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Not Just Dancing Around Bushes: Bollywood”s Resistance Against Conventionalism

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By Kritika Pramod Kulshrestha:

It all started way back in 2001 with the release of Lagaan, an epic movie that depicted unwavering resistance against the taxes imposed by the British on a tiny village in Gujarat through the medium of cricket. Of course before Lagaan, there have been many movies made on the subject of the freedom struggle in India and atrocities committed during the British Raj. Lagaan’s limitless success in India and its recognition abroad set the stage for the dawn of a new era of Bollywood movies, portraying resistance in many forms.


The Legend of Bhagat Singh starring Ajay Devgan in the lead role of Bhagat Singh, which released in 2002, showcased a fiery display of resistance to the tyranny of the British rule. While the film was largely a biographical film on this famous freedom fighter, it was an attempt by director Rajkumar Santoshi to awaken people’s patriotic feelings for their nation. In the same year, Bollywood released several other films on Bhagat Singh that sadly failed to garner much appreciation from audiences. In 2005, Mangal Pandey-The Rising was Aamir Khan’s shot at reviving the Sepoy mutiny of 1857. This film, flawed at many levels and largely publicized by the film’s lead actor, failed to win hearts across the nation.

In 2006, Rang De Basanti depicted a new form of resistance- a motley group of youngsters, inspired by the powerful story of Bhagat Singh; assassinate the nation’s corrupt defence minister when their best friend, a flight lieutenant in the Indian Air Force, dies. A revolutionary Bollywood film that portrayed large-scale protests by the youth was a deeply-moving film that filled us with anguish and anger simultaneously. It traced the powerful transformation of happy-go-lucky college students into activists seeking justice for their dead friend. The film, skilfully crafted, was beautifully justified by its lead actors who symbolized the passion and angst of the millions of youth across India. This radical-resistance film spoke to our nation’s leaders and to the country’s disillusioned youth. One possible reason behind making this film was to showcase the power of the youth; to grab the attention of our nation’s doddering old leaders and make them realize that a life must be lost in battle only to bring honour to the country and not as a consequence of government negligence and corruption.

With Ashutosh Gowarikar’s Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey, Bollywood set out to explore the Chittagong Uprising of 1930, an under-rated historic struggle for freedom from the British. A resistance movement against the British led by a group of teenagers and a school teacher, the Chittagong Uprising received true recognition with another film in 2012; Chittagong that was artistically balanced by the presence of Indian actor, Manoj Bajpayee. Chittagong has been one of the few films that has broken the boundaries of Indian cinema and showcased an alternate side of the people of this country. A country that is known for its traditional and conservative values, India has produced Bollywood films such as Chittagong and Rang De Basanti that have exemplified the strength of the common man. Another such truth-seeking film, No One Killed Jessica– a political crime thriller, brought to light two women’s resistance and resolve to ensure justice for Jessica Lal, a young bartender cum model, murdered in 1999 in a New Delhi restaurant. While Vidya Balan portrayed the reticent Sabrina Lal, Rani Mukherji played the role of a fiery yet compassionate television journalist to perfection. It was another rebellious Bollywood film that displayed the passion and the power of the youth with gusto, something that we have seen in recent times with the Delhi gang-rape case that occurred in December, 2012. Prakash Jha’s Chakravyuh went the mass resistance way with the story revolving around the Naxalites and Maoism. It was yet another attempt by a filmmaker to provide a comprehensive view of the Naxal-issue.

While Bollywood has shown to us the mutinous side of the common man, it has also portrayed a more compelling side — that of the silent resistance showcased beautifully in the 2012 film Shanghai starring Emraan Hashmi and Kalki Koechlin.

As Bollywood sets to stretch the boundaries of resistance and struggle with films such as Satyagraha — Democracy Under Fire in 2013, I, as a citizen of this country, can only wish that such films help in changing the way our society thinks and functions. With Bollywood filmmakers pushing themselves to create more compelling scripts and stories, one can only hope that our nation’s leaders listen to these strong voices of resistance.

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  1. Karmanye Thadani

    Nice article. I’ve written something similar too, on this very portal –

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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