This week’s release, Dear Zindagi, has been directed by a female director, Gauri Shinde and has a young woman—Alia Bhatt— in the central role. It has to be the success of her first film English Vinglish, starring Sridevi in her comeback role, that allowed her to make a second film, that too with Shah Rukh Khan, who is also the co-producer.
It has taken a lot of time for some women to break the glass ceiling of the film industry, and invariably the ones who have succeeded are the ones with star or family backing—whether it’s Farah Khan or Zoya Akhtar.
What is good, however, that the new female directors do not feel the need to wear their feminism on their sleeves, like the earlier generation did. Maybe because today’s filmmaker did not have to struggle as much. In the Eighties and on, the women who managed to get funding meagre as it was through their weight behind the cause of women and made issue-based films, in the firm belief that they were making a difference to society.
The ones who kicked the glass ceiling a little more—like Farah Khan—had no such hang-ups, they just wanted to make commercially successful films and establish their careers. Farah got a relatively easy break because of her friendship with Shah Rukh Khan, but she had to deliver three solid hits before she could be considered ‘one of the boys.’ She knew that the hero was the selling point (even in her one dud Tees Maar Khan), but she made sure the women in her films were glamorous, but not pushovers.
Gauri Shinde’s English Vinglish, told the story of a woman who needs to stand up for her self-respect, but she made the film in a way that many women found relatable, because a large percentage of them must have faced the same low self esteem problems at some time or the other in their lives. The conservative ones were reassured by the fact that the leading lady did not walk out on her boorish husband and nasty daughter (who made fun of her because she did not know English), forgave them and set out on a new life with her head held high. The director did, however, give a tantalising glimpse of what was waiting for her in case she decided to break away—a dishy Frenchman.
From all accounts, Dear Zindagi is the story of a young woman’s coming of age. Will this please her target audience? Friday will tell.