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You Go Girl!

Friday, March 08, 2019
By Deepa Gahlot

In the world of mainstream cinema, commercial success is the only yardstick to decide who gets to work—that and nepotism, up to a point. Which is why there are still so few female directors.

Unless she is from an industry family or has an influential produce to back her, a woman will not get a break as a director; and if she does get a chance to direct and her film is not successful, then to get a second film is next to impossible.

This piece is excerpted from one written exactly ten years ago, and how little has changed—there are certainly a few more woman directors whose work has been noticed—Ashwini Iyer Tiwari, Gauri Shinde, Reema Kagti, Alankrita Shrivastav to name just three. Nandita Das, Shonali Bose and Konkona Sen Sharma have made artistically accomplished films. Farah Khan, Zoya Akhtar and Meghna Gulzar have gone from strength to strength and Kangana Ranaut made a contentious debut as director. But the number of female directors is still abysmally low.

“India has the biggest film industry in the world, and we can count the number of women filmmakers on our fingertips. The number of women in mainstream cinema can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

“There are lots of women making a name for themselves in the world of documentaries, where budgets are bottom-of-the-barrel low, but where there is big money involved, as always, door are slammed on women. A half-witted male has a better chance of getting funding than a supertalented female.

“Now, when raising money is such a struggle, women filmmakers invariably end up making small films, and usually about things they feel strongly about-- which means women's problems, women's struggles and women's search for identity-- thus willy nilly pushing themselves further into the ghetto.   So people have more reason to say that women can only make ‘chick flicks’  (the derogatory term coined in Hollywood to describe films by and about women, which some female directors have teasingly subverted to use as a badge of honour.)

“Whether the film is good or bad is another issue altogether, the question is why women filmmakers have, so far been expected to conform to making little domestic dramas.  Strong women's subjects are needed, but every time a cliched women's empowerment (which usually happens after she has gone through inhuman treatment!) story comes up, aren't audiences put off by women's films altogether?

“It is certainly not imperative for them to always present the female point of view, but women who get the opportunity to make films perhaps ought to give insights into the feminine psyche, since women in mainstream Indian films are almost always superfluous, or at least interchangeable.  But then, again some of the landmark 'Women's Films' have been made by men. Shabana Azmi who has worked with all the major female directors --Vijaya Mehta, Sai Paranjpye,  Aparna Sen,  Aruna Raje, Kalpana Lajmi-- feels that Shyam Benegal and Mahesh Bhatt have equally strong feminist sensitivities. There’s Madhur Bhandarkar too, whose films are centred around women.
“Sensible audiences would like to see intelligent and sensitive women's films, but would also like to see males from the female point of view, instead of just seeing them as swaggering muscled male fantasy figures.

It was time for female directors take up the same themes as the males and give them a refreshing twist, a unique point of view, and more human characters.”

On Women’s Day one can celebrate the fact that the story of a Gully Boy was made by a female director—Zoya Akhtar.

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