Timeless Movies for the Feminist Soul

Thelma & Louise (1991)

Movies are, they say, food for the soul; they make us laugh, cry, jump up with joy, or weep in reminiscence. Some of them have a way of reaching inside us and stirring up feelings we were unaware of! Remember Home Alone and the adorable little boys in the original and the sequels? Such movies can be watched repeatedly and still we don’t tire of them. I’ve put together a not-so-exhaustive list of timeless movies that center around women. Some portray our race as demi-gods who carry the world on their shoulders, while some show women as victims of unfortunate circumstances. Yet, there are others that reveal our very human side, perhaps even rebellious, our harmless deeds frowned upon by an unforgiving society. Here are some of these iconic films.

Mona Lisa Smile

Named after Da Vinci’s famous painting, Mona Lisa Smile takes us back to 1953, to Wellesley College, a conservative academic institute for girls. The proud Wellesley girls knew their books down to the last letter; they knew their history and what war was fought when and why. What lacked was a drive to be more than a doting homemaker, until Miss Katherine Ann Watson (played by Julia Roberts) arrived and no class was ever the same again. Inspiring and formidable, she taught the girls of Wellesley college what “living” meant.

Bridget Jones Diary

Keep the kids away for this one as you enter a land of alcoholic binges, chain-smoking and a hearty indulgence in pro-overweight food! Well, that’s not what ALL the movie is about; we’re treated to Bridget Jones’ (Renee Zellweger) private world, complete with broken hearts, rebounds and regrettable sex.

Lajja

A movie with four big Bollywood names can only be one thing: seat-gripping! From one of the most versatilee directors, Rajkumar Santoshi, comes yet another tale about the ungrateful way women are treated by society and the numerous restrictions they’re faced with endlessly. Fun fact about Lajja: The main actors, Manisha Koirala, Rekha, Madhuri Dixit, and Mahima Chaudhry, all bear names that are synonyms of Hindu mythology protagonist, Sita. Well-done, Mr. Santoshi!

Million Dollar Baby

It’s one of those films that couldn’t bag enough Oscars, this one is certainly not for the faint-hearted. An amateur boxer (Hilary Swank) and a veteran boxing trainer come together to tell us a story about the kind of resolve it takes to win an almost impossible fight, about the courage it takes to survive the hardest battles, and finally, the meaning of mortality.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s

One of those classics that could never gather enough dust on the shelf! Breakfast at Tiffany’s is every girl’s dream: to live a life full of wild parties and fashion escapades, while waiting for prince charming to sweep by and reveal to them their well-hidden vulnerabilities. When a man can tell you what your deepest fears are — there’s something strangely charming about it, isn’t it?

Fiza

Bollywood’s best-kept secret: Fiza, which surprisingly didn’t do well at the Box Office. Blame it on the film’s lack of a happy beginning, middle or end; or on junta’s lack of readiness for such morbidity. Either way, this tale has etched itself in the hearts and minds of those who resonate with the film’s subject: the 1993 Mumbai riots. Karishma Kapoor plays Fiza, a desolate sister in a relentless search for her lost brother.

The Color Purple

You have a Pulitzer Prize winning story, penned by Alice Walker in 1982; you have the quintessential director, Steven Spielberg who brought The Color Purple to the big screen and to a wider audience in 1985; then, you have two most influential people playing lead roles: Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey. Add to this starry, starry mix a story that begs to be told over and over again — the undesirable treatment meted out to countless black women in early 20thcentury. This film rudely awakens the feminine in you, so go grab the comforter and the popcorn; watch and weep!

Dirty Picture

Fame in the hands of an unseasoned celebrity can be a very dangerous thing. So was the case with South Indian actress, Silk Smitha who succumbed to the lethal combination of alcoholism and a broken heart. Her sad story, struggle to fame and untimely death, is the underlying story in Dirty Picture with Vidhya Balan playing Silk. Not really a family-that-sits-together kind of movie, but watch it if you have an activist in you that screams, “My body belongs to me, and is not your commodity!”

Lolita

Directed by Stanley Kubrick and originally written by Vladimir Nabokov — that ensemble in itself speaks volumes about the fineness viewers will see onscreen. Kubrick, who added to the story his magical aura, picked up the most controversial novel in not just its time, but even for generations after. Lolita follows a middle-aged English professor who is sexually obsessed with nymphets. His latest victim, muse, unwilling travel companion is twelve-year old, Dolores Haze.

Dor

Fate has a good laugh when it brings together a widow and the wife of her late husband’s accused murderer in this film about relationships and sisterly bonds. Aisha Takia plays the woeful widow, shackled by tradition; and Gul Panag portrays a woman from the free world with a very different take on existence.

Erin Brockovich

I close this list with one of the most inspiring stories from the American film industry. Julia Roberts, in her award-winning (Oscars, Golden Globe, BAFTA, Screen Actors’ Guild) performance, plays a single mother, working multiple jobs to make ends meet. Erin Brockovich is a story about determination and resilience, while also revealing man’s devious methods to achieve success.

There are many more soul-searching films from both, Indian cinema and Hollywood, that shows women as the ultimate hero, capable of summiting the toughest mountains. Mehboob Khan’s Mother India (1957), Mahesh Bhatt’s Arth (1982), The Diary of Anne Frank (1959), and more recently Precious (2009) are just some of the films that don’t even begin to scratch the surface. As writer Ness Wadia aptly says, “[We look forward to more such films that will] take us on a wonderful journey that explores hidden avenues of a woman’s resilience and reaches the darkest recesses of her heart and soul.”

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