Pop Culture / Speak Up

Ladies first: 6 Indian TV shows with powerful female protagonists

. 7 min read . Written by Oindrilla Gupta
Ladies first: 6 Indian TV shows with powerful female protagonists

Watching Indian TV shows after school was how my mother and I used to bond. We would sit for hours, peel green peas from inside the covers, and carefully analyse the behavior of the saas, the bahu, and the men who reeked of patriarchy.

These shows constantly reinforced the notion that women were only meant to work in the kitchen, do household chores, and have children.

However, contrary to popular belief (and the stereotypical imagery), not all TV shows serve sexism as the main course. 

Maa used to watch these shows with the hope that someday, the female protagonist would stand up for herself and her rights. And I gave her company because I enjoyed consuming the drama that unfolded.

However, as I grew older, I realised how Indian TV shows﹘ through their depiction of how women are supposed to worship their husbands and in-laws ﹘ have the power to colour the thought-process of millions of Indian women sitting at home. 

Hindi channels like Star TV and Sony are constantly caught in a battle between portraying progressive stories and maintaining TRPs. Unfortunately, any show that tries to challenge gender norms faces a slow death. But, these channels (and their OTT platforms) are now willing to go beyond TRPs and feature strong, opinionated, and independent female protagonists. 

A couple of years ago, Star TV launched the  ‘Rishta wahi, soch nayi’ campaign, with a series of female-centric content to celebrate the progress of women.

With the gradual decline of rampant misogyny in Indian television and OTT-content, it is time to give credit to shows that are kicking gender stereotypes in the gut. 

Watch them to feel empowered

Here are 7 shows that defy gender norms: 

1. Anupamaa

Runs on: Star Plus & Disney Hotstar

Indian TV shows

Any woman with the slightest shred of independence is automatically labelled as conniving, villainous, and a disgrace to our Indian sanskaars.

And that is exactly what happens to Anupamaa, a housewife who stands up for herself after 25 years of being married to a self-centered man, who cheats on her with his personal assistant. 

Anupamaa, played by Roopali Ganguly (of Sarabhai v/s Sarabhai fame) is a character ruling the TRPs and every Indian housewife’s heart at the moment. She was married off at an early age and devoted herself to her husband and in-laws after that. But her husband’s infidelity was the turning point of her life. 

She stood up for herself, followed her true passion for dance, and became truly independent in life. In the serial, she is seen talking about women’s rights and giving a refreshing representation to the definition of womanhood. And her will to keep going is infectious! 

2. Kaatelal and Sons 

Runs on: Sony Sab TV & Sony Liv 

Indian TV shows

Dreams know no boundaries, but society often dictates what we can choose on the basis of what gender we belong to. Inspired by actual events, Kaatelal & Sons is a touching story of two sisters from Rohtak, that talks about ‘un-gendering’ your dreams. 

Sony’s Sab TV unveiled a campaign around the theme, ‘Sapno ka koi gender nahi hota’ (dreams do not have a gender) for this show, which showcases the story of two small-town sisters who are trying to run a men’s barbershop after their father’s retirement.

Their orthodox father is strictly against their dream, but the girls believe that it is their right to run their father’s shop instead of hired help. So they break all odds to take the shop to newer heights. 

One of the sisters, Susheela, is a boxer, and lifts weights effortlessly – a sight quite uncommon in Hindi shows. She is fierce, courageous, and challenges the set notions of the people in her town. 

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3. Mere Dad Ki Dulhan 

Runs on: Sony TV & SonyLiv

Indian TV shows

An epitome of unconditional love and undying devotion, a mother enjoys a Goddess-like stature on and off-screen. But the moment you add ‘step’ before her name, she’s a woman of mean thoughts. 

Where most shows glorify the sauteli maa syndrome by writing characters that have an acidic tongue, Mere Dad Ki Dulhan is a breath of fresh air. 

Not only does this daily soap cherish feminist fathers, but also shows that a stepmother and her step-daughter can be best friends. Featuring ace television actors Varun Badola and Shweta Tiwari, this show features an empowered and independent daughter who wants her father to find a partner in order to alleviate his loneliness after her mother’s death. 

The father is reluctant as he thinks that finding a new partner will mean disrespecting his deceased wife. However, his daughter helps him come out of the guilt. The serial also breaks the notion that falling in love is for young people only.

4. Made in Heaven 

Runs on: Amazon Prime 

Indian TV shows

This critically acclaimed web series on Amazon Prime dissects a bunch of stereotypes that come to life during Indian weddings. Zoya Akhtar’s story revolves around Tara and Karan, two wedding planners who organise high-profile weddings. 

Each episode features a new wedding and throws the spotlight on hard-hitting themes such as class divides, dowry, women’s independence, self-identity, power struggles, LGBTQ relationships, and how big fat weddings tend to brush it all under the carpet. 

What makes the show truly progressive is that it dares to feature the other (and darker) side of Indian weddings, by showcasing the life of classist and casteist rich Indians.

The characters are gutsy and layered, and their performances break the romanticized ideas of relationships, weddings, and even love. So yes, this is a must-watch! 

5. Ladies Special 

Runs on Sony TV & SonyLiv

Indian TV shows

Mumbai and its local trains – together they weave so many stories. I take the Ladies special local train back home after work, and the female friendships I get to see are magical. And so is this show that goes by the name of Ladies Special

It features the lives of three ladies belonging to three different cultural backgrounds who happen to meet in a Ladies Special compartment of a local train in Mumbai. How the strangers become friends during their regular commute and start sharing their life stories with each other forms the crux of the series.

Prarthana single-handedly looks after her parents and younger brother. Meghana is an ambitious, optimistic mother of two young children who wish to find a way out of her less-than-perfect financial condition. Bindu is a cheerful woman married to a doctor, who loves another woman.

Unlike the usual Hindi shows, this does not adhere to stereotypes. It avoids the regressive saas-bahu drama and portrays realistic and progressive protagonists. The beauty of this show lies in its honest representation of how women are today. 

6. Delhi Crime 

Runs on: Netflix 

Indian TV shows

Delhi Crime is a gripping (and the most realistic) portrayal of Jyoti Singh’s gang rape in 2012. And Shefali Shah’s character, based on Chhaya Sharma, the real investigating officer, does justice to it. 

The portrayal of women in a ‘man’s uniform’, through shows like Delhi Crime, is the starting point of change in the industry that is no more shying away from saying ‘Ladies First’. 

Shefali Shah is addressed as ‘Madam-Sir’ by Vimla, a fellow female officer on the case. This label raises a lot of pertinent questions: for starters, why do we need to use terminologies like madam sir, mahila police officer, and women entrepreneur?

Shefali remains unfazed by the system and calls her own shots in the case, breaking one stereotype at a time.

Delhi Crime has a very realistic representation of Shefali’s journey of investigating the case. It shows how the women in uniform are getting the job done. 

For decades, Bollywood and TV shows have been dominated by male-centric characters who wanted the women in their lives to be a certain way. But the wave of change seems to have arrived. And with shows like these, it only gets better from here! 

Which of your favourite shows break gender stereotypes? Tell us in the comments below! 

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