Female Films Week: Best Heroines Who Aren’t the Lead, But Are Still Interesting

Is that title clear? I’m so tired, but I really want to have this discussion because I think it is interesting. What are the movies with a female love interest who is more complex than your usual “pretty face, good girl” kind of heroine?

In a narrative, the “protagonist” is the point of view character, the one who we get the most insight into his background and motivations and actions. He/she is also the one who changes the most over the course of the narrative. In romance films, the protagonist duties are often split in two, or are so close as to be hard to determine which is the true focus.

But then there are the films where the love interest type role tends to be someone who doesn’t get as much backstory and motivation, and who changes least over the course of the film. Essentially they stay in one place emotionally/situationally while the hero moves to be worthy of them/win them. Think of the pretty rich girl who the hero sees and falls in love with at a distance. At the start of the film she is pretty and rich. At the end of the film she is pretty and rich and now married to the hero.

What I want to look at here are roles that are definitely just “love interest”, bare minimum of screen time and only there to serve the hero’s story. And yet the character is so interesting I would happily have watched a whole movie just about her!

Patiala House-Simran (Anushka Sharma)

Image result for patiala house anushka sharma

I really love this movie, you don’t have to love it as much as I do. But even if you don’t love it, you should still enjoy how different our heroine is! Anushka is an insider/outsider, raised within the Indian ethnic enclave in London but shunned because of her white mother. She returns home years later with a “brother” that everyone assumes is her illegitimate son, giving another reason to shun her. Anushka faces them all down and doesn’t care. Most interesting, we eventually learn that her “brother” is NOT her illegitimate son, he is the son of a friend who was abandoned by his mother and Anushka took over caring for him. She added on another burden in her life and another reason for society to look down on her, and she did it with a smile and a laugh. Isn’t that interesting? Isn’t that different?

Dil Chahta Hai-Tara (Dimple Kapadia)

Image result for dil chahta hai dimple

The point of Tara’s character is that we don’t really know her, we just see her through the forgiving eyes of the young man who is in love with her. But the film does a great job at hinting at the rest of her life. First and foremost, an alcoholic. But a private alcoholic, not the kind who is embarrassing in public but the kind who has quietly driven away all her friends and family until she is left alone on her birthday. A woman with great warmth and kindness and intelligence who couldn’t defeat her demons. Divorced, without custody of her child, and blaming others for her problems, while at the same time still generous enough to help a talented artist she has just met. Oh, and also a middle-aged woman who is still so beautiful and charming that we can believe a much younger man would fall in love with her.

M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story-Sakshi (Kiera Advani)

Image result for dhoni kiara advani

A young woman in a hotel training course, dedicated to her job and doing it well. When the captain of the cricket team asks her out on a date, she is cautious and asks her friend to come with them. But once she falls in love, she falls all the way, willing to fly to Delhi to see him and risk everything. But also willing to end things when she is no longer happy in the relationship. A woman who knows she can stand on her own two feet and will not be forced to do anything she feels is wrong.

Bangalore Days-Michelle (Paris Laxmi)

Image result for bangalore days paris lakshmi

She literally has two scenes in the film, but makes an immediate impression. A white woman learning traditional Indian dance, she rides the elevator with Nivin and graciously accepts his gift of jasmine flowers and smiles at him while her friends giggle. And in the end, she marries him and befriends his cousins. She’s white but respectful of Indian people and Indian culture. She is also mature, responds graciously to Nivin’s gesture instead of laughing at him. How often do we see a mature respectful and nice white woman in an Indian film?

Ustad Hotel-Shahana (Nithya Menon)

Image result for ustad hotel nithya menon

Raised in Dubai by a wealthy ex-pat Malayalam, she loves Kerala and escapes to it as often as possible, while there she sings in a band with friends and walks on the beach, enjoying freedom she can’t find in Dubai. She loves her family enough to be ready for an arranged marriage but on her terms, with someone who will let her continue working after marriage and pursuing her passion for interior decorating. And she is brave enough and ethical enough to break up with her rich fiance when he reveals an ugly sense of class entitlement.

