Macho movies are muscling out women-centric cinema (2023)

Home / Industry / Media / Macho movies are muscling out women-centric cinema

NEW DELHI : The odds were against it. It was the weekend of the 2015 IPL (Indian Premier League) finals. How could a movie with a low-profile ensemble cast, headlined by a woman actor, drag viewers away from Mumbai Indians vs Chennai Super Kings? And if the audience didn’t troop in on a weekend, the box-office wasn’t going to show much mercy. The naysayers were wrong. That summer belonged to Kangana Ranaut’s comedy drama Tanu Weds Manu Returns. The Aanand L. Rai directed film made at a budget of 39 crore, made over 148 crore in box office takings, according to trade website Box Office India.

Only a year ago, Ranaut had starred in the critically and commercially successful Queen, the coming-of-age tale of a young woman jilted by her lover on the day of their wedding. Tanu Weds Manu Returns was more proof that women actors, when backed by a good script and a competent director, could reel in the audience.

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Cut to May 2022. Ranaut’s spy thriller Dhaakad, made on a budget of 93 crore, could earn a mere 2.3 crore in domestic cinemas. On day eight of its release, media reports claimed the film had sold as little as 20 tickets across the country, just before being taken off screens. This isn’t Ranaut’s cross to bear alone. Other films driven by female actors like Taapsee Pannu’s Shabaash Mithu ( 2.09 crore) and Dobaaraa ( 3.63 crore) also saw dismal box-office collections. That’s not all. Many movies with women in the lead didn’t even attempt a theatrical release but were streamed directly on OTT platforms —Darlings, Good Luck Jerry, Sherni, Jalsa, Looop Lapeta.

In the larger story of Hindi cinema’s struggle to win back audiences, a sub-plot is playing out. The slice-of-life cinema headlined by female actors is being edged out of the theatrical space. On the big screen, boys appear to be having all the fun, with action films like KGF: Chapter 2, RRR and Pushpa: The Rise- Part One making brawny spectacle the most successful formula.

Alia Bhatt’s Gangubai Kathiawadi stands out as an exception in this testosterone-fuelled moviescape. But, as many point out, the film rode high on the goodwill that director Sanjay Leela Bhansali enjoys among audiences, with his larger-than-life aesthetic rooted in Indian sensibilities, grand song-and-dance and enjoyable melodrama. Moreover, even Gangubai, a rare successful Hindi venture at the box office post the pandemic, made at a budget of 181 crore, only managed 126 crore in earnings, with recovery bolstered by satellite, digital and other rights sales.

The pandemic has forced all filmmakers back to the drawing board. Still, a bunch of producers have shown confidence in larger-than-life action films starring male leads, backing films such as Sooryavanshi (Akshay Kumar) and RRR (Ram Charan, Jr. NTR). Not all of these bets have worked. But producers of female-led films were among the first to give in, preferring to hedge risks for their overall company balance sheets by choosing to sign lucrative OTT deals rather than pushing for a theatrical release.

Vidya Balan’s Shakuntala Devi was one of the first films to stream digitally in 2020, followed by Janhvi Kapoor-starrer Gunjan Saxena-The Kargil Girl, Bhumi Pednekar’s Durgamati, Ekta Kapoor’s production Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare, Kriti Sanon’s Mimi and Balan’s own Sherni, among others. There is much to the argument that OTT platforms have thrown up enough and more opportunities and plum roles for women actors of all ages, as shows like Aarya (Sushmita Sen), Panchayat (Neena Gupta), Masaba Masaba (Masaba Gupta) and The Fame Game (Madhuri Dixit) illustrate.

But given the limited budgets of female-led films, the scanty marketing resources that go into promoting such movies (in comparison to action and period films headlined by male actors), it appears that women actors are being pushed into a tiny, “ladies-only" corner. With an audience that seems to want to come to theatres only to watch larger-than-life spectacles, is the big screen turning into a space solely owned by the big boys?

Women’s era

Like most film industries, Bollywood is a man’s world. Ageism and stereotypes slam more doors on women actors than is opened by good writing and inspiring directors. Nevertheless, from Madhubala to Madhuri Dixit, Meena Kumari to Deepika Padukone, women actors have found fandom and fame through the ages —and, sometimes, writers and directors willing to craft movies around them. Before the pandemic, a certain kind of female-led cinema was beginning to find acceptance at the box office.

