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The female cop in Bollywood: Times are changing?

Indian female cop in bollywood

In the web series Dahaad, sub-inspector Anjali Bhaati lectures an upper-caste man as she climbs the steps to his ancestral haveli in Mandawa, Rajasthan, saying, “You don’t get to decide who is forward and who is backward.” She tells him that the time of his ancestors is over and emphasizes that the Constitution now reigns, granting her the right to enter as a police officer. Inspector Mahima Basor of Kathal scolds her boyfriend for using force against beggars who were chasing after currency notes during a baraat procession. She tells him that having a uniform does not give him the license to beat up poor people. Sonakshi Sinha portrays Anjali, while Sanya Malhotra portrays Mahima. Despite their differences, both women share a commitment to equality, human decency, and following the law as law enforcement officials in small-town India.

Kathal and Dahaad represent the latest additions to the growing subgenre of Bollywood police procedurals led by female cops. This year, Sonakshi Sinha, Sanya Malhotra, and Tabu are joined by Mrunal Thakur and Tapsee Pannu in playing police officers in various films. Notably, Deepika Padukone is set to lead Lady Singham, expected to be released in 2024.

The Cop and Bollywood

The police officer has long held a significant place in the Indian imagination. Amitabh Bachchan’s “angry young man” persona in Zanjeer (1973) brought the cop to the forefront. Subsequent films like Ab Tak Chhappan, Dabangg, and the Shettyverse movies portrayed powerful, fearless cops who often took justice into their own hands.

According to film critic Tanul Thakur, there is a common thread running through the portrayal of male cops in Bollywood. These characters, despite their antihero status, are elevated to hero status by giving them a license to kill. They embody a sense of macho disgruntlement that resonates with Indian filmmakers.

How the female cop evolved

The female cop in Bollywood has followed a slightly different trajectory. Kavita Chaudhary’s portrayal of Kalyani Singh in Udaan (1989) was a significant moment for female cops on screen. Before her, Hema Malini’s character in Andha Kanoon (1983) made a brief appearance as a female cop.

Female cops in Bollywood have taken on various avatars, fighting for empowerment and justice. Films like Phool Bane Angaray, Tejasvini, Samay: When Time Strikes, and Mardaani depicted female cops seeking retribution, challenging corrupt systems, and fighting crime against women. In the past, female cops often embodied masculine traits and resorted to violence to succeed in Bollywood. However, a shift occurred in 2019 with the release of Delhi Crime and Soni, which showcased more nuanced and realistic depictions of female cops. These characters became relatable and demonstrated empathy, tenderness, and their own struggles.

The new generation of female police officers in Hindi cinema reflects the ongoing gender wars and movements for justice and rights. Films like Dahaad and Kathal explore caste, class, and hierarchy, while characters like Tabu’s Pammi in Kuttey and Radhika Apte’s ACP Vijayshanti in Monica, O My Darling highlight personal motivations and corruption.

These female cops now own the scene and screen, changing the perception of women as strong, powerful, and courageous. However, the cases they investigate still predominantly focus on crimes against women, bringing sensitivity and sensibility to such issues. While the portrayal of female cops in Bollywood may serve to instill faith in the justice system, it may unintentionally whitewash the reality of their real-life counterparts. Film critic Suparna Sharma acknowledges the “copaganda” problem in Bollywood but suggests that more data points are needed to understand the potential impact of giving these characters more power.

A step in the right direction

Placing women in positions of authority within the police force can make police stations more approachable for victims of crimes, especially those of a sexual nature. By portraying righteous and bold female cops who strive for justice, these films may shift people’s perceptions of going to the police, even if significant changes have yet to occur in reality.

The female cop-led police procedural genre in Bollywood has evolved over the years, offering more nuanced and relatable characters. These films explore diverse themes while highlighting the strength and determination of women in law enforcement. They play a crucial role in shaping societal perceptions and attitudes toward the police and justice system, albeit with some limitations and challenges.

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