Women characters on Indian shows have rarely received any multi-dimensional treatment. They are either shown as damsels in distress or as one-dimensional villains. The following shows on Netflix and Prime video have strong women characters that you cannot ignore. These characters have possibly paved the way for more interesting and accurate depictions of women on the silver screen.
1. Kukkoo – (Sacred Games, Netflix)
TV host and model Kubbra Sait plays trans woman Kukkoo. She views herself as a good luck charm. She oozes charisma and confidence. Every gangster in town wants her by their side and she knows it.
While she is portrayed as a bold character as she keeps her trans identity a secret. During the 80s in Mumbai, it wasn’t very common for non-cis gendered folks to have social clout and acceptance like Kukkoo. While her character only has a comparatively short-lived role, it is a treat to see Gaitonde being enchanted by her. Her power over so many ruthless and powerful men also adds to her empowerment as a queer femme in those days.
2. Dr. Shreya- (Laakhon Mein Ek, Amazon Prime)
Laakhon Mein Ek pertains to the original Indian stereotype of becoming either an engineer or doctor in India. Since the first season covered the engineering aspect, the second season features the enthusiastic Dr Shreya. She has turned up in Sitlapur to conduct a cataract camp and treat the villagers.
The ambitious woman faces obstacles in the form of incessant bureaucracy, corrupt government officials and stubborn villagers. Follow the protagonist played by Shweta Tripathi, as she navigates from being one amongst a million to one in a million. Her relentless commitment to justice drives her vision to help the village while also jumping through hurdles.
READ ALSO: Queer representation in Bollywood
3. Golu Gupta – (Mirzapur, Prime Video)
Shweta Tripathi seems to have a knack for playing ambitious female characters. It is an absolute treat if you follow the plot of this particularly violent show. She plays the role of Golu Gupta, an ambitious college woman in the savage city of Mirzapur. Golu wants to run for college president, but her hoodlum counterparts constantly try to intimidate her.
Trying to be a female leader in a backward city full of corrupt government officials and their gundas is not simple. She is braver than most of us would let on. She not only shrugs off threats made by her classmates, but she also wins the hearts of college-goers ‘the right way’ and with integrity.
4. Vartika Chaturvedi – (Delhi Crime, Netflix)
Shefali Shah plays the incredible Vartika Chaturvedi, DCP for Delhi’s South district. The Nirbhaya case shook India and an IPS officer called Chhaya Sharma was the reason that the six criminals were found in under a week. The officer gained recognition for leading a 41-member police team to investigate the decade’s most public sexual assault case.
She is lauded for standing her ground even when encountering bumps in the investigation. Her character’s commitment to solving the case with sensitivity and firmness displays her as an epitome of leadership.
5. Sarita – (Taj Mahal 1989, Netflix)
Taj Mahal 1989 is a nostalgic show, portraying love between people just a decade before the new century began. This show has a certain sweetness to it brought by Geetanjali Kulkarni who plays Sarita – one of the lead characters. Her strong woman character is someone who will fight for what she deserves. While she is bitter sometimes, (as we all are when we’ve been hurt by the one we love), she also has a tender and loving side that comes out when she is treated well.
She fights to renew the love between her and her husband and even considers the extreme solution – divorce. Could any of us imagine being a divorced middle-aged lady in 1989? She doesn’t care for society’s norms, she just wants her old love back. Her thought process, her candour, and her unshakable personality all are a delight to behold throughout the series.
6. Rashmi (Taj Mahal 1989, Netflix)
Another fascinating female character from Taj Mahal 1989 is Rashmi, played by Anshul Chauhan. Rashmi is more than just the-most-sought-after woman in college. She is passionate about plays and wants to do a good job with her theatre production. In the course of putting up her play, she encounters complications with her boyfriend. He is incredibly possessive about her and tries to drive away men who want to be part of her play. In addition to that, he also tries to tell her who she can be friends with and starts showing signs of becoming violent.
Naturally, a strong independent woman like Rashmi would not turn a blind eye to her partner’s growing disrespect towards her. By trying to control who she sees and stalking her every move, he has certainly crossed a line in her book. In the 80s, having boyfriends itself could be seen as a rebellious act, but breaking free from the clutches of a future misogynist is female empowerment taken to the next level.
7. Tara Khanna (Made in Heaven, Prime Video)
In this series about planning Indian weddings, Tara Khanna is played by Sobhita Dhulipala. Tara runs a wedding planning agency along with her business partner Karan. Tara is a supremely complex character, meaning that she is a strong woman character but she is not necessarily the most righteous.
She comes from a lower-middle-class background and was raised by a single mother who taught her daughters to use their looks to find a way out of financial hardship. Following her mother’s advice, Tara manipulates her filthy rich boss into marrying her. Her boss is now her husband and his family, specifically, her mother-in-law is consistent in condescendingly reminding her of where she came from. Watch her evolve as her already difficult marriage is further complicated by money and affairs. She is a victim but she is also a perpetrator. You cannot miss such an intelligent portrayal of a businesswoman!
8. Pushpavalli (Pushpavalli, Prime Video)
Comedian Sumukhi Suresh deserves all the credit for single-handedly creating an incredible series. It follows Pushpavalli, who is a terribly perplexing woman. Firstly, it’s so refreshing to see a show that diverging from mainstream female characters and casting a ‘real’ woman. Someone whose appearance doesn’t adhere to the mainstream thin-fair-young checklist. This alone sets a precedent for the genius piece of art that says “this is not what you expect, but so much more”.
Pushpavalli has issues with boundaries and invasion of privacy, her name also means ‘creeper’. The show depicts how she runs into trouble in her love life, professional life and also puts the people around her in difficult situations. It is also worthwhile noting that she is very clever and witty, she knows how to get her way. One thing leads to another and Pushpavalli wreaks havoc in Bangalore. She isn’t necessarily oblivious to the consequences of her actions, which makes her an intriguing character to follow.
9. Megha (Lust Stories, Netflix)
Another example of a woman taking charge of her happiness comes in the form of Megha in Netflix’s Lust Stories. The role played by Kiara Advani could be a subtle commentary on all the lost orgasms in heterosexual intercourse, where a woman’s pleasure is secondary.
Megha’s husband Paras is completely in the dark about her dissatisfaction during sex and so she begins to explore her options. When she is introduced to a vibrator by her colleague at work, she decides to test it. When she’s accidentally caught by her husband, his mother, and his grandmother while reaching climax, they ask her to divorce Paras. Later when he says it was all a mistake and he doesn’t want a divorce, she sticks by her need for pleasure. Though unconventional, she is a strong woman character that bravely explores her sexuality and doesn’t compromise on her pleasure.