Vidya Balan’s Kahaani (2012) and Tumhari Sulu (2017), along with Ranaut’s Queen and Tanu Weds Manu Returns and Alia Bhatt’s Raazi (2018) showed that women-led scripts made sound economic sense at the big screen. “That kind of female-led cinema had just begun to bloom. But at a time when mid-sized films are, in general, not finding enough draw in cinemas, it’s like the genre has gone back into its shell," film producer, trade and exhibition expert Girish Johar said.

Perhaps, the issue is not only about male or female leads but of acknowledging the elephant in the room—that a lot of films greenlit before covid and conceived as theatrical projects are no longer seen as worthy of the 70mm experience, said independent exhibitor Vishek Chauhan. “The slice-of-life genre has been taken over by OTT. It doesn’t require a theatrical outing and Bollywood needs to amp up the mass quotient big time to bring people back," Chauhan says.

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But, in recent years, most movies driven by female stars have not been mass entertainers, even if some of them ticked the boxes of progressive and meaningful cinema. That’s also true for films with male stars such as Ayushmann Khurrana, Rajkummar Rao, Shahid Kapoor and John Abraham, whose films Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui, Anek, HIT: The First Case, Jersey and Attack, haven’t found favour with audiences post covid.

Trade experts say the challenge for all actors is to make the kind of fun, commercial entertainers that can draw viewers in huge numbers irrespective of gender. “There have been plenty of fun, female character driven films in the past," Chauhan said, pointing to comedies and mass-market entertainers starring the likes of Hema Malini and Sridevi in the 1970s and ’80s. Much of Julia Roberts’ work in the 1990s and early 2000s, such as Pretty Woman and Erin Brockovich, falls in the same category and Hollywood has still managed to put women at the forefront in commercial entertainers more recently, in Captain Marvel (2019) and Wonder Woman 1984 (2020). Back home in India, Ranaut’s Queen and Tanu Weds Manu Returns are more recent examples, as is one of Sridevi’s last films English Vinglish, which had made nearly 40 crore at the box office when it released in 2012.

The underwhelming numbers for women-led films at the moment are part of the broader unfortunate cycle that Bollywood is caught in, according to some industry experts. “Hindi films have stopped speaking to audiences and feeling entertaining, the plots are jaded and even the masala needs to be refreshed," says film critic Shubhra Gupta. For instance, Shabaash Mithu, a sports drama based on the life of cricketer Mithali Raj didn’t work, not because it was headlined by a woman, but because it didn’t fit into any expectations, much like ’83, another sports film, based on the 1983 World Cup, Gupta says.

But that’s where the gender bias creeps in. “For women, a couple of box-office failures create impediments for future projects. However, no such introspection happens in films with male protagonists and the risk appetite remains large for a much longer time despite back-to-back losses," said Kanupriya A Iyer, head, business affairs and senior producer, Locomotive Global Media, a production house. Even when they deliver successive box-office hits, top female Hindi film stars have never commanded fees close to top male stars. Deepika Padukone or Alia Bhatt, for instance, are only known to make 20-25 crore per film as compared to the 80-100 crore or even more that an Akshay Kumar would.

Gone girls

Several producers attribute the limited box-office potential of female-driven films to the resources allocated to market them in the first place. “It’s not just about the person headlining the project but the resources that go into promoting it across the country and releasing it on a particular scale that then result in wider audiences gathering for them," said Malayalam film writer and director Anjali Menon, known for movies like Ustad Hotel, Bangalore Days and Koode. The theatrical audience is increasingly tough to break into, Menon said, and it doesn’t help that these films are neither marketed on a mass scale nor released widely.

With most families choosing to stay home post covid and the theatre-going audience base turning predominantly male, the risk with hypermasculine, male-led narratives is lower. And so, producers are investing in films that appeal to male audiences and are driven by male characters that these viewers can in turn worship and look up to. The pan-India success of multilingual action flicks like KGF: Chapter 2, RRR and Pushpa: The Rise- Part One, that have reaped box office rewards across Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam versions, is vindication for such a strategy.

