Real Meets Reel: A List of 11 Indian Movies based on Real Women

By: Sruthi, Writer, WomenEntrepreneurIndia

Women have always been role models throughout history by refusing to conform to so-called "ideal" female norms. They overcame stereotypes, chains, and years of prejudice to stand up for themselves and future generations. Indian cinema has honoured the lives of such fearless tigresses in some of the most iconic films of all time. These female-led biopics highlight the lives, struggles, and battles of women who have emerged as symbols of the half-immense population's strength.

The Women Entrepreneur India Magazine compiled a list of 11 female-driven biopics in Indian cinema that depict strong and brave women who show every girl a way to spread her wings and fly as high as she can.

Bandit Queen (1994)

The plot is based on the imprisonment of an Indian dacoit named Phoolan Devi, played by Seema Biswas, in 1983. The Indian officers arrested her, and the people made her a legend. It's the story of a woman who has to deal with the brutality inflicted on her by men, ranging from cops to the mafia. She eventually overcomes all of them and emerges as a strong woman. Shekhar Kapoor directed the film, which is based on Mala Sen's biography, India's Bandit Queen: The True Story of Phoolan Devi.

Mary Kom (2014)

Omung Kumar's Mary Kom is based on real events in the life of Mary Kom (Priyanka Chopra), India's most famous female boxer from 1991 to 2007. Mary Kom rose to prominence not just as a well-known national athlete, but also as a role model for women and young girls all across the world. She was the first Indian woman to compete in boxing at the Olympics in 2012, and she was awarded the honour of carrying the tricolour after her triumph. She was the first Indian woman to qualify for the Olympics and the first Indian woman to win a bronze medal in boxing. Mary Kom became an inspiration for women when she bucked the stereotype that married women, particularly mothers, cannot be successful athletes.

Dangal (2016)

Dangal, a 2017 film directed by Nitesh Tiwari and based on the lives of two wrestlers, Geeta and Babita Phogat, was released. The plot revolves around the duo's wrestling journey and their father's training since they were young. The film challenges gender stereotypes and pays tribute to Mahavir Phogat's initiative in raising her daughters to be champions and excellent role models for all women seeking a better life. Babita won gold at the Commonwealth Games in 2014. She also won a bronze medal at the 2012 World Wrestling Championships. Meanwhile, at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, her sister Geeta won India's first-ever gold medal in wrestling.

Neerja (2016)

Neerja (Neerja Bhanot), an Indian biographical film, portrays how a young flight attendant fought for the lives of her passengers. In the film, Sonam Kapoor plays the titular character, which is based on a true story: The Libyan-backed Abu Nidal Organization hijacked Pan Am Flight 73 in Karachi, Pakistan, on September 5, 1986. The story is portrayed from the perspective of the flight's chief purser, Neerja Bhanot. She thwarted the hijacking attempt by informing the pilots, causing the plane to be grounded. Neeraj was killed in the course of saving 359 of the 379 passengers and crew members on board.

Saand ki Aankh (2019)

Saand ki Aankh is based on a true story about Chandro Tomar (Shooter Dadi) and Prakashi Tomar (Revolver Dadi), played by Bhumi Pednekar and Taapsee Pannu, respectively. They are both octogenarian sharpshooters from the Uttar Pradesh village of Johri. Tushar Hiranandani's film chronicles the lives of the two women and illustrates how, at the age of 60, they inspired other women in the country by showing their sharpshooting skills. The Tomar sisters rediscovered themselves when they were much older.  Chandro Tomar has won over 30 national championships since learning to shoot in 1999, when she was already in her 60s. Prakashi, on the other hand, has won over a quarter-dozen national and international trophies.

Chhapaak (2020)

Chhapaak is based on the true account of Laxmi Agarwal, an acid assault survivor who, like many other acid attack survivors worldwide, faces discrimination and shame for a crime she did not commit. Deepika Padukone plays the protagonist in the film, which follows Laxmi as she challenges her wrongdoers through various societal accusations and suppressions. She overcame the shock and grief of the attack and vowed to fight for herself and every other female who was considered a commodity by some narrow-minded men. She launched a long legal battle to punish her wrongdoers and outlaw the open sale of acid.

Gunjan Saxena – The Kargil Girl (2020)

It tells the story of a former Indian Air Force pilot, Gunjan Saxena (played by Janhvi Kapoor), as she deals with gender-based discrimination.  Gunjan, commonly known as the 'Kargil Girl,' was awarded the Shaurya Vir award for her gallantry during the Kargil war in 1999. It's about the first female IAF pilot who went to war and the gender biases she encountered at every turn; it's about a nation at war and women's daily battles against misogyny and workplace discrimination; it redefines patriotism and combats patriarchy; it portrays men as bullies but also as allies.

Shakuntala Devi (2020)

Shakuntala Devi is a Bollywood biopic-drama based on the life of Shakuntala Devi, a mathematical genius and "human computer." It tells the story of a staunchly feminist, self-sufficient, and successful woman who spent 50 seconds in 1977 computing the 23rd root of a 201-digit number. Anu Menon directs the film, which stars Vidya Balan as Shakuntala Devi. Shakuntala is a fiery feminist who aspires to be a 'badi aurat' in the future. Simultaneously, she grows to loathe both of her parents, especially her mother, whom she blames for being obedient to her husband. She's attempting to find a balance between math and motherhood.

Saina (2021)

In the film Sania, Parineeti Chopra plays the ace Indian badminton player, Saina Nehwal. Saina owns 24 international titles and was the first Indian female badminton player to reach the World No. 1 ranking in 2015. The film depicts her journey from Hisar to the top, as well as her hardships along the way. Her highs and lows, her family's hardships, and the support and encouragement that kept her going until she became the best in the world are all presented in the film. Sania's story is one of many in India's history of amazing female athletes who have made the country proud.

Thalaivi (2021)

Thalaivi, a biopic about the legendary South Indian actor and politician J. Jayalalithaa, stars Kangan Ranaut as J. Jayalalithaa. In the South, she was considered a great politician, and her supporters referred to her as "Amma." The film chronicles her extraordinary journey from the cinema to politics, culminating in her election as the leader of Tamil Nadu's most popular political party, the AIADMK. Despite numerous attempts to bring her down, she continued to struggle against discrimination and humiliation, as well as for people's rights and benefits. She rose through the ranks of the political party to become its leader, and through her unwavering efforts and battles, she was elected Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, where she served the people for 14 years.

Gangubai Kathiawadi (2022)

The film celebrates the ascension of a simple girl from Kathiawad who had no choice but to embrace the ways of fate and turn them in her favour. It is based on S. Hussain Zaidi's novel "Mafia Queens of Mumbai." The plot recounts the life of young Ganga, who swiftly develops her own realm and rises to the position of Kamathipura's matriarch, Gangubai. She is portrayed as a sweet-natured madame who feels that the sex trade should be legalised since it fills a social need. She advocates for the education, housing, and other rights of prostitutes and their children. A journalist (Jim Sarbh) pushes her case in the press and advises her to use her position to acquire political power. The fundamental premise of the film is how she either charms or cajoles her way out of problems.