Art & Culture

What Akira owes to Bollywood of 1980s and '90s

Deepa Gahlot
Deepa GahlotSep 04, 2016 | 18:29

What Akira owes to Bollywood of 1980s and '90s

Fearless Naida, the best known female action star, was never cloned by Bollywood, but there was a time in the late 1980s and '90s when many of the leading ladies did action films - either playing cops in uniform or bandits. 

Hema Malini, Rekha, Sridevi, Dimple Kapadia, Zeenat Aman, all did what came to be known as "woman-oriented" films. But these mostly B-grade movies did not work at the box-office and these leading ladies went back to suitably "feminine" parts. This week’s Akira owes a small debt to all those fighting women.


Picking just one film representing that genre - Phool Bane Angaray (1991) - in which the heroine did her own fisticuffs, with no male by her side; the "hero" of this KC Bokadia film was Rajinikanth (before he became Thailava), only to the extent that he was romantically paired with Rekha. However, he was killed quite early in the film, leaving his grieving widow to avenge his death. (In Akira, Sonakshi Sinha battles solo too.)

Subtlety was not a part of films of that period - at least not with Bokadia at the helm - when her husband Ranjit is killed and Namrata raped by the son (Charan Raj) of evil politician Bishamber Prasad (Prem Chopra), she loses the case in court.

Rekha avenges husband Rajinikanth's death in Phool Bane Angaray. 

She rushes to a Shiva temple to rant at the deity and picks up a "trishul" to kill herself, but is saved by her father-in-law (Alok Nath), who inspires her to turn her misfortune into strength. (In Akira, the heroine’s father teaches her martial arts.)

Namrata trains to become a police officer, and is soon dressed in the khaki-and-leather uniform of a high ranking officer. Bishamber, his son, the villainish police officer Khanna (Dalip Tahil) and Namrata’s brother (Shafi Inamdar) are just waiting to get their punishment from the now fiery Namrata.


After a woman complains to Namrata of rape by the politician, she thrashes a dozen of Bishamber’s men, and arrests him; then to humiliate him further, drags him through the city in handcuffs. Bishamber doesn't just get away, but manages to win the elections by foul means.

In the very contrived climax of the film, a victorious Bishamber has to unveil a statue of Rani Laxmibai, but when the rope is pulled and the curtain parts, there’s Namrata dressed as the Rani of Jhansi, astride a horse, with a sword in her hand. (Laxmibai is one of the few women of courage Bollywood filmmakers know of.)

She slashes Bishamber to death and before falling down dead herself, makes the women standing around promise that they will be as brave as the Rani of Jhansi. In an earlier film, Insaaf Ki Awaaz (1986), Rekha even played a police officer called Jhansi Rani.

All those loud films with fiery dialogue about woman power - such as Aaj Kie Aurat, Khoon Bhari Maang, Zakhmee Aurat, Sherni - probably engendered films like Mardaani, Jai Gangaal and Akira.

Last updated: September 04, 2016 | 18:29
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