Sad only few female-led films have brought in numbers

Crew has entered the prestigious Rs 100 crore club

At the time of writing this, an all-women-led film—Crew—has clocked in Rs104 crore at the worldwide box office. It is only the fifth film this year to have reached the prestigious Rs100 crore club. It is also one of the very few films frontlining women to have reached this milestone. In fact, you can count these films on one hand.

Crew, starring Tabu, Kareena Kapoor Khan and Kriti Sanon, is 10 days old and still counting its collections. The Rhea Kapoor-Anil Kapoor and Ekta Kapoor-Shobha Kapoor production has scored a double whammy, their previous all-girl romp Veere Di Wedding (2018) made Rs138 crore at the worldwide box office. Sonam Kapoor’s Neerja (2016) made Rs131 crore, while Alia Bhatt’s Gangubai Kathiawadi (2022) made Rs209 crore. Kangana Ranaut’s iconic 2013 film, Queen, also a blockbuster, fell short at just Rs95 crore.

It is a sorry state of affairs that such few female-led films have brought in the numbers. It is also discouraging to know that fewer films with women protagonists will thus be made.

Kareena Kapoor, Tabu and Kriti Sanon in Crew. Kareena Kapoor, Tabu and Kriti Sanon in Crew.

There’s a scene from Crew—otherwise a laugh-out-loud comedy—that made me tear up. Sanon’s character, ‘Divya Rana from Haryana’ (among the more backward states of India) is trained to be a pilot. Unfortunately, she’s pretty, and only gets recruited as an air hostess. She takes the job, but spends years lying to her proud parents. So, she goes to work dressed in a pilot’s uniform and changes into a flight attendant’s uniform once she reaches the airport.

This reminded me of so many young women I know who left home in one wardrobe and went to work in another. Women in burqa, women in salwar kameezes, women in jeans and shirts. Women from diverse social and religious backgrounds who had to hide what they wore, and who they are, from those at home. A public toilet became their safe space, there they could get into their Wonder Woman gear and get ready to take on the world.

Perhaps, this is also why such few women make real-life or reel-life heroes today. Simply because they are not able to wear what they want to wear.

So much of the rest of the film, still an escapist heist-in-high heels gambol, echoes the same sentiment without once spelling it out. The three actors are colleagues who haven’t been paid their salaries. Each one’s back story is a compelling middle-class tale of working women who fend for their struggling families. They chance upon some manna from heaven, and indulge in a minor crime. They end up getting caught, and have no one to rely on but their own devices (their looks, their wit and their unshakeable sisterhood) to get themselves out of a sticky situation.

Never mind there are two rather popular heroes in the film—man of the moment Diljit Dosanjh, and the mass icon Kapil Sharma. It’s a dramatic irony that both mega stars are relegated to bit roles, just so the girls can go out and do their thing.

The girls dress their parts beautifully. Tabu in kaftans and capes (and one deliciously buxom dress in the poster) exudes badass big sister energy. Kareena in her unbuttoned blouses, belts and boots is the original hustle rani. Kriti, in itsy bitsies, is the millennial who makes her looks her modus operandi.

And there’s that seminal, sensational, remix ‘choli ke peeche kya hai?’ What lies behind the blouse, it asks. A heart, it replies. But also a smart as a tack mind, the girls echo.