ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Historical Heroines and the Homogenised Ideal of Hindu Womanhood: A Study of Contemporary Bollywood Films


S G Greeshma - Banaras Hindu University, English, Varanasi, India


02 – Rewriting Hindu Women within Contemporary Popular Media


 Recent times have witnessed a surge in the production of historical films and period dramas in Indian film industries, especially in Bollywood. While being popularly acclaimed for their visualisation of the past, these films raise some serious issues with regard to their representation of gender, caste and religion. Studies indicate an ongoing historical revisionism in the context of a growing ideology of Hindu nationalism and of the post-liberalisation rise of the new middle classes, which form the main audience in film culture. This paper examines recently released historical films in Hindi, with particular focus on Padmaavat (2018), Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi (2019), Panipat (2019) and Samrat Prithviraj (2022) to argue that they promote a certain ideal of Hindu womanhood through a homogenised portrayal of historical/mythical heroines from across different centuries. By placing them in the theoretical context of Male Gaze and Muscular Nationalism, the paper delineates the paradoxical portrayal of women as agential in these narratives while they are strictly placed within the bounds of traditional patriarchal family and nation state. The paper also studies the controversies that arose around these films to map their implications for contemporary gender politics.