Some women are seeing more empowering roles in Bollywood in the past few years, but is this “a small wave or a tsunami in the years to come?,” asked the Film Bazaar Knowledge Series panel ‘Female Protagonists in Bollywood Today.’

“In the past two years something of a change seems to be occurring in terms of how women are getting portrayed in Indian cinema, in Bollywood specifically,” said moderator Namrata Joshi, National Cinema Editor from The Hindu, at today’s panel, pointing to films like English Vinglish, Queen and Piku.

Filmmaker Sudhir Mishra (Inkaar) said talking about the new ‘trend’ of women-centric films ignores Indian film history from the ’50s to ’80s-’90s, when women like Madhubala and Meena Kumari had as much star power as men.

But he added that new technologies are opening up film-makers to portray more interesting characters, male or female, although this isn’t always in the mainstream where bigger budgets are at stake. “The audience has always been ready,” he said. “Those that control the finance and distribution have this notion that women-centric films don’t work, that’s the view of the industry, that’s not true.”

He also noted that male characters were evolving – not just the alpha male hero but showing a more sensitive side.

Actress and campaigner Vani Tripathi Tikoo added that stories today can move beyond showing women’s beauty. “Stories are uglier in their context, but also more democratising in their context,” she said, adding that in the 1970s a woman shown with a drink or a cigarette in her hand was a villain.

But playing anti-heroine roles can be a risk for an actress’s career. Mishra said that “playing a village woman means you might not get a skincare ad.”

Yet film-maker Anurag Basu (Barfi!) doesn’t see big changes for women’s roles. “Nothing much has changed….I think we’ll see how this year goes and the next year goes.” He said he’d like to see more women writers and more women directors getting their films made.

The lower barriers to entry for the digital content world could help more women break in, Mishra predicted. “You will see the flowering and entry of new talents which will include a flood of young women who can write, because of the web. You’ll see an interesting bunch of women making films, from directors to actors to technicians, it’s unstoppable now.”

“It can’t just be the women who think about the women,” Tikoo added, saying that women and men each need to tell male and female stories.