But even if such films have cracked the box-office code, they also pander to alarmingly regressive attitudes towards women. Female characters in all these films are either decorative props, or are cast in borderline demeaning roles. In Pushpa, for instance, a woman agrees to kiss a man in return for cash. In KGF, the female lead is termed ‘entertainment’ by the male protagonist. In an article for Firstpost, film writer Anna MM Vetticad said the pan-India success of a film like Pushpa would be a welcome threat to Bollywood’s hegemony and a sign of the blurring of boundaries between India’s multiple film industries and audiences. “But considering the similarity of Pushpa’s content with male-centric commercial cinema across Indian languages, the film’s pan-India appeal also indicates a disturbing truth: that a country divided by sectarian considerations, languages and deep cultural chasms is united in its embrace of patriarchy and misogyny in mass entertainment," she wrote.

In search of a good time

These are difficult times for the Hindi cinema. But film industry experts are hopeful that all genres will find their place in due course, once the industry recovers its mojo. There is no reason for a well-made film with drama, conflict, resolution and pay-offs not doing well, with either a male or female character at the centre. Like with the advent of home video in the 1980s, there is need for filmmakers, in general, to see new technology as reason to go back to the drawing board.

“We must acknowledge behavioural changes in the consumer due to other socio-economic, political, and technological forces at play post-pandemic that may affect the film business," Iyer said.

The next few months, as production resumes greater normalcy and ticket rates see some correction, could bode well for mid-budget films. Early 2023, Ranaut will star in Tejas, where she plays an Air Force pilot; she is playing Indira Gandhi in a film titled Emergency that she will direct herself and which will release next year. Deepika Padukone is slated to produce a remake of Hollywood hit The Intern where she plays the lead role, and Farhan Akhtar will direct Priyanka Chopra, Katrina Kaif and Alia Bhatt in a road movie called Jee Le Zara. As Chauhan put it, “There is enough to prove the box office is not depressed. Give the audiences a good time, and they will come."

(All box-office collection estimates are by trade website Box Office India.)

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Lata Jha covers media and entertainment for Mint. She focuses on the film, television, video and audio streaming businesses. She is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism. She can be found at the movies, when not writing about them.

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Frequency of going to the movies in the U.S. 2022, by gender

As of May 2022, almost half (46 percent) of male adults surveyed online in the United States said they went to the movies often or sometimes. Among women, the combined share stood at 37 percent.

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One of the easiest ways to find a movie title is by searching the actors who were in it. You can look up an actor's Wikipedia or IMDb page to check their filmography, and you should find the movie you're looking for there.

How does film represent masculinity? ›

Masculinity is portrayed in films as describing the “traditional” man to objectify women, to be driven by sex, emotionally repressed, self-reliant, as well as avoid all facets pertaining to femininity. Rather than seeing a man cry on film, instead, you see them “turn violent or present an extremely stoic exterior.”

What is the movie enough about? ›

How many movies have female leads? ›

25% of films featured female protagonists. 56% of films featured male protagonists, and 19% had ensembles or a combination of male and female protagonists.

How does film represent gender? ›

Depictions of women on screen are often dependent on roles behind the scenes. Female directors tend to hire more women in key roles and depict women in a more positive light than men. All five movies directed by women could also be classified as female stories, with plots directly subverting traditional male stories.

How do you describe a movie in an essay? ›

Share your reflections on the movie

You do not have to repeat the plot of the movie in your essay. Your goal is to demonstrate what you think about certain events and characters. Pay attention to details and try to read between the lines. Analyze the scenario, acting, music, special effects, etc.

What's it called when you find a mistake in a movie? ›

A blooper is a short clip from a film or video production, usually a deleted scene, containing a mistake made by a member of the cast or crew. It also refers to an error made during a live radio or TV broadcast or news report, usually in terms of misspoken words or technical errors.

Is it normal to not remember movies? ›

Unless the old memory is recalled again, it might eventually fade. “You have seen many other movies since that [particular] movie. All of these other movies have the potential to interfere with your memory of that original event,” says Sean Kang, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Melbourne.

How are male and female roles portrayed? ›

For example, girls and women are generally expected to dress in typically feminine ways and be polite, accommodating, and nurturing. Men are generally expected to be strong, aggressive, and bold. Every society, ethnic group, and culture has gender role expectations, but they can be very different from group to group.

