This essay offers an overview of the shifts in representations of woman and femininity in popular Hindi cinema. Through a historical overview the essay underscores the relationship between the cinematic figure of the woman and the nation-state. During the colonial era, the category Indian woman was a capacious one, including men who cross-dressed and foreigners as well as Indian women. Ironically, these images were allegories for the anticolonial nation-in-formation. In the postcolonial era (1950s–1980s), the figure of the woman symbolized the many facets of India's struggle for self-reliance. Since the 1990s, images of Indian women have become one of the primary sites where the anxieties of globalization are worked through. The essay argues that contemporary Bollywood films offer a very limited repertoire of images of the ideal Indian woman. However, Hindi films from an earlier era offered more tantalizing possibilities for the articulation of a female subjectivity.
A tall, masked, pistol-wielding woman wards off a bunch of villains from atop a moving train. This blonde, blue-eyed, strapping female equivalent of Robin Hood is not a Hollywood persona but, rather, a very popular star from early Hindi cinema, Nadia. Known by her fans as Hunterwali (the huntress), Nadia is the antithesis of the stereotypical coy, all-singing, all-dancing Hindi film star associated with today's Bollywood. How ...