Film: Mirch Masala
Played by: Smita Patil
What: Women’s empowerment found new meaning in Ketan Mehta’s 1987 film. The story of Smita Patil’s Sonbai, who — alongwith many other village women objectified and abused — hits out against the rapacious subedaar (Naseeruddin Shah), continues to inspire.
Top moment: In the climax, as the subedaar inches menacingly towards the women, they rush towards him with a cloth full of freshly ground chillies and hurl it into his eyes — on repeat. The message of woman power was in the mirch.
SABRINA LAL & MEERA GAITY
Film: No One Killed Jessica
Played by: Vidya Balan and Rani Mukerji
What: Girl power got a whole new spin in this Rajkumar Gupta film which brought the real-life Jessica Lal murder case to reel. Sabrina Lal’s (Vidya) strong but silent quest to bring her sister’s killers to book was boosted by the drive of hard-talking journalist Meera Gaity (Rani). The result? Two women taking on an entire (corrupt) system.
Top moment: When Meera exhorts a broken and dejected Sabrina to come out and fight for justice — for her sister, and for every woman out there
Played by: Meenakshi Seshadri
What: One woman’s war to get justice for another was the bedrock of this Rajkumar Santoshi film. Highlighting the perils of a rape victim, and unafraid to tell it as it is, Damini became a benchmark for women-oriented films.
Top moment: Damini’s monologue in the court scene towards the end of the film, where she says she doesn’t want justice in a world that doesn’t respect its women.
Played by: Kangana Ranaut
What: The story of a sheltered Delhi girl who takes off alone on her honeymoon after being ditched by her fiance a day before the wedding, Queen resonated with the female viewer, each identifying a little bit of Rani within her.
Top moment: The scene at the end when Rani walks out on her fiance and triumphantly walks out of the door — that final stride of freedom, that unbridled smile... Go, girl!
SHIVANI SHIVAJI ROY
Played by: Rani Mukerji
What: A top cop takes on a trafficking kingpin to give us one of the best ‘she’ films in recent times.
Top moment: That scene towards the end when Shivani Shivaji Roy (Rani) slips off her jacket, stares hard at Walt (Tahir Raj Bhasin) and urges him to take her on, woman for man
Played by: Kajol
What: The story of a timid young girl who metamorphoses into a woman of steel to wreak revenge on the man who had raped and killed her twin sister. Kajol delivered one of her strongest performances in this Tanuja Chandra film.
Top moment: At the end, bloodied but brave, Naina gathers all her inner strength, takes aim with a gun, stares her enemy in the eye and kills him.
Film: Bandit Queen
Played by: Seema Biswas
What: Shekhar Kapur’s much-talked-about film that chronicled the transformation of a young girl into a dreaded dacoit after being stripped and paraded and raped. Beware the power of a woman desperate for vengeance.
Top moment: When Phoolan picks up the rifle and kills for the first time... she doesn’t want to do it and yet that’s the only way out.
Film: Khoon Bhari Maang
Played by: Rekha
What: Rekha’s journey from a timid mother and wife, ashamed of her looks and low on confidence, to a woman of the world who can bring men to their knees, remains a cult shero film.
Top moment: When Aarti (Rekha) triumphantly pushes husband Sanjay (Kabir Bedi) into a river infested by crocodiles just as he had done to her a few years ago. #Win
Played by: Vidya Balan
What: Sujoy Ghosh’s Kill Bill film set and shot in Calcutta had Vidya Balan in the role of a ‘pregnant’ woman in search of her ‘missing’ husband.
Top moment: The climax set in a Calcutta Puja pandal where Bidya Bagchi in red-and-white sari takes on the enemy single-handedly, hunting him down to bring him down.
Played by: Madhuri Dixit
What: Prakash Jha’s film set in the Bihar heartland was a powerful triumph of a bunch of women fighting against male domination and gender bias.
Top moment: Madhuri’s Ketki picking up a gun to kill, her eyes flashing, her mouth set in a deep line.
Played by: Preity Zinta
What: Bolly’s nod to The Silence of the Lambs had Preity in the role of a CBI trainee who forms a bond with a unique criminal mind (played by Akshay Kumar) to track down a serial killer. Unsure at first and constantly tormented by the demons of her past, she eventually lets it rip, giving us one of the best action sequences involving a female actor in a Bolly film.
Top moment: When she overcomes her fear of the dark to save a child
Film: Chandni Bar
Played by: Tabu
What: Madhur Bhandarkar brought the grimy Mumbai underbelly into focus with this hard-hitting film on the lives of the thousands of women who dance in bars to earn a living. Told through the eyes of Mumtaz (Tabu), Chandni Bar remains a watershed film on female power, depicting both the strength of a woman and the emotional vulnerability of a mother.
Top moment: When she breaks down in the middle of a murky lane after seeing her son pull out a gun and kill a man, his innocence lost in a split second.