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The year 2020, has been a very different year for all of us. People were forced to remain within the confines of their home. We all had to face several difficulties throughout the year. With this year coming to an end, people have accepted several things as the “new normal” such as wearing masks when stepping out of their homes, making sanitisers one’s best friend and also accepting the fact that our lives have become more virtual in nature than it was previously. With cinema halls being closed, we were forced to watch movies on online platforms. Several films released on online platforms this year, which a year back could not have imagined! Since, the year is coming to an end and with not much options of partying or travelling outside our homes, why not curl up with a blanket and boost the inner feminist within you and watch some of these films that released in 2020!

1. Chhapaak 

Release Date: Jan 10
Director: Meghna Gulzar 
Available On: Amazon Prime 

Chappak tells us the story of several acid attack victims through the eyes of one person. The film tells us the story of Malti (played by Deepika Padukone) whose life changes when her face is burned by an acid attack. What made this story stand out was Malti’s determination to rebuild her life. The supporting cast is led by Vikrant Messey’s Amol as the head of an NGO who develops a soft corner for Malti. He sees Malti as a person beyond her appearance, a quality which is rare in today’s world.

Madhurjeet Sarghi as Malti’s lawyer, Shiraz Aunty (Payal Nair) as Malti’s neighbour and the other two women, a journalist (Desphande) and lawyer (Upadhaya) fit perfectly into their roles. The film sensitively captures Malti’s journey first as a “normal human being” and then her journey of rising from her acid attack incident and rebuilding her life. She becomes an inspiration for millions of girls worldwide. This film teaches each one of us an important lesson: even the darkest clouds that fall upon us can have the most defined silver linings. We just need to keep an eye out for them. 

2. Thappad 

Release Date: 28 February  
Director: Anubhav Sinha
Available On: Amazon Prime 

Can a slap change things?

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Well, Thappad as a film raises this very question in our minds. True to its title, it makes us question what can a slap do? Can it change relationships and their equations or can a slap be ignored? 

Thappad as a film, starring Tapsee Pannu as Amrita, the main protagonist, takes a very different path on what domestic violence is and has been portrayed on the big screen. What sets the film apart is its female characters. Tanvi Azmi as Amrita’s mother-in-law fights for her own identity. On the other hand, Ratna Pathak Shah as Amrita’s mother is skeptical of her daughter’s decision to leave her house after her husband slaps her. As the film unfolds we understand her behaviour. She is the reflection of a concerned mother; if we look closely she would resemble our own mothers in some way.

Geetika Vidya Ohlyan (Amrita’s domestic worker) has accepted her fate. Her husband physically abuses her and she has accepted the abuse just like several women around us. In a world, where women are often pitted against each other, Amrita’s future sister-in-law Swati, played by Naila Grewal, stands tall and supports her decision to leave her in-laws after her husband slaps her. She also realises that the man she is with unfortunately fails to understand her reason for supporting Amrita and that’s where it hurts.

Maya Sarao as Netra Jaisingh, Amrita’s divorce lawyer fights hard for women’s rights but also has her own battles to fight: in which to some extent she is compromising herself for society’s sake. Kumud Mishra as Tapsee’s father also does the most important job of supporting his daughter when society says “beti hai, beta nahi.” Thappad should be watched by everyone as it tries to portray that we often internalise the abuse we confront, but there is always a way out.

3. Devi 

Release Date: March 2 
Director: Priyanka Banerjee 
Available On: Youtube 

From the title if one assumes that this film is based on religion, well you are in for a surprise. Devi is a film that provides its audience with an opportunity to see what the position of women in our society is. Women from different walks of life are living together in a house, doing mundane activities and arguing among themselves. The doorbell rings, disrupting the conversation and we slowly realise why these women are living together.

They begin discussing whether to let the person standing on the other end of the door inside or not. Throughout this discussion, these women also discuss their age and identity of their predators, and the way they were assaulted. What is subtly put forward is how all these women are victims and not survivors. Devi tells us about the reality of our country which worships women as goddesses also sexually assaults them on the same day.

Devi is the story of victims: women who became statistics. As one continues to watch the film, a deep sense of empathy engulfs us. Though Devi is a 13 minute short film, its impact is way more. 

4. Gulabo Sitabo 

Release Date: 17 April 
Director: Shoojit Sircar
Available On: Amazon Prime 

Set in Lucknow, the main protagonist of the film is a hundred year old haveli-Fatima Mahal which is crumbling with age. The haveli is the subject of constant bickering between Mirza (played by Amitabh Bachchan) and his tenants. The haveli however, belongs to his 94-year-old wife Fatima Begum. Mirza secretly nurtures the wish of becoming the sole owner of the haveli one day and thus, eagerly waits for the death of his wife. In between is Bankey (Ayushmann Khurrana), the so called leader of the tenants and Mirza’s arch enemy.

Despite the film being quite long and flawed in several respects, its female characters stand out. Fatima Begum (Farrukh Jaffar) is perhaps the most iconic character in the film. She carries the film’s climax on her shoulders. She shows the audience: there is no particular age to love and it’s never too late to listen to your heart. She also taught us to retain what is rightfully ours! The haveli belonged to her and the way she keeps it with her is commendable.

