director : Mani Ratnam
This would be a controversial pick. The movie had Aravinda Swamy doing a steady lead role. But the focus of the movie was on ‘Roja’ and the travails that she faces while in search of her husband who gets kidnapped by few terrorists. Madhoo gave a stunning performance as ‘Roja’ and the movie was a huge success.
Damini (1993) (Hindi)
Director : Rajkumar Santoshi
The film directed by Rajkumar Santhoshi was a career defining one for Meenakshi Sheshadiri. The movie narrated the life of Damini(Meenakshi Sheshadhiri) who decides to stand up against her husband’s brother who raped a house maid. Damini takes the path of law to bring justice to the victim. Movie was a big success and Meenakshi Sheshadri won the filmfare award for best actress.
Dushman (1998) (Hindi)
Director : Tanuja Chandra
This movie directed by Tanuja Chandra had Kajol playing the roles of twin sisters. One of them gets killed by a rapist portrayed by Ashuthosh Rana. How the other sister takes revenge formed the rest of the story. The film had Sanjay Dutt in it playing a vital character but it was Kajol who stole the show.
21st century brought in many changes. It was basically Bollywood that stood up and started making commercial movies with female leads. Later on, it spread into other language films too. Directors and producers started to think differently and the faith on actresses was affirmed. Here are some female-centric movies in the recent times that were acclaimed.
Fashion (2008) (Hindi)
Director : Madhur Bhandarkar
Movie directed by Madhur Bandarkar explored the fashion world through the character Meghna Mathur(Priyanka Chopra) who really wanted to make it big in the fashion world. The movie had Kangna Ranaut playing a powerful character. Both of them received National awards for their performances. The movie received positive reviews and was a runaway success.
Arundhathi (2009) (Telugu.Tamil)
Director : Kodi Ramakrishna
This Anushka starrer was a big success in Telugu. It was a fantasy film that dealt with theme of reincarnation. The storyline as well as performance of Anushka as Jejiamma/Arundhathi was praised a lot. The movie was later dubbed to Malayalam and Tamil, further reaping in profits for the producers.
Dirty Picture (2011) (Hindi)
Director : Milan Luthria
‘Entertainment’,’Entertainment’ and ‘Entertainment’.The movie exactly delivered the proposed tagline. A movie that changed the image of Vidya Balan. Based on the life of actress ‘Silk Smitha', the movie directed by ‘Milan Luthria’ was a runaway success. Even though the movie had three male leads, it was Vidya Balan who stole the show with her bold act. The movie won her a National Film Award for Best actress.
Kahaani (2012) (Hindi)
Director : Sujoy Ghosh
A perfect movie in all measurements. This movie elevated the stardom of Vidya Balan further and many movies were made with her in the lead after the stupendous sucess of this film. ’Kahaani’ was the story of a lady named Vidya Bagchi (Vidya Balan) who comes to Kolkatta in search of her missing husband. The movie with a riveting screenplay had loads of thrilling moments. It became a big success and got remade into southern languages.
22 Female Kottayam (2012) (Malayalam)
Director : Aashiq Abu
Aashiq Abu had the guts to make his third movie solely based on a female character. 22FK narrated the story of Tessa, a nurse working in Bangalore, who falls into a trap and gets raped. She decides to take revenge on the people who destroyed her. Rima Kallingal gave a scintillating performance and she even received thunderous applause in the theatres. The movie was a big hit.
Om Shanthi Oshana (2014) (Malayalam)
Director : Jude Anthany Joseph
Director Jude Anthany Joseph made a daring attempt by making a love story from a girl’s point of view . The movie narrated the story of Pooja (Pooja) who is smitten by a guy called Giri (Nivin Pauly). How she finally gets her man has been beautifully narrated in the film.Nazriya brilliantly portrayed the role of Pooja and took the movie forward with elan. The movie went on to become a super hit.
Queen (2014) (Hindi)
Director : Vikas Bahl
Many say this was the best movie of 2014. With the movie sweeping awards in many categories of this year’s Filmfare awards, the fact got established without any doubt. Kangana Ranaut played the role of Rani Mehra who gets ditched by her fiancee on the day before her wedding.The light-hearted moments and stupendous performance from Kangana Ranaut made this movie one of the biggest profit making movies of that year.
How old are you?? (2014)(Malayalam)
Director : Roshan Andrewss
‘Comeback of the most talented actress, ‘Manju Warrier’. This is the best and apt description for this movie written by Bobby Sanjay and directed by Rosshan Andrewss. The movie narrated the life of Nirupama (Manju Warrier), who gets neglected by her husband as their marriage life progresses.She was once an energetic girl but after marriage she becomes a dutiful wife and leads a subdued life. She tries to get back that energy and later on how she proves her mettle forms the rest of the story. The movie had Kunchakko Boban as the male lead. Manju Warrier garnered many awards for her performance as Nirupama.
Many other movies like ‘English Vinglish’, ‘No one Killed Jessica’,Mozhi(Tamil), Mary Kom, Mardaani etc were also hits and expanded the base of female oriented subjects.