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Why Alia Bhatt’s Success Is important For Women In Indian Cinema

Posted: December 15, 2016
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Alia Bhatt’s success is often dismissed because she is part of a filmi family and seen as having it easy. Her journey, however, has implications for other female actors.

2016 has been a game-changing year for Alia Bhatt, who is now one of the most sought after actresses in Bollywood. After delivering a power-packed performance in the 2015 film Highway, Alia has been a part of successful and critically acclaimed films like Kapoor and SonsUdta Punjab and Dear Zindagi. Alia, who was mercilessly trolled for her answers on Koffee with Karan, is a star at the age of 23!

She comes from a privileged background: she is the daughter of the famous filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt and the half-sister of actress, producer and filmmaker Pooja Bhatt. Her contemporaries like Priyanka Chopra, Kangana Ranaut, Anushka Sharma, Deepika Padukone and Vidya Balan are ‘outsiders’ who had no backing. But Alia’s success is important because of the way Bollywood and Indian society is structured.

Filmmaker and choreographer Farah Khan once said in an interview that Bollywood filmmakers are not willing to cast male newcomers because in the Hindi film industry, the male star is the most important person in a movie and nobody wants to take a risk with the ‘heroes’. Audiences and filmmakers are okay with new ‘heroines’ because they always come second to these heroes. That is the reason why there are so many actresses with no ‘film connections’ in Bollywood.

Most actors, on the other hand, belong to film families. The new generation of actors like Ranbir Kapoor, Arjun Kapoor, Ranveer Singh, Varun Dhawan, Shahid Kapoor and Aditya Roy Kapur are all connected to Bollywood in one or the other way. Barring SRK and Akshay Kumar, most actors from the earlier generation too had godfathers. The top actresses from the ’90s are no longer seen in lead roles (even a privileged actress like Karisma Kapoor had to give up her career) while actors like Salman Khan and Aamir Khan are romancing actresses half their age. This pattern is not limited to Bollywood. In the Telugu film industry, the male stars like Allu Arjun, NTR Jr, Ram Charan, Pawan Kalyan, Naga Chaitanya and Mahesh Babu are sons, siblings or relatives of superstars while the female stars are young outsiders with a ‘shelf life’.

Before dismissing the achievements of actresses like Kareena Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor and Alia Bhatt as ‘privilege’, we need to remember that even the most educated and apparently evolved people have misogynistic attitudes. In a class-obsessed country like India, the process of change is often top-down. If privileged actresses are forced to give up their careers, then there is less hope for actresses with no connections in the industry and even lesser hope for middle-class and underprivileged women from different walks of life.

If Alia Bhatt manages to have a long innings in Hindi cinema, then she has the potential to bring in a change in the Bollywood-obsessed Indian society.

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Top image: A still from movie promos

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