Bankey’s sister Guddu (Sristhi Shrivastava), is guilt free and does not wait for her brother to be the knight in shining armour and save her family. She takes it upon herself to extract a LIG or MIG flat. She fights for her own rights without anybody’s help. Bankey’s mother’s role also needs to be mentioned, she allows her son to toil for the education of her three daughters. In a society where a girl is killed the moment she is born, Bankey’s mother and her will power and love for her daughters is inspirational. The film is definitely worth a watch, if not for Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana, definitely for its female characters.  

5. Bulbbul 

Release Date: 24 June
Director: Anvita Dutt 
Available On: Netflix 

Bulbbul is set in 1800 Bengal Presidency. The film’s opening scene shows us the main protagonist Bulbbul dangling her feet from a treetop. The frame then shifts to a wedding where Bulbbul (first played by Ruchi Mahajan and later by Tripthi Damri) a child bride being wedded to a much older Indranil ( Rahul Bose), a zamindar. Bulbbul soon discovers a friend and a confidant in her brother-in-law Satya (played by Varun Paras Buddhadev and then by Avinash Tiwari) who is about her age. The other two  main characters in the film include Indranil’s mentally challenged twin brother Mahendra ( also played by Rahul Bose) and his wife Binodini (played by Paoli Dam).

The place where their lives intersect and the relevance of the intersection is what the film is about. The film delivers a strong message: male violence does not exist in a vacuum. It manifests itself in the form of physical violence. The two female characters of the film Bulbbul and Bindoini are a sharp contrast to each other, yet both are unique in their own respect. Binodini, Bulbul’s sister-in-law had accepted her fate of being the wife of a mentally challenged man. She bowed down under the pressure of patriarchy. Though at the beginning of the film we despise her as an audience, we slowly realise that she too is a victim of patriarchy.

Bulbbul, however, is different. Bulbbul means a bird and true to her name she refuses to be caged. The film explicitly reminds us that no matter what era it is, any woman who fails to conform to the rules of society, will be called names and often will be branded as a witch. The film upends traditional ideas of what is wrong and what is right and is a must watch despite its flaws.

6. Shakuntala Devi 

Release Date: 31 July  
Director: Anu Menon
Available On: Amazon Prime 

This film explores the fascinating life of mathematician Shakuntala Devi. The film reflects on her childhood or rather lack of it, her journey of becoming the world famous mathematician as well her journey of motherhood. Shakunatala Devi despite being a biopic has a very different take on motherhood than what is usually shown in films. It shows that one need not always give up on their dreams to fulfill the duty of their mother. The film raises the question why can’t the mother continue to develop her career along with her daughter, it is not always necessary for a woman to take a sabbatical or give up her career.

The film shows Shakuntala Devi’s journey of becoming a mathematical genius along with her daughter who grows with her flourishing career. This film does not demonise career-oriented women and thus is a good watch to satisfy the feminist within you. Vidya Balan as Shakuntala Devi does justice to her role. The supporting cast led by Sanya Malhorta who plays her daughter Anu, Amit Sadh as Sanya’s husband Ajay and Jisshu Sengupta as Paritosh Banerji, Shakuntala Devi’s husband fit perfectly into their own roles.

Also read: Film Review: Act 1978 And The Pregnancy Trope

7. Enola Holmes

Release Date: 23 September
Director: Harry Bradbeer 
Available On: Netflix 

Our ideas of what a detective should be are flawed. Whenever we think of the word ‘detective’, we associate it with men. Though there are female detectives both in literature and celluloid, their numbers are nothing in comparison to their male counterparts. For many of us, Sherlock Holmes is our favourite detective. However, what happens when Sherlock Holmes has a sister, equally brilliant like him and she too is a detective?

Enola Holmes is the answer to our deep-rooted desire for a bold female detective. Enola Holmes, written by Jack Thorne and based on the book series by Nancy Springer, is much more than just the story of Sherlock Holmes’s sister. Enola’s mother, Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter) goes missing under mysterious circumstances. Her brothers, Sherlock (played by Henry Cavill) and Mycroft (played by Sam Claflin) are called upon to save her. However, she refuses to be the damsel in distress and sets out to find her mother on her own.

Also read: Film Review: Tasher Ghawr—A Survivor’s Sanctuary

Enola is a breath of fresh air among the conventional Victorian heroines we have always watched on screen. She is street smart, with a sense of humour and most importantly we are able to relate to her. Enola Holmes as a film strongly establishes the fact that a fierce woman raises an even fiercer daughter. Eudoria herself trained her daughter to be proficient in literature, chess, combat and word games, qualities which for a daughter not only in the Victorian era but even today also are not much appreciated.

If your eyes have become sore by watching the hero saving the heroine, don’t worry Enola Holmes is the right kind of film for you. This film has a little bit of everything for everyone; a bit of comedy, a bit of action, love for the game of scrabble and last but not the least, a female detective who young girls can look up to and say I want to be like Enola Holmes. 

So just in case you are thinking that you will have to spend a boring Christmas and a not-so-happening New Year, just open your laptop, snuggle into your warm blanket with a cup of coffee or hot chocolate and watch these films. These films will not only ensure that you enjoy the last few remaining days of this year but also ensure that the feminist in you never dies.

Also read: 10 Feminist Films Of 2019 And The Hope For Better Films In 2020

Disclaimer: This list is not exhaustive and more suggestions are welcome in the comments below.

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