Yennai Arindhaal-Hemanika (Trisha)

Image result for yennai arindhaal trisha

An unapologetic single mother, a dignified and respected dance teacher, all while still remaining soft-spoken and feminine. She also starts an out of wedlock sexual relationship in her own good time, after knowing the man for years and slowly moving towards romance. And she doesn’t want marriage, not unless the man wants both her and her daughter equally and without pity. So interesting!

Ghulam-Alisha (Rani Mukherjee)

Image result for ghulam rani mukherjee

A troubled young woman, sticking by her alcoholic womanizer father because everyone else already left him and she has nowhere else to go. She is terribly lonely, her beloved older brother left the house and her mother is dead. She joins a motorcycle gang mostly to feel like she has somewhere to belong, and finally finds the belonging and unconditional love she craves through her boyfriend. But has enough self-esteem and confidence to break up with him when he crosses her own internal lines of morality. A rich girl with no class hang-ups and who is ready to walk away from all her wealth if she can finally find love.

Okay, that’s all I can think of! Who are your favorites? The heroines that you thought “wow, she is really cool, I can see why the hero loves her”?

23 thoughts on “Female Films Week: Best Heroines Who Aren’t the Lead, But Are Still Interesting

  1. There are so many of these female characters who deserved their narrative but hijacked by men…some that I can think of
    Deepika in Tamasha (she was far more interesting than Ranbir);
    Parveen Babi in Deewar (her scenes were the best part of the movie!);
    Jaya Bachan in Sholay;
    Both Waheeda and Mala Sinha in Pyaasa – such interesting conflicting character motivations; Katrina in Zindagi Na Milegi…what is her backstory? How did she become so fearless?
    and most importantly Kareena in K3G…Poo is the only character that matters in that movie..who cares about the weeping brothers…I want more Poo fabulousness…though sadly her Netflix series was just a rumor…

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    • Yes Parveen in Deewar! I was thinking of Jaya in Zanjeer but ended up rejecting her because she had so much of a storyline she really went beyond just the love interest. Parveen though, she really had just a hint of a storyline and no more, and I wanted more.

      I hate Poo! But maybe if we had more backstory I would forgive her? There are those little hints of a lonely life in London, always being the cheerful one in the house to distract SRK from his misery, and so on. Maybe you have given me a challenge! What do you think, FanFic about Poo if she hadn’t married Hrithik and had ended up staying in college in London after her family moved back to India?

      On Wed, Aug 28, 2019 at 12:40 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Well we have to start with being a teenager whose father suddenly died and now she is in a new country where everyone makes fun of her accent/clothes…SRK is just miserable coz daddy issues…and Kajol is just racked with guilt for causing it…so Poo is basically on her own and must learn to survive…so she develops her shield – fabulous and arrogant…and becomes high school queen…
        And no she does not marry Hritikh because she does not want to spend her life in a mansion doing pooja and attending family functions…now she is finally free to deal with her own insecurities…how about she starts a career path – maybe fashion/journalism and gets rude shocks coz pretty looks don’t cut it anymore…she grows as a person…realizes for self what she wants…switches careers…finds a sweet guy (without obsessing on looks)…in the end she is still fabulous but not arrogant anymore….

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’ve got it! Artsy two eras format, like those limited streaming serieses love to do. We see her in the present on her own trying to make it in London with a long distance boyfriend (Hrithik). And in the past we see her arrive in London with her depressed brother-in-law and guilt ridden grieving sister and learning to make it on her own. The two eras thematically parallel, we see her struggles and eventual success in high school against her struggles to be independent as an adult and eventual brave choice to end the Hrithik relationship instead of fleeing into a safe marriage just as she eventually turned down Kajol’s offer to let her move back to India and stay with relatives instead of continuing to try to make it in a British high school.