How are males and females portrayed in the media? ›

Men are often portrayed as adventurous, dominant, and sexually aggressive, while women tend to be portrayed as young, beautiful, emotionally passive, dependent, and sometimes unintelligent. In Western media, women are expected to value youth, sexuality, and beauty, while men are taught to value dominance and power.

Does gender affect movie preference? ›

Women (vs. men) showed an increased preference for romantic genres regardless of mood, whereas men showed a preference for action, suspense, and dark comedy genres.

What is the conflict in the movie Enough? ›

The conflict in Enough is between Slim and her very abusive husband Mitch. He sweeps Slim off her feet in a small little diner, they get married and seem blissfully happy. They settle down into a beautiful house and have a daughter named Gracie.

What happens in the end of Enough? ›

The last act of the movie consists of Slim outsmarting her husband with a series of clever ploys in which she stage-manages an escape route, sets a booby trap for his SUV, and then lures him into a confrontation where she beats the Shinola out of him, at length, with much blood, lots of stunt work, breakaway furniture, ...

Who was the first female film? ›

Alice Ida Antoinette Guy-Blaché (née Guy; French pronunciation: ​[alis gi blɑʃe] ; 1 July 1873 – 24 March 1968) was a French pioneer filmmaker. She was one of the first filmmakers to make a narrative fiction film, as well as the first woman to direct a film.
Alice Guy-Blaché
Alice Guy
8 more rows

What makes a good female lead? ›

She has the ability to stand up to the antagonist.

She is a strong character who is made stronger by her interaction with the antagonist. She has to have the intelligence, bravery, charisma, and will-power to make the story her own and come out on top at the end of the book.

What genre has the most female leads? ›

So, how have female movie leads evolved in comparison to male movie leads, if at all? We analyzed fifty box office hits per decade for seven decades (1950–2020) to find out. According to our findings, the movie genres that feature the most female-led movies are action, comedy, and drama.

How are female characters portrayed? ›

It is observed that they are portrayed as powerless, weak, whiny and under male dominance, or class- and power-focused, wealthy, ambitious, dominant and intriguing and with beautiful physicalities. Women have a very powerful, important and determinant role in society.

Is there inequality in the film industry? ›

The global film industry is shaped by gender inequality. Women are structurally underrepresented in professional roles that include high levels of creative and economic decision-making power, such as directors, writers, and producers.

What is feminist analysis of film? ›

Feminist film theory is a theoretical film criticism derived from feminist politics and feminist theory influenced by Second Wave Feminism and brought about around the 1970s in the United States.

How do you describe a movie in one word? ›

Note that depending on the combination of words used, they may change from neutral to positive or negative.
surprisingdazzlingthought provoking
3 more rows

How do you start an essay about a movie? ›


The introductory part of a film analysis essay contains some fundamental information about the movie, like the film title, release date, and director's name. In other words, the reader should get familiar with some background information about the film.

How do you introduce a movie in an essay? ›

Use the name of the movie and the year of publication for all video sources. Place the reference in quotation marks at the end of the sentence where the information is referenced. Before citing the source, introduce the source in-text with the name of the video and director.

What are human mistakes called? ›

Human error is an unintentional action or decision. ■ Violations are intentional failures – deliberately doing the wrong thing. 1 Human error. Skill-based errors.

Why do movies have so many mistakes? ›

Why do such movie mistakes occur? Quite often the answer lies in the high pressure world of commercial film making. Directors generally work under tight budget and time restraints, and re-shooting scenes can be a logistical nightmare.

Do actors need to have good memory? ›

An average memory will suffice. Some actors need to work harder than others, and it gets tougher with age. Actors over 75 generally have considerable difficulty learning large roles for the stage. My father is an actor and at 87 he is still able to learn lines, but it does require an enormous effort for him.

What causes a person not to remember? ›

Memory and other thinking problems have many possible causes, including depression, an infection, or medication side effects. Sometimes, the problem can be treated, and cognition improves. Other times, the problem is a brain disorder, such as Alzheimer's disease, which cannot be reversed.

Does watching movies affect your memory? ›

The researchers found those who tuned in for more than three-and-a-half hours experienced on average an 8 to 10 per cent decrease in verbal memory. Those who watched for less time, however, experienced an average decrease of about 4 to 5 per cent.

