Can Sonakshi's Akira change how audience treats women-centric films?

A Salman Khan or an Akshay Kumar starrer is never described as a male-centric movie.

 |  5-minute read |   28-08-2016
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She is the girl with "mast mast do nain". Her eyes were also accused of being "dagabaaz re". While Rajjo used her eyes to bewitch her beloved in Dabangg, Pakhi in Lootera peered through the magnifying glass to get a closer look at the object of her affection.

Sonakshi Sinha, despite showing promise in Vikramaditya Motwane's Lootera as an actress who had quite a few aces up her sleeve, has repeatedly chosen to play the "Chamak Challo Chel Chabeli" in the male-dominated superstar vehicles like Rowdy Rathore, Son of Sardar, Bullett Raja, R... Rajkumar, Holiday: A Soldier Is Never Off Duty, Action Jackson and Tevar.

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A sense of ennui began to set in when it came to watching Sonakshi on the big screen. Come September 2 and the 29-year-old actress will be seen in a never-before-seen action avatar in Akira. It's been more than a year-and-a-half that we have seen the actress do her thing on the silver screen. Will Akira help break the stereotype she finds herself ensconced in or will it just reaffirm the fact that Sonakshi can only do the kitschy "masala" potboilers in which she has been a regular.

sonakshi-embed_082816063049.jpg Sonakshi Sinha in a still from Akira. 

The latter seems to be true as she seems to be closely following the mantra endorsed by the superstars she has been shadowing in her earlier blockbusters. Akira is a remake of the 2011 Tamil hit Mouna Guru. She is no damsel in distress in the film; in fact, she is the damsel who causes a lot of distress for the villain.

That's not all; Akira is a full-blown action movie which boasts of punch dialogues that are intrinsic to the template of the superstar film. Last but not the least, it is directed by AR Murugadoss, the Rohit Shetty of Tamil films, as it were. While we have to wait for the film to release to decide if Sonakshi is rewriting the grammar of the woman-centric film, currently Kangana Ranaut is the only female actor who holds the distinction of delivering a Rs 100-crore film at the box office.

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She also bagged a national award for her role in the film Tanu Weds Manu Returns. How many male superstars can boast of having achieved that feat? Kangana, however, didn't redefine the template of the superstar film but merely made it her own by bringing her brand of stardom in Tanu Weds Manu Returns.

Meanwhile Queen which was a sleeper hit was the coming-of-age story of a woman which did well thanks to word of mouth and women flocking to the theatres. She also has had duds like Rajjo and Revolver Rani to contend with. The conundrum surrounding a women-centric film has always been about the target audience. While a Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar or Ajay Devgn starrer attracts a predominantly male crowd, Kangana's Tanu Weds Manu Returns was also made for a male audience as it boasted of dialogues which reinforced the stereotypes about men and women prevalent in the society through humour which elicited laughter from them.

In other words it was clearly a "paisa vasool" film. From the trailer of Akira one can safely say that the main protagonist could have easily been a male superstar but it's Sonakshi who steps into those shoes. Is that really the only way to empower the female star? Female actresses in every era have had the chance to showcase their acting chops and prove their box office clout in films which had them as the main protagonist.

Sridevi delivered a blockbuster with Nagina in 1986 and was given top billing in all her films through the 1980s irrespective of the fact they were male-centric or female-centric. The box office success of her comeback film English Vinglish proved once again why she is a superstar irrespective of being male or female.

Vidya Balan is the only other actress who has been able to make her female-centric films like The Dirty Picture and Kahaani work at the box office thanks to her unmatched acting skills and the stories that she was a part of, which hit the right note with the audience.

The same cannot be said about Madhuri Dixit who found it difficult to work her magic at the ticket windows with her comeback film Aaja Nachle which had her playing a dance teacher. As far as Priyanka Chopra, Kareena Kapoor, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Rani Mukerji are concerned, their films which had them playing the protagonist without a top male star in the cast only spelt disaster at the box office.

Among the current lot, Deepika Padukone, Anushka Sharma and Sonam Kapoor are constantly trying to redefine the rules of the box office by pushing the envelope. If Deepika has a Piku, Anushka turned producer for NH10 and Sonam delivered the sleeper hit Neerja this year. With the issue of unequal pay in Bollywood resurfacing time and again, the ability of the female actor to draw the audience is always used as a defence. What also seems baffling is that a Salman Khan or an Akshay Kumar starrer is never described as a male-centric film but a Sonakshi starrer will be termed as a "Powerpuff Girl" saga.

The one who cringes the most when subjected to that terminology is the distributor who looks at a film like a product which needs to give the return on investment. And a female-centric film means the male audience will give it a miss, thereby placing a big question mark on the viability of films which are helmed by a female star.

The power ultimately does lie with the audience and as long as they call the shots, and makers will shy away from films with female characters as the protagonist. Instead of creating a new formula altogether they will just replace the male superstar with a female star while the rest of the motifs stay the same. Bollywood is nothing but a microcosm of our society at large. Maybe the answer lies in a change in perspective on all fronts.


Lasyapriya Sundaram Lasyapriya Sundaram @lasyapriyas

The writer is an entertainment journalist with India Today TV.

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