Today marks International Woman’s Day, an annual campaign that celebrates the success and importance of women across all realms of life.  For 2017, the campaign theme is #BeBoldForChange – a call to take ground-breaking action that truly drives the greatest change for women. BizAsiaLive.com welcomed this opportunity to look at how Bollywood is playing its part in creating change for women within the industry.  Whilst recognising the industry as a whole has started to change for the better, we look at some of the key movers and shakers that are leading the pack and flying the banner for women’s rights.

It goes without saying these talented young ladies come top of mind when thinking about leading the pack.  Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone have broken the mould in the last few years both at home in India and now abroad in Hollywood.  Chopra, who was the first to branch out with her US series ‘Quantico’, enjoys immense success in Bollywood and then took the step to do television in the West when most of her contemporaries would not even consider looking at the small screen.  This bold step reaped her rewards by her being the first Indian artist to win the People’s Choice Awards two years in a row as well as being the first Indian actress of recent times to present at the 2016 Oscars ceremony.  It also led to her gaining a role in the upcoming hyped ‘Baywatch’ film where she stands shoulder to shoulder with some of the biggest stars in the world including Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron.  Her risks paid off and she beat down a path for others to follow.

If Chopra started the path, Padukone is helping her to lay it out.  After her immensely successful year in 2016 where she swept the awards circuit in Bollywood, the talented actress surprised everyone by expanding her acting prowess in the West with her recent role in ‘xXx:Return of Xander Cage’ (2017) where she was opposite none other than superstar Vin Diesel.  What was even more gratifying was that despite most Diesel films having women as eye-candy, Padukone was appreciated for her role and acting; a great feat for her first foray in Hollywood.  The actress was also applauded for maintaining her roots and her accent in the film and the numerous publicity activities she did across the globe.  Featuring in publications, Padukone’s name was one that was repeatedly mentioned to look out for, and she delivered on that.  Whilst Aishwarya Rai Bachchan had ventured into Hollywood in the early 2000s it is Padukone and Chopra who are breaking new ground for change, evidenced by the doors now being open as Sonam Kapoor prepares to enter the international arena.

Closer to home but by no means any less ground-breaking is Alia Bhatt.  This dynamic bundle of talent has taken bold steps for an actress still at the very start of her career.  Starting in a candy-floss Karan Johar movie, Bhatt surprised everyone as she took on different types of films straight away and was applauded by critics and audiences for her power-packed roles in ‘Highway’ (2014), ‘Dear Zindagi’ (2016) and ‘Udta Punjab’ (2016).  In and amongst these she has also maintained her mass appeal through successful films such as ‘Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania’ (2014) and ‘Kapoor and Sons’ (2016).  Balancing the line between commercial success and critical acclaim, Bhatt has managed to narrow the gap almost single-handedly amongst the youth for showcasing different cinema but still gaining the box office numbers.  At such a young age, her status as a youth icon is a testament to her bold choices and creating change for females in the industry.

Even outside the acting arena, Bollywood females are taking steps for change.  Director Gauri Shinde was amongst the first to showcase the slice-of-life film genre with her debut ‘English Vinglish’ (2012) starring another female game-changer Sridevi, which was a huge success.  However Shinde went onto cement her status with her latest offering ‘Dear Zindagi’ (2016) which not only was a coup in terms of casting a youth icon Bhatt with superstar power Shah Rukh Khan, but was also again another showcase of her talent as a director offering a successful film without the histrionics and overt melodrama.  The film was another feather in her cap but also a huge stride forward by a female to offer a different type of film to audiences.

Accompanying Shinde in this emerging genre-type is Zoya Akhtar who again has witnessed success with her two directorial ventures ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’ (2011) and ‘Dil Dhadakne Do’ (2015).  Whilst Akthar has the backing of an industry-born family, she has marked her own stand-alone identity as a female director who all stars are clamouring to work with.  Again no mean feat for an industry dominated by male directors.