What is the main role of a woman in our society? ›

Women are the primary caretakers of children and elders in every country of the world. International studies demonstrate that when the economy and political organization of a society change, women take the lead in helping the family adjust to new realities and challenges.

What makes a woman different from a man? ›

Men are more logical, analytical, rational. Women are more intuitive, holistic, creative, integrative. Men have a much more difficult time relating to their own feelings, and may feel very threatened by the expression of feelings in their presence.

Why do boys play female roles? ›

Women were allowed to act in the theatre until 1660 as it was judged to be unseemly for a woman to undertake such a profession. Young boys were therefore hired to act in the female roles. The costumes used for the female characters were extremely elaborate, reflecting the clothes worn during the Elizabethan era.

How does social media affect gender inequality? ›

Gender imbalance in public posts may send yet another message that girls are less important and interesting than boys and deserve less attention. The researchers also found that posts about sons receive, on average, 1.5 times more likes.

How do movies affect people's behavior? ›

Movies and television also can make people more violent. The more we see violent acts on television, the less sensitive we become to them: Eventually violence doesn't seem wrong. We may even commit violent acts ourselves. This is especially true because we don't always realize that violence has consequences.

What kind of movies do men prefer? ›

Most popular movie genres among adults in the United States as of December 2018, by gender
Romantic comedy67%84%
9 more rows
12 Aug 2021

Do movies have negative impact on society? ›

it exerts a tremendous effect on people's psychology. People are exposed to all kinds of emotions in cinema within a short span of 2 to 3 hours. Love, hatred, vengeance, savage violence, rape and many other undesirable activities are shown within such a short period of time.

What is the main conflict in a movie? ›

Conflict Definition

In film and TV, conflict is the result of competing desires from characters or the presence of obstacles that said characters need to be overcome. The very idea of conflict is necessary to propel the narrative forward.

What are the three types of conflict in film? ›

Conflict Drives All Stories
  • 1) EXTERNAL CONFLICT. This is really the physical action that occurs on screen. ...
  • 2) INTERNAL CONFLICT. This relates to the internal chaos and growth of your characters. ...
  • 3) INTERACTIONAL CONFLICT. This relates to how the main character interacts with other characters or their surroundings.
15 Dec 2012

What type of conflict is shown in the movie The Greatest Showman? ›

Because PT Barnum wants respect for who he is, the conflict stems from how he can achieve that respect. One, he can simply be a good person and gain respect from others by being kind and generous to them. Two, he can pursue greater riches and fame and gain respect through superficial appearances.

Who is the little girl in Enough? ›

Tessa Allen was just 5 years old when she made her acting debut in the 2002 thriller, though she had appeared in commercials for McDonald's and Maytag before landing the part of Gracie.

Who is the villain in the world is not Enough? ›

Movie Info

The villain is Renard (Robert Carlyle), who has a bullet lodged in his brain rendering him unable to feel pain. Also featuring nuclear weapons expert Dr. Christmas Jones (Denise Richards).

Who wrote the story of Enough? ›

“Enough isn't just the incredibly well-written story of Shauna Ahern's life, it's also one of the best accounts of human growth I've ever read. Through abuse, rejection, illness, romance, motherhood, and finally, authentic truth-telling, Ahern leans into the uncomfortable realities of being a person in the world.

What is the theme of the movie Enough? ›

Describing its message, she said "[If] you're in these negative situations, negative relationships, whatever, you can get out ... The power to get out of those things is always within yourself. That's the message of the movie."

What is the plot of the movie Enough? ›

What caused the end in how it ends? ›

While Tom is still annoyed with Will for sinking his boat many years back, and for being poor in general, an end-of-the-world event happens in Seattle – an earthquake combined with a volcanic eruption.

› wiki ›

Enough is a 2002 American thriller film directed by Michael Apted. The movie is based on the 1998 novel Black and Blue, by Anna Quindlen, which was a New York T...
"Enough" is a nasty item masquerading as a feminist revenge picture. It's a step or two above "I Spit On Your Grave," but uses the same ...

Enough (film) › wiki › Enough_(film) › wiki › Enough_(film)
Enough is a 2002 American thriller film directed by Michael Apted. The movie is based on the 1998 novel Black and Blue, by Anna Quindlen, which was a New York T...

