By Priyanka Khanna
New Delhi, Mar 9 (IANS) Cinema mirrors life. As women in India redefine their status and role in society, so is it being reflected in Hindi cinema.
The latest example is Ashutosh Gowariker's "Jodhaa Akbar" - the sheer strength of the character of Jodha goes to show the paradigm shift Bollywood has undergone with respect to projecting female leads.
Jodha, essayed by Aishwarya Rai, does not flinch from honouring her duties as a princess and in true spirit of a royal she accepts a marital alliance for the larger good of her people. But Jodha makes no compromises with her core beliefs and principles.
In a patriarchal society like India where social norms continue to stiffen growth of a woman as an individual and an equal partner, Jodha serves as an inspiration as the world celebrated womanhood on the International Women's Day.
Women dominated films, like "Zindaggi Rocks" and "Aaja Nachle", continue to be non-performers at the Indian box-office, but filmmakers can no longer ignore that our female actors themselves are women of much substance and their reel roles are likewise evolving.
Lara Dutta, former beauty queen-turned-female actor, feels that change in the attitude of filmmakers today.
"A perceptible change has happened in the approach about picking up the female actors. Roles are being built around them," she says.
Last year two women centric films came out under the banner of Yash Raj Films, a production house known for hero-dominated mushy romances. Both "Laaga Chunri Mein Daag" and "Aaja Nachle" were pragmatically different from the formats perfected by the illustrious production house, but they couldn't rock box office.
"Chak De! India" gave a whole new meaning to women's hockey as the gaggle of girls gave an all-together new meaning to saving the country's honour.
Barring Shah Rukh Khan, a cursory look around and we find it is Indian female actors who are creating a buzz internationally. They have carved out a niche for themselves at the international arena by their presence and personality. The frontrunners among female actors are Aishwarya Rai, Shilpa Shetty and Tabu.
Tabu's "The Namesake" was released internationally and garnered rave reviews for her all over. Aishwarya's several overseas projects have landed her with a substantial role in "The Pink Panther". And Shilpa Shetty has charmed many non-Asians across the globe.
Back home when everyone was waiting for news of Preity Zinta tying the knot with her longstanding boyfriend, she surprised all by partnering with him to bag rights of a premier cricket league club. And sensational Sushmita Sen is seen revelling in the fruits of motherhood even as she produces a mega-budget period film based on Rani Laxmi Bhai.
Long last, women directors are finding commercial success and not just critical acclaim. Farah Khan was not just the most successful woman director last year, but she even outdid all male counterparts. Her second directorial venture - "Om Shanti Om" raised the bar from her last, "Main Hoon Na".
Both her films featured Shah Rukh Khan in more stunts than what he has probably done for all his other films. In fact, she is now the Bollywood masala film director today and is being compared to Manmohan Desai.
Then there was a sparklingly refreshing debut by Reema Kagti who managed a small budget above-average hit in "Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd". The film was based on six married couples and perhaps a rare occasion to see marriage from the gaze of a woman director.
Recognised women directors from India also hogged international limelight. Mira Nair nearly got an Oscar nomination for "The Namesake" and Deepa Mehta missed it for "Water".
Clearly, these women have shown that cinema in the years ahead will provide more defined contours to the cause of women empowerment.
The changing economics of moviemaking has meant that small-budget films with unique content are also breaking even and in some cases registering profits. This has opened up a world of opportunity for women in Bollywood.
The domination of male stars or 'heroes' in the film industry is on the wane. Their clout is still needed to bring in finance for the regular commercial film but other sources of finance have meant that small budget films without heroes also stand a good chance.
The big budget commercial film will always be around, hanging its hopes on the magnetism of its leading man, but after the relative success of small budget films, female actors are emerging as the best hope for new and upcoming filmmakers.