Mumbai resident and freelance illustrator Shivani Gorle was browsing through Netflix one day when she came across a category called “featuring strong female leads.” The online video-streaming company’s choice of words deeply annoyed the 21-year-old graphic artist.
Gorle felt that the film industry still had some work to do in the feminism department if it had to ascribe a separate category for powerful roles played by women. “Why do we never really hear of a category called ‘male-centric plots?” Gorle told Scroll.in.
She decided to celebrate the bold female characters that she had come across in cinema by illustrating them along with their most powerful lines of dialogue. “I want to bring recognition to those wonderful women who have not just whole-heartedly entertained their audience, but also touched their hearts in one way or another,” she said. The result is the #QueensOnScreen series. Actresses from both Hindi cinema and Hollywood feature on the list. There is a colourful illustration of Geet, played by Kareena Kapoor in Jab We Met (2007), accompanied by the line, “Main apni favourite hoon” (I am my own favourite). There is one of Emma Watson’s Hermoine from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2011) that reads, “Mudblood, and proud of it.”
Gorle is not trying to browbeat Netflix. She doesn’t think that the category “featuring a strong female lead” is necessarily without good intentions. From The 100 to Jessica Jones and Orange is the New Black to Master of None, Netflix does stream quite a few feminist series. “I’m just contesting the category for the sake of the larger picture, i.e. one day women won’t need a separate genre to be watched,” Gorle clarified. “They’ll just star in equally powerful roles opposite their male leads.”
The Nagpur-born advertising student’s aim is to drive home the perception that the heroine is just as significant as the hero. “She doesn’t need to talk, dress or behave in a particular way to win hearts,” Gorle said. “Or not win hearts – because she can do whatever she wants.”
Gorle believes that female actors have come a long way since the early days of cinema, and are capable of playing just about any kind of role. “What may have been a sad state of affairs for gender equality in the film industry several decades ago is now slowly adapting to a freer, more diverse and more equal world,” she said.
This is one of the reasons Gorle is targetting films over television shows and the music industry. “Film stars are arguably the biggest cultural influencers in our lives,” she said. “I see countless women today, young and old, who start to think, talk and behave like the women they watch in films, who both inspire and influence them.”
The illustrator has restricted her featured heroines to those from movies that she has watched. “The main reason being my need to understand where my queen comes from, her thoughts, aspirations, fears and longings,” she explained. “They all feature in circles, a shape that I’ve been fascinated with for a long time.”
Gorle is leaving soon for New York City to begin her masters in branding at the School of Visual Arts. She didn’t quite imagine how popular her project would become. “I wanted this series to be big but only in the sense that I needed something to show for a two-month hiatus before I leave for college,” she said. “But I would never have imagined a response on this scale.”
She might not have as much time to work on the images when her course begins, but that is not going to prevent the churn of sketches. “I’m not going to stop until I have featured at least a hundred heroines,” she said.
This artist also has a sharp commercial sense. She has already created QueensOnScreen merchandise. The heroines-in-circles are available for purchase on notebooks, t-shirts, hoodies, coasters and cards. “Things we could wear to show off our feminism to the world,” Gorle said.
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