Who goes to the cinema most? ›

Moviegoers age 18-24 and 25-39 made up the bulk of frequent moviegoers in 2016, 38% percent, compared to 21% for frequent moviegoers aged 2-17, according to the chart titled “Most Frequent Moviegoers by Age Group.” However, youths aged 12-17 make up 13% of that 21%, or 62%.
Who Goes to the Movies?
1 more row

Which audience groups go to the cinema most often? ›

PERCENTAGE OF PEOPLE IN VARIOUS AGE GROUPS WHO HAD BEEN TO THE CINEMA IN THE LAST 12 MONTHS, AND AVERAGE NUMBER OF VISITS, 1974–2021. People between the ages of 14 and 24 were most likely to attend the cinema in the last twelve months, and with the greatest frequency.

Who watches more TV males or females? ›

U.S. TV consumption: average viewing time 2009-2021, by gender. Overall, women spent an average of 2.69 hours per day watching television in 2021, up from 2.64 hours in 2019. Men watched more TV on average than women, increasing their average daily viewing time slightly to 3.04 hours.

Who is the target audience in film? ›

Target audiences are always for a particular niche — a group of people with specific interests and of a defined age, gender, interests, etc.

Which is the No 1 cinema in the world? ›

Global cinema chains
1AMCUnited States
2CineworldUnited Kingdom
3CinemarkUnited States
5 more rows

What is the most beautiful cinema in the world? ›

Palatial Tuschinski named most beautiful cinema in the world

Opened in October 1921 and named after Abraham Icek Tuschinski, Pathé Tuschinski has a rich and fascinating history. The art deco building is easily the most famous cinema in the Netherlands.

What do you call a person who watched a lot of movies? ›

The term is a portmanteau of the words cinema and philia, one of the four ancient Greek words for love. A person with a passionate interest in cinema is called a cinephile (/ˈsɪnɪfaɪl/), cinemaphile, filmophile, or, informally, a film buff (also movie buff).

Why cinema is so popular among people? ›

This is an Expert-Verified Answer

(a) Cinema is so much popular because it is the cheapest means of recreation. It is a good posture. (b) Earlier there were silent, and black and white movies. Now we are dazzled by the colours in the movies.

What type of film is most popular? ›

Most popular movie genres among adults in the United States as of December 2018, by gender
Romantic comedy67%84%
9 more rows
12 Aug 2021

Why is cinema so much popular among people? ›

In summary, movies, provide entertainment as well as knowledge to people. They give people an opportunity to learn about different cultures, religions, and histories. In addition, due to easy accessibility, movies will continue to be popular and a great source of entertainment for many people.

Why do females live more than males? ›

Biological differences also help to explain women's higher longevity. Scientists believe that estrogen in women combats conditions such as heart disease by helping reduce circulatory levels of harmful cholesterol. Women are also thought to have stronger immune systems than men.

How does television affect gender roles? ›

Children who witness female characters on television programs who are passive, indecisive, and subordinate to men, and who see this reinforced by their environment, will likely believe that this is the appropriate way for females to behave. Female children are less likely to develop autonomy, initiative, and ...

Is YouTube mostly male or female? ›

At the beginning of 2022, approximately 54 percent of YouTube users in the United States were men. By comparison, women made up around 46 percent of the platform's user base.

How do films attract audiences? ›

Filmmakers emotionally suture the audience into the story by creating characters and situations that generate sympathy, jeopardy, and relatability. Audiences are drawn to characters who are "attractive" — characters that are funny, powerful, skilled, beautiful, charming, and hospitable.

Who is your target audience example? ›

Your target audience might be a board market, or a niche one. For example, if you sell shoes you might focus on a wider market, as everyone wears shoes, regardless of age, gender, and interests.

Who is the most important person in the film industry? ›

  1. 1 WK Laurie Dickson. (1860-1935) Inventor of Kinetophonograph, True "Father" of Film. ...
  2. 2 Edwin S. Porter. (1869-1941) ...
  3. 3 Charlie Chaplin. (1889-1977) ...
  4. 4 Mary Pickford. (1893-1979) ...
  5. 5 Orson Welles. (1915-1985) ...
  6. 6 Alfred Hitchcock. (1899-1980) ...
  7. 7 Walt Disney. (1901-1966) ...
  8. 8 D. W. Griffith. (1875-1948)


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