Other women who are taking bold steps include Kangna Ranaut and Vidya Balan with their choices of women-centric films, refusals to take brands to align with their own values and honest and out-spoken statements, as well as Kareena Kapoor Khan with her recent pregnancy not stopping her from working.  Seems these crop of women in Bollywood are not hesitating to support #BeBoldForChange campaign.

However it’s not just the women who are forging the change in the industry.  They are being supported by their male counterparts which is a real sign of the change being witnessed in the industry.

Aamir Khan, a complete supporter of women’s rights, heralds great influence and is using his responsibility for change.  His super blockbuster ‘Dangal’ (2016) was a showcase for promoting women’s strength on a literal level with the storyline focussed on real-life female wrestlers Geeta Phogat and Babita Kumari.  It was also an important film that broke down mental barriers of women not being equal to men.  The huge success of the film provides the evidence that the story hit a nerve with audiences and hopefully provides the way for those at grass-roots to take on the messages of the film.  Khan has followed this up with a recent brand endorsement where again he showcases daughters are equal to sons.  The socially aware actor, who has always tried to highlight injustices be it through his films or via his television show ‘Satyamev Jayate’ is one male lead that is standing shoulder to shoulder with females in the industry.

Supporting him but perhaps in less overt ways is Shah Rukh Khan who is well recognised for his respect for women.  From putting his female co-leads names first in film credits or by stating that it’s his heroines that have made him the star he is, Khan has always promoted the woman he has worked with and lives with.  His support for wife Gauri Khan in her career, and now for daughter Suhana Khan for her life choices, make Khan an understated but still influential component of the female voice in the industry.

Farhan Akhtar is another socially driven male voice in the fight for women’s equality and promotes this in a different way.  Following the numerous rape crises in India, Akhtar launched a social campaign ‘Men.Against.Rape and Discrimination’ aka MARD which has garnered great support from both inside and outside the industry.  The actor/producer/director continues to fight the cause using his position and popularity on social media and high profile events to raise awareness.

Again like the females of the industry it’s not just the actors who are supporting the women but the directors are too.  Sanjay Leela Bhansali is renowned for showing his women as beautiful but his characterisation of the female leads in his films are equally admired.  From his Annie in ‘Khamoshi:The Musical’ (1996) who took on the decision to support her family to Paro and Chandramukhi in ‘Devdas’ (2002) where he showcased them as friends and not rivals to a fiery Leela in ‘Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram Leela’ (2013) and more recently the warriors of Mastani and Kashibai in ‘Bajirao Mastani’ (2015), it’s no wonder that the actresses want to work with the ingenious director.  Bhansali’s magnum opus films may be beautiful to look at but the director also provides strong examples of how he is showcasing his female leads and creating iconic characters that young women can look up to.

Imtiaz Ali again is another director who provides audiences with strong female characters and is bold enough to make these leads different from the usual run-of-the-mill personalities often seen in Hindi films.  From the independent and free spirited Geet in ‘Jab We Met’ (2007) to the coming-of-age Veera in ‘Highway’ (2014) and Veronica in ‘Cocktail’ (2012) and recently Tara in ‘Tamasha’ (2015). Ali has given the industry and the audiences female personalities that are inspiring and different.

Other notable males who raise the flag include Amitabh Bachchan through his work such as ‘Piku’ (2015) and ‘Pink’ (2016) where he not only uses his films to empower women but also his support through social initiatives such as ‘Ab Samjhauta Nahin’; a campaign making a case for all the conventions Indian women have to work around on a daily basis, as well as his declaration for gender equality via his online blog.

Despite criticism the industry sometimes faces for being male-centric or not showcasing women in an equal manner, the above illustrates there are those who are striving for change and making it part of their daily work and life.  BizAsiaLive.com commend those who are supporting and wish all our readers, both male and female, to support the campaign in their everyday lives too.