          What do you think about her first (white) friend from high school showing up in the present day as a potential love interest? No longer a skinny little nerd, but now a successful computer guy with cool dude glasses? And her unhappy chubby self-hating fellow weird desi kid from high school showing up in the present day as a very fabulous and successful fashion designer?

          On Wed, Aug 28, 2019 at 1:58 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • I think we have moved beyond movie and into female friendly empowerment multi-season limited series. Series 1 can end with her telling Kajol she wants to stay in London in the past, and breaking up with Hrithik in the present (because she has successfully built her own life in London, quit her job at the fancy fashion mag to start her own boutique with the practical friend she made from accounts after she realized how shallow the pretty girls at work were). Series 2 can end with her old friend suddenly kissing her and confusing her emotions in the present, and in the past with her meeting Hrithik (cool new desi boy in school, she falls in love at first sight and doesn’t notice that she is breaking the heart of the sweet white nerd who has been her best friend all along). Series 3 can end with her finally getting together with the old friend for real and forever in the present (after being on and off all season because they were worried about spoiling the friendship by dating even though all her friends told her to go for it) and in the past saying good-bye to him when he moved away at the end of high school and she was already seriously dating Hrithik long distance. And then season 4 ties up all the loose ends, we jump forward and backwards, we see her and the White Dude get married, have kids, she sells the boutique for a profit and starts her own website with his tech support, she stays friends with all her old friends and they all go on to great lives. And meanwhile in the past we finally see bits of her pre-London life and get a sense for who she was before, and we get the messy college years with Hrithik. Last episode, it comes full circle. We see her and Hrithik agree that she will be in London for “just six months” and then marry him and be a good Indian girl, what happened just before the show started. And in the future, we see her taking her daughter to her first day of high school at the same high school and promising her she will make friends and be happy.

            On Wed, Aug 28, 2019 at 2:13 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. @shreyansgoenka Yes for Deepika in Tamasha. She was so much better and more interesting than Ranbir. The movie about her life, and bad experiences with some crazy guy he met in Corsica would be great.

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    • Have you seen June yet? It’s a great coming of age story where the heroine has three romances, and grows and learns about herself along the way. I’d love Dips in Tamasha to get that treatment. She has no romance, is a closed off serious rich girl who goes on vacation alone, has this wild thing with Ranveer she doesn’t understand, obsesses over him, finally dates him and discovers all the wildness was in her imagination and actually he is super boring (imagine an artsy treatment where we get flashbacks to Corsica that reveal he was boring even then, it was her fantasy that he was interesting). Almost gets engaged to him but saves herself and breaks up. Then starts exploring the part of herself that craved romance, secretly writes a novel and joins a writing group, falls in love with a fellow writer in the group who is deep and thoughtful, but he ends up being jealous of her when she gets a book contract before him and it drives them apart (Ayushmann). And finally, at her book launch party, someone she knows from work shows up, he heard about the launch party and showed up to be nice and supportive, she sees him in a new light and they go off to a corner and talk and he makes her laugh.

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      • Haven’t seen June, but I can’t wait when it will appear in streaming.

        Love your idea. I cast Vineet Kumar Singh as the guy from work who made her laugh.

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        • Good casting! Not just because he could play the role, but also because he is the right kind of famous. I want it to be Dips’ story, the guy from work is just a guy who makes her happy, not some big name. And similarly, Ranbir was her fantasy guy, she was the fantasy girl for the author, but the final guys is just a nice guy with different interests than her but a complimentary personality and they can meet as equals.

          On Wed, Aug 28, 2019 at 4:24 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. I don’t like Ustad hotel and one of the reasons is Nithya’s character. I hated the girl from the first scene. She was mean – what was the need of telling everybody that Dulquer wants to be a chef? She also wasn’t sincere with her family, and DQ didn’t use her secrets to escape a marriage with her. She destroyed his plans and played with his future. And later we discover she has another secrets which yes, made her more interesting but also less likable (for me).

    Does Sonakshi’s character in Lootera qualifies for the list? I think she wasn’t the lead, but very important and beautiful written love interest.

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    • Still haven’t seen Lootera so I can’t really answer, but my impression is maybe Sonakshi is closer to the lead or co-lead than just love interest?

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      • You’re right she was more a co-lead. I was thinking that Ranveer changed much more durning the film, but the story wouldn’t be possible without her. She was the heart of the story.

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        • I thought that both her and ranveer were co-leads and that Sonakshi went from being young and idealistic to young (but dying!) and bitter to slightly less bitter at the end

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  4. Rhea (Preity) in kabhi Alvida Na kehna, I like that they never wrote her character with any extremes (like extremely unforgiving and strong, or extremely ambitious with no time for family) they kind of just put her in the middle of things which is the way a lot of women are. She was career focused, ambitious, and unapologetic about that but also not going to move because of her family. She was ready to immediately divorce Dev when she found out he was cheating but wasn’t too cold to admit that she still needed someone and break down crying when mother in law asked to stay with her.

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    • Yes! I thought about and rejected Rani from KANK because she was more of a co-lead than just a love interest, but Preity definitely falls into the category of just sort of there without a lot of backstory. And yet what little we see is so interesting.

      On Thu, Aug 29, 2019 at 12:16 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  5. I don’t really know if I like Deepika’s character in tamasha. It was fine, I liked the scenes in Corsica a lot, but aftee that the movie was a little weird. She took forever to tell Ranbir’s character that she didn’t feel a connection with him anymore. I mean I guess I can understand that she was waiting to see where things go and was hoping things get better between them (and she didn’t know he’d suddenly propose to her out of the blue) but still, nothing really stood out to me about that character
    The entire movie went downhill after the Corsica scenes but I prefer still the first half of Tamasha over yeh jawaani hai deewani (don’t like that one)

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    • I don’t know what to do with the Devdas heroines! They are always more interesting than the hero, but I feel like that’s also just the dynamic of the story, this weak man who ping-pongs between two strong women.

      On Thu, Aug 29, 2019 at 3:07 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  6. Sonakshi’s character in the first Dabangg. She was barely on screen, but conveyed so much backstory through her expressions, without anything being said (or probably written). No wonder it was such an impactful debut.

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    • I thought about including her and actually rejected it because she felt more like a co-lead than just a love interest, that’s how strong the performance was.

      We were just talking on another post about actors who act in silence best and Sonakshi is one of them. In Kalank, her very silent character ended up being the one you felt the most for and cared about the most, versus everyone else who was always yapping about their feelings šŸ™‚ If you give her a role where she has to convey what is happening in her character’s heart through her eyes alone, she will knock it out of the park.

      On Thu, Aug 29, 2019 at 3:37 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  7. 1.Minissha Lamba’s cousin in Bachna Ae Hasino. is so supportive and indignant on her behalf.She even takes the shotgun to Ranbir when he comes with his sad excuse of an apology to the wedding.
    2.Shraddha’s lil’ sister in Luv Ka The End is such an annoying yet loving pest.She blackmails Shraddha for her latest clothes and yet holds the fort at home while Shraddha and pals orchestrate the revenge against her boyfriend.
    3.Farida Jalal in Kala Sona is so confident and willing to take risks as she pursues a reluctant Danny Denzongpa.Sister Parveen Babi who’s ever-so-cautious overhears Farida dissecting her lovelife and finally gets some courage.
    4.Again Farida in Khushboo. She sneaks away to meet her fiance in secret.She refuses to be weepy and nervous on her wedding day.And dares to call her would-be-husband by his name.Friend Hema Malini is deliciously scandalized even as she sneaks in food to Farida before her wedding.Which makes all the tragedy doubly devastating.

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    • Thank you! I was just thinking about doing a follow up post of “characters who aren’t the heroine but deserve their own movie”. This is exactly what I was thinking of.

      On Thu, Aug 29, 2019 at 10:11 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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