South Asian women step out of Bollywood, into serious dramatic roles

Sat Sep 13, 2014 8:15am EDT
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By Alastair Sharp

TORONTO (Reuters) - A trio of films stepped beyond Bollywood song-and-dance to show South Asian women grappling with male-dominated sport, child marriage, and sexual desire of people with disability in their premieres at the Toronto Film Festival.

While the stories told vastly different tales, all sought to challenge their home audiences and provoke change. Two of them used established Indian stars to do it.

In "Mary Kom," former Miss World Priyanka Chopra plays the real-life title role of a five-time world champion boxer taking on bullying boys and then corrupt officials while also juggling marriage and motherhood.

Chopra, a Bollywood superstar, did not use a stunt double for the fight scenes and took on a punishing training regime to give her petite frame a more athletic form.

She said the film resonates in part because of recent high profile cases of sexual violence that caught world attention.

"It's a time where the country is coming together to say 'we protect our women and we give them rights' and the women are coming together and saying 'we're tough, we're strong, we're not going to take this sitting down'," she told Reuters.

The biopic was bankrolled in part by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, a major Bollywood player, and has faced criticism in India for overly dramatizing the life of a national icon.

Meanwhile, first-time feature film director Afia Nathaniel struggled to find local financing for her film "Dukhtar" (Daughter), about a Pakistani woman fleeing a marriage her husband had arranged for their 10-year-old daughter.   Continued...

Actress Priyanka Chopra and director Omung Kumar pose as they arrive for the premiere of the film "Mary Kom" at the Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto, September 4, 2014.    REUTERS/Fred Thornhill