While mainstream cinema is slowly changing its portrayal of gender norms, it's nowhere close to what's available online.

Screenshot of Pakistani web series Churails showing the lead characters
Flix Entertainment Wednesday, September 16, 2020 - 16:50

The explosion of content on Over-the-Top (OTT) platforms has meant that there's a wide variety of options when it comes to entertainment. Whatever be the genre or language, viewers are spoilt for choice on online streaming platforms. It's no different when it comes to feminist content.

Mainstream cinema in India has largely been disappointing when it comes to the representation of women, mostly conforming to gender norms and patriarchal attitudes. While this is slowly changing, it's still nowhere as close to the kind of content that's available online.

Here's a list of web series that will make a feminist viewer happy, and not want to tear their hair out.

Churails (Zee5): This show is from Pakistan and is about a motley group of women in Karachi who come together to start a detective agency. Their aim is to investigate cheating husbands but the plot goes beyond that when they uncover a bigger secret. Directed by British Pakistani writer-director Asim Abbasi, the series stars Sarwat Gilani, Mehar Bano, Nimra Bucha and Yasra Rizvi in the lead roles.

Masaba Masaba (Netflix): Written and directed by Sonam Nair, this is a lighthearted series on mother-daughter pair Neena Gupta and Masaba Gupta. It may look like an ordinary story centered on two women -- one a veteran actor who is not getting any new work and the other a designer with a high-profile client list but personal troubles -- going about their lives, but that's what makes it unique. It's so rare to see women's stories with minimal drama represented on screen.

Made in Heaven (Amazon Prime Video): Two wedding planners -- a middle class woman with a wealthy husband and a gay man -- take us through the behind-the-scenes drama of Indian weddings. As they try to beat the competition and survive in a tough market, many more secrets tumble out of the closet. And how delicious to have a heroine who's ambitious, manipulative and knows exactly what she wants! While Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti created the show, they wrote it with Alankrita Shrivastava. Zoya, Alankrita, Nitya Mehra, and Prashant Nair were the directors. The series stars Arjun Mathur and Shobita Dhulipala in the lead.

Unbelievable (Netflix): This American show based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning story is a searing yet empowering look at sexual violence and law enforcement. A teenager is raped and she reports it to the police. However, the male officers find it difficult to believe her account due to inconsistencies and decide that she's lying. It's only when two women officers enter the picture that the nature of the investigation changes. Created by Susannah Grant, Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon, the series has Toni Colette, Merrit Wever and Kaitlyn Dever in the lead.

Fleabag (Amazon Prime Video): Written by the hilarious Phoebe Waller-Bridge who also plays the lead role in the series, this British drama directed by Harry Bradbeer and Tim Kirkby draws us into Phoebe's many misadventures involving her dysfunctional family, weirdo friends and yes, a 'hot priest'. But beyond the politically incorrect humour and the refreshingly unapologetic characterisation of Phoebe, the series also manages to touch upon serious issues like suicide, without ever losing its charm.

Mrs America (Disney+Hotstar): Are you even a feminist if you haven't watched this show YET? Starting from the 1970s in America, when the demand for the Equal Rights Amendment Bill (ERA) was growing louder, the series is a riveting drama that captures the upheavals in the feminist movement. The men in this series, even as villains, are purely in the margins as feminists lock horns with conservative women who believe feminism will destroy their homes. Writers and thinkers you may have read, like Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, appear in this reel life version and the actors capture their personalities accurately. Created and co-written by Davhi Waller and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, Amma Asante, Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre and Janicza Bravo, the cast has a host of talented actors including Cate Blanchett and Rose Byrne.

Watch: A trailer of 'Mrs America'

Russian Doll (Netflix): What if you found yourself reliving a short period in your life over and over again? Nadia finds that she simply cannot escape her own 36th birthday party --- each time, she ends up dying and waking up once again at the same party. The dark humour will have you in splits but the series also takes on a number of difficult-to-discuss subjects, including mental health. Natasha Lyonne plays the lead in this series which she co-created with Leslye Headland and Amy Poehler.

Killing Eve (Amazon Prime Video): A spy thriller with black comedy, this British series focuses on Eve Polastri, an MI6 operative, and Villanelle, a psychopath assassin. While the two of them are pitted against each other, they also become obsessed with each other. A rare occasion when the hero and the villain are both female, this gripping series is a must-watch for anyone who enjoys the thriller genre.

Schitt's Creek (Netflix): This Canadian sitcom is on the wealthy Rose family which finds itself without money after being cheated by their business manager. All that they're left with is a small town named Schitt's Creek and they're forced to move there and rebuild their lives. What makes it a delightful watch is that Schitt's Creek just creates a society and a town that's better, that's aspirational -- where queer characters don't fight to exist, but just live their lives like any ordinary person. Apart from being wholesome and comic, the show also ends up being intersectional, where being feminist is the norm, not the exception among its protagonists. The show is created by Eugene and Dan Levy and stars Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara in the lead.

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