This week’s film, Dil Dhadakne Do directed by Zoya Akhtar, is one of the few directed by a woman director. Today, there are only Farah Khan and Reema Kagti who could be said to be successful in Bollywood. There’s also Kiran Rao and Gauri Shinde who are one film old.
If there was a level playing field, nobody would even mention the gender of the filmmaker. But it cannot be denied that there is discrimination against women when it comes to mainstream, Bollywood. And if it’s any consolation, Hollywood’s record is even worse.
The three women who are successful, have the backing of stars or large production houses who give their work the budget and marketing resources they need. Women filmmakers without these