OTT opens new doors for female actors

With the advent of OTT, the likes of Shefali Shah, Sushmita Sen, Manisha Koirala, and Sonakshi Sinha got their due.

The advent of OTT platforms has led to a significant change in more ways than one. One of the major changes has been to the narrative style.

Thanks to the longer runtime and long-form format, web shows have more scope for sustained storytelling.

Another major positive change is the space OTT has created for female actors to challenge themselves in mainstream and middle-of-the-road cinema.

With the longer runtime in web series, the actors have more time to build their characters and delve deeper into the nuances, which is often not possible in mainstream films with a limited run time.

They are also breaking the stereotypes of age and conventional roles.

Many female actors, despite talent, have been limited to supporting roles, with minimal scope of showing their acting prowess.

Of course, there have been phases where women-centric films have garnered both critical acclaim and commercial success. Some of these include The Dirty Picture (2011), Kahaani (2012), Queen (2014), Neerja (2016), Raazi (2018), etc.

However, the format of a web series offers more scope for the portrayal of powerful characters.

With the advent of OTT space, female actors got their due, especially in the case of Shefali Shah and Manisha Koirala, who have shone in Delhi Crime (2019 and 2022) and Heeramandi (2024) respectively.

Careers of Shefali Shah & Sushmita Sen revived

Shefali Shah in ‘Delhi Crime’. (X)

Among the firsts is the web series Delhi Crime (2019 and 2022), which revived the career of Shefali Shah.

She played the role of a DCP in the Delhi police. DCP Varthika helms the team which investigates the Nirbhaya case and also handles the public anger owing to the heinous crime.

She is a strong-willed officer who is also dealing with a rebellious daughter. The audiences had not seen Shefali previously in this kind of role and she surprised one and all with a rock-solid performance. Shefali Shah further surprised the spectators with her negative role in Human (2021).

Another similar example is Sushmita Sen, known for her glamorous roles, including that of lecturer Miss Chandini in Farah Khan’s masala potboiler Main Hoon Na (2004). While she was presented glamorously, the actor in Sushmita has mostly taken a backseat on the big screen.

Then comes Aarya (2020, 2021, 2023, and 2024) and Taali (2023)—the perfect examples of why Sushmita deserves better roles in mainstream cinema.

In Aarya— a crime thriller, she goes from being a single mother to eventually being sucked into the world of crime.

Taali, on the other hand, was a biopic of the transgender activist Shreegauri Sawant. In both these series, Sushmita was absolutely brilliant.

A realistic portrayal by Huma Qureshi

Huma Qureshi in ‘Maharani’. (X)

Huma Qureshi reinvented herself with the web series Maharani.

She has always been a competent actor starting from the Gangs of Wasseypur (2012) movies. She played important roles in movies like Badlapur (2015) but has never carried a film on her shoulders.

However, in the three seasons of Maharani, Huma showcased her larger bandwidth to play with. Her role of Rani Bharati (based on Rabri Devi) starts as a simple woman who is happy in her domestic life.

She is a school dropout much like the other women in her village. However, her life undergoes a huge change when her husband who is also the Bihar chief minister gets severely injured in a shootout.

From feeling like a fish out of water to becoming a fierce administrator, there is a huge canvas that Huma Qureshi got to play with and the actor absolutely nailed it.

In all three seasons, she got the nuances of the role spot on. She also did a good job of getting her dialect right.

Sonakshi Sinha & her acting prowess

Sonakshi Sinha in ‘Dahaad’. (X)

Then comes Sonakshi Sinha, who has shown that she is here to stay with Dahaad (2023) and Heeramandi (2024).

For a large part of her movie career, Sonakshi has played roles where she is restricted to just a song and dance routine, and being a damsel in distress waiting to be rescued.

These include Rowdy Rathore (2012), R Rajkumar (2013), the Dabbang films (2010, 2012, and 2019) and even the last theatrical release Bade Miyan Chote Miyan.

Yes, some of these movies have turned out to be money spinners but a sense of repetitiveness crept in.

However, the two-web series—Dahaad and Heeramandi—showed the actor in a very different light.

In Dahaad, Sonakshi Sinha was seen as a Dalit police officer (Anjali Bhaati).

On more than one occasion, she is insulted because of her gender and caste.

Sonakshi was adequately fierce and managed to capture the grittiness of a determined police officer well.

In Heeramandi, Sonakshi played an archrival to Manisha Koirala’s Mallikajaan; Sonakshi’s Fareedan is as ruthless and emotional as Mallikajaan.

Sonakshi Sinha chewed the scenery and more than held her own opposite the more accomplished Manisha Koirala. Fareedan was an absolute firebrand and Sonakshi did complete justice to her part.

A powerful comeback for Manisha Koirala

Manisha Koirala in ‘Heeramandi’. (X)

Heeramandi has also given a fresh lease of life to Manisha Koirala’s career.

In the films post her cancer recovery, the actor played a mother to heroes Ranbir Kapoor and Kartik Aryan respectively. There is a little depth in these characters for Manisha to chew into.

However, Heeramandi is a show that will give a major impetus to her second innings.

The role of Mallikajaan is far removed from all her previous roles; she never played a terrifying matriarch before. The body language along with dark shades is a completely new territory.

It is something that the viewers don’t expect from Manish Koirala, but the actor surprised everyone.

She portrayed both dark shades and emotional vulnerability with finesse.

Konkana Sen & Karishma Tanna

Konkona Sen, an actor par excellence, proved her talent over and over again in many shows and films. However, with Killer Soup (2024), the versatile actor proved she could play a negative character with equal finesse.

Konkona did play a negative role in Ek Thi Daayan (2013), but in that movie, she was just one of the three heroines. The Abhishek Chaubey directorial, though, had her as a major pivot.

Karishma Tanna in ‘Scoop’. (X)

In the Killer Soup web series, Konkona Sen played a housewife named Swati Shetty.

Swati dreams of opening a restaurant so she can have an identity of her own. But all she gets in the name of support from her husband are empty promises.

The role of Swati goes from a loving wife to a plotting woman. Konkona pulled off the different moods without fumbles.

Finally coming to the splendid performance of Karishma Tanna in Scoop (2023). The actor, too, has been part of known movies like Grand Masti (2013) and Sanju (2018). In these films, she was a mere glam doll.

But Scoop turned out to be a big game changer as the role was author-backed and Karishma made complete use of it.

In this web show, she played a journalist named Jagruti, who was falsely implicated in the murder of a fellow investigative journalist.

The role comes with many shades, starting as a confident woman who later becomes dejected yet maintains a fighting spirit in the harsh jail atmosphere.

Karishma Tanna was immensely successful in making the viewers root for Jagruti.

This is just a brief peek into how OTT has opened new doors for female actors. Many more women actors from mainstream and middle-of-the-road cinema are likely to join this list in the future.

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