Whenever there’s a new Bollywood release these days, we quickly train our lenses on the women characters to judge if they meet our newly acquired feminist standards. These concerns, however, barely existed in the 1990s. Back then, we judged films by their star cast and entertainment quotient rather than the values and viewpoints they reflected. Looking back, though, we often cringe at the wishy-washy wallflower roles that were granted to actresses at the time.
Fortunately, not all women characters of that period disappoint. Amid all the two-dimensional love interests and damsels in distress there were also strong, individualistic characters and others who, at the very least, stood out because they did more than just preen prettily in front of the camera. We spoke to a bunch of Bollywood aficionados to put together a list of memorable women characters from 90s cinema that could win our approval even today.
1. Anu in Aashiqui (1990)
This movie is a classic for several good reasons. The first is its music that has stood the test of time. But more importantly, in an era where being ‘fair and lovely’ were requisites for leading ladies, Aashiqui launched the tall, strapping, and chocolate-skinned Anu Aggarwal. The role broke convention in other ways too. Melissa Fernandes, a 32-year-old kindergarten teacher, loved Anu (the character had the same name as the actress playing her) in the film.
“Anu’s streak of rebellion and individuality shows throughout the film. An orphan with limited means, she runs away from her girls’ hostel because of the strict warden. Later, she elopes, becomes a model, decides to go to Paris, and even stands up to her boyfriend who doesn’t want her to show skin. Not many women characters back then had a mind of their own,” Fernandes said, adding that she discovered the film when she was 15, several years after its release. “I was surprised at how modern the film seemed. I only wish that Anu hadn’t lost her spunk at the end,...