Why Amrita Singh’s Chameli in ‘Chameli ki Shaadi’ is the First Mainstream Feminist Icon

Amrita Singh’s ‘Chameli Ki Shadi’ has a strong take on feminism and casteism. It’s a movie that needs to be made even today
Why Amrita Singh’s Chameli  in ‘Chameli ki Shaadi’ is the First Mainstream Feminist Icon
Amrita Singh

Chew on this. When was the last time you saw a chui-mui damsel in distress, waiting for Prince Charming to rescue her, in a Hindi film? A sweet innocent girl who is scared to take the lead at work or career? It’s been eons. And thankfully so!

Mainstream Bollywood has been bashed for ages for its shameless objectification of women and insensitive portrayal of its female leads, save for a few shining examples. But much before millennial icons such as Kangana Ranaut and Deepika Padukone positioned themselves as feminist beacons of hope on and off the screen, there was an underrated, little-known rom-com (that has now gone on to become a cult classic) that gave us our first feminist movie icon – Chameli, played by the irrepressible Amrita Singh, in the 1986-release Chameli Ki Shaadi.

Penned by Om Prakash Sharma and directed by Basu Chatterji (known for charming flicks like Khatta Meetha and Baaton Baaton Mein), Chameli ki Shaadi gave us one of the most original, badass and empowered heroines. So much so that Piku (Piku), Geet (Jab We Met) or Rani (Queen) pales in comparison to this firebrand


Stills from Piku, Queen and Jab We Met

So what was it all about? Amrita played the film’s lead protagonist, Chameli, the daughter of Kallumal, a coal depot owner. Kallumal is a respected member of his community but Chameli is a woman who follows her own heart. She falls in love with Charandas (Anil Kapoor), a sweet goofball from a different caste. The family is aghast but our Chameli is unperturbed and the film goes through some hysterical twists and turns in the lovers’ journey. Along the way, it makes a sweet, strong and funny statement on casteism and feminism.

Here is why every feminist needs to take inspiration from Chameli!

Still from Chameli ki Shaadi

Strength of a woman

In an era where male machismo reigned supreme (this was the age of the Amitabh Bachchans, Mithun Chakrabortys and Vinod Khannas), Basu Chatterjee named his film after his heroine. It was Chameli ki Shaadi , not Charandas ka Vivah. Well, it’s not surprising as it was Chameli who was in the driver’s seat in this vehicle of love.

Amrita’s Chameli isn’t just a mad, firebrand woman in charge of her destiny. She is strong and sweet, vulnerable and lovable. There is an inherent sweetness to her that makes her character incredibly likeable, funny and engaging.

But make no mistake, she is tough as nails and knows exactly what she wants. Charandas falls in love with her at first sight and our girl revels in the attention.

Love is a Battlefield and Yes, Women Can

In most stories, we see the man fighting for the girl, overpowering her, almost even harassing her. But Chameli was a sexually liberated girl. Take a look at this song, the words of which are a feminist romance battle cry from the word go: “Utar Aayi Akhaaday Main”. In this fantasy song, Chameli makes no bones about who wears the pants in this relationship – she leads Charandas everywhere, in the akhada and in the bedroom!

No One Can Shame This Girl Into Giving Up Her Dreams:

This scene is proof that shame is merely a tool used by society to submit women into patriarchal whim. Chameli’s loser uncle spots her at a restaurant with Charandas. Naturally, he snitches on her. But our girl is no shrinking wallflower. She knows exactly how to treat nosy relatives. Watch.  

Gender Role Reversal in an Inherently Empowered socio-drama:

The gender role reversal that exists in Chameli ki Shadi is quite intriguing to watch. Chameli is loud, she knows exactly what she wants and she doesn’t shy away from speaking up about it. She doesn’t make any bones about the fact that she wants to marry the man of her dreams and is willing to run away with him since they cannot convince their families.

The Friend Bit
Ladies, when you are in love, you fight for it. Chameli sniffs competition from her best friend who she suspects has the hots for her boyfriend. She ensures that he has his eyes only for her!

The Caste Conundrum

The liberal woman is least bothered by notions of caste or religion. It didn’t matter that Charandas is from another biradiri. She argues with her mother who believes education is the root cause of her defiance, proves her point to her politics-obsessed dad and gives confidence to her man when he wavers. Wow!


Chameli Ki Shadi was released in 1986 but it continues to be socially relevant today. A strong, empowered girl who is fully aware and unapologetic of her being and her choices is definitely the kind of icon who would do so well on the big screen too. (Producers, are you listening?)

So now, the big question - who do you think should play Chameli? We think – you guessed it – Sara Ali Khan. She has the spunk and the balls of her illustrious mother who made Chameli so memorable and adorable. We also have the perfect Charandas – the goofy Kartik Aryan! Now that’s a remake we want to see happen!

What would be your casting for this film? Let us know in the comments?