Dangal, Sultan, Tanu Weds Manu Returns: On screen, it’s a good time for Haryana’s women

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(Clockwise from above left) Aarfa from 'Sultan'; Geeta in 'Dangal'; Datto in 'Tanu Weds Manu Returns'

(Clockwise from above left) Aarfa from ‘Sultan’; Geeta in ‘Dangal’; Datto in ‘Tanu Weds Manu Returns’

Except on the silver screen. Bollywood’s been doing more than its fair share to shatter this image in the last few years. From Tanu Weds Manu Returns’ Datto to Sultan’s Aarfa and, more recently, Dangal’s Geeta and Babita, it’s been a good time for Haryanvi women in reel life.

While talking about Datto, the strong-willed Haryanvi he created for Tanu Weds Manu Returns, director Aanand L Rai told me last year: “We have a very different idea about girls from Haryana. Those girls are very strong. In 5-7 years, you will see them all over the world. They are as smart and ambitious as my 20-year-old niece who has grown up in Mumbai.”

Kangana Ranaut as Datto is a natural with karate chops and hockey sticks — just as she is, making tea on a chulha. A state-level athlete, Datto could be any small-town girl walking a very fine line where she is fighting the shackles and yet dreaming of making it big. “What I wanted to do with Datto was to portray an Indian woman who is different from Tanu. She is responsible, strong, and confident. She is equally at ease in the kitchen and on the sports field. It’s her choice. She decides what she wants to do with her life,” Rai added.

Interestingly, sports connects all the young women we’ve seen from Haryana onscreen in recent years. While Datto is a long-jumper, Arfa and the Phogat sisters Geeta-Babita are queens of the wrestling ring. While there were detractors who believed that Anushka Sharma’s character was dealt with regressively (the point where she decides to keep her baby at the cost of giving up on her wrestling dream), I disagree. At no point in the film is Aarfa told what to do with her career or her body. The decision is hers alone.

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