When I was told to write a listicle on Bollywood films that was centered on female friendships, my joy knew no bounds. Being a film aficionado and a Bollywood junkie, I thought that compiling this list would be no biggie. This was my territory, I would produce a never-seen-before list and celebrate the one thing I live for – Hindi Cinema.
Yet when I began on my research, I was deeply unsettled. There were lists of films that claimed to be feminist, there were lists that were supposedly to be watched exclusively with your girlfriends on sleepovers, there were lists of films that were ‘woman-centric’, but none that celebrated female friendships.
I was frustrated at the end of an entire evening of scrolling through my google searches and I consulted a friend who is as invested in the cause of Bollywood as I am. The two of us broke our heads over searching for films that fit the requirement, to no avail. Yet, as an experiment, we could write down 12 Bollywood films that revolved around ‘Bromances’ in almost no time.
To be fair, I was duly warned by my supervisor. To give me a better sense of direction she sent me an article that talks about the lack of screen time and thought given to female friendships in Bollywood. After the crippling realization that all was not well in La La Land, I sat staring at a blank screen with the clock ticking reminding me of my approaching deadline.
1. Radha and Sashi (English Vinglish)
When Sashi’s trip to New York proves to be the final blow at her already crippling self-image, Radha her niece and confidante, not only encourages her dreams of learning English, a language that has so far alluded her, but also supports her while she is away at classes and pushes her to live for herself. My favorite moment in their relationship was the climax where Sashi delivers a speech in English at Radha’s sister’s wedding and uses the word ‘judgmental’, something that Radha had explained to her in the course of the film, and Radha looks on with a faint smile and a glow of pride and admiration.
2. Ila and Mrs. Deshpande (The Lunchbox)
While this poignant film follows the story of two lonely people, finding each other’s company by mere coincidence, what struck me apart from the mouth-watering food at regular intervals was the beautiful relationship between Ila, one of the protagonists and her upstairs neighbor Mrs. Deshpande. Ila is a lonely housewife, with no one to pour her heart out to and she longs for company.
As she is busy in her household chores in the kitchen, she talks to the ever-chirpy Mrs Deshpande, who we actually never see in the film. They exchange food that they have cooked for the day through a most fascinating pulley system of sorts, listen to music, and talk about their slow, staggering lives. Mrs Deshpande also becomes the person Ila confides in when she begins exchanging letters with Saajan and her advice, as always, is most valuable.
They are real, fleshed out characters who share humane moments of emotion, love and friendship.
3. Rani and VijayLakshmi (Queen)
This list would be incomplete without this memorable pair. Vijaylakshmi and Rani left a deep impact on me and I was left teary eyed at the scene where they parted ways. When Rani arrives at Paris for her honeymoon alone, after being jilted at the alter, Vijaylakshmi shows her a life of self-love and seemingly endless joy that gets Rani to finally stand back on her feet.
They dance, eat, travel around the city and talk about the choices that they have made for themselves without any judgement. My favourite moment in their relationship is when they leave Rani’s relative’s place, which proved to be a pity party that belittled her, and burst into laughter as Vijaylakshmi irreverently imitates her sob relatives.
4. Zeenat and Meera (Dor)
Dor was a film I watched as a child along with my parents, and I distinctly remember gushing about Zeenat and Meera after the film. Their friendship is not easy – for one, it is based on deceit. After Meera’s husband accidentally kills Zeenat’s husband in Saudi Arabia, she comes to search for Zeenat in order to obtain a Maafinama (Document of forgiveness) that is required to save her husband in the ongoing trial.
They end up rediscovering themselves in the company of each other. The final scene where Meera extends her hand to Zeenat from a moving train, and she accepts, gave me goose bumps. It not only symbolized for me their journey to liberty and life, but it was a very realistic and humane take on the very DDLJ-esque moment.
5. Aisha, Shefali and Pinki (Aisha)
Probably the most problematic one on the list, due to the parasitic, hierarchical relationship that they initially shared, the trio still hold a special place in my heart. Tucked away in the rich neighbourhoods of Delhi, they unravel life and love, often face heartbreak and disappointment. This is most definitely not a seamless relationship. It is etched with jealousy, inferiority, viciousness and very often judgement.
But that is what made it more relatable for me. The fact that they made no pretenses about being perfect, and very quick to apologize and finally made it through the film, as good friends as ever, got me thinking. Shefali and Pinki were their own people who held on to their beliefs and called Aisha out on her selfishness and vanity. The scene when Aisha fights with Pinki is my favourite. In those feeling moments, the otherwise unreal film hits the right notes.
It does not need much inspection to say that Bollywood has a long way to go as far as showing more real female characters interacting with other female characters. With the scheduled releases of Jiah and Jiah, and Veerey di Wedding, I am cautiously optimistic and hopeful that I will soon be able to revisit this list and add more to it.
This list is, of course, in no way exhaustive and is only a list of the writer’s most favourite films depicting female friendships. Did your favourite film make it to the list? Leave a comment on the films that portrayed female friendships you have seen that truly struck a chord with you.
Featured Image Credit: Satyamshot