Arts, Culture & Media

This hit Indian movie offers a chance to see an empowered everyday woman on the big screen

The movie "Queen" doesn't start out well. After a night of pre-wedding celebration with her family, the fresh-faced protagonist Rani, played by Kangana Ranaut, is dumped by her fiancé.

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But Rani, or 'Queen' in English, has worked hard to pay for her Honeymoon. So to the surprise of her traditional Hindu family, she embarks for Europe on a solo trip - her first ever.

A string of charming and hilarious encounters follow.

When her fiancé finally catches up with her to win her back, well, let's just say, Rani is no longer the girl he left.

Made for less than $2 million, "Queen" pulled in four times that amount in its first two weeks in theaters. Word of mouth made it the first female-centred comedy to be a box-office hit in India.

The Bollywood movies that pull in the big money tend to feature male heroes who get the girl. They're stories that appeal to male audiences in a country where many women still don't feel comfortable going to movies on their own.

But women have been going to see this film in droves.

Outside a late showing of "Queen" in Delhi, the mainly female audience I encountered was gushing.

"It makes us feel really happy after the movie, you want to get entertained. It was like rediscovering herself, that was really nice," said one woman I spoke with.

"Freedom of a girl, what she thinks about freedom, she has never been so free. She got the opportunity to see the world," said another woman.

"The ending is telling us that we are free to do whatever we want, but we need to realize we have the right to freedom too," said a third woman.

It's a really empowering message, said Advaita Kala, a Bollywood screenwriter, columnist and author of "Almost Single," the first chick lit novel in India.

Kala added that because the way Indian society is structured, life is really about getting married.

"And you're not assumed to be living a complete and full life as a woman if you're not married by a certain age," Kala said. "People constantly ask you, are you getting married, when are you getting married… these questions follow you around not matter what you achieve in life."

Kala said it's next to impossible to get a script with a female heroine approved by India producers, who understand profits lie in rowdy Bollywood movies that pull in repeat audiences of young men.

But, Kala said that what makes "Queen's" success all the more extraordinary is that it falls outside of the clichéd narratives of women as one-dimensional objects of fantasy or superheroes overcoming amazing odds.

"It was about female empowerment," she said. "But it was stated in very non-heroic and realistic terms. So she wasn't going through some extraordinary crisis ... just a personal crisis she just got dumped a few days before her wedding. And it's how she turned her life around and set herself free… that's what appealed to so many young women who watched that movie here."

Kala said it's also rare that an Indian movie features a female lead that is allowed to be funny.

"Queen" hasn't just won the hearts of Indians, it's clearly a story that resonates far and wide.

Already, there are remakes in the works for Tamil, Telugu and Chinese languages.

The film is giving more women around the world a chance to see stories of their everyday lives on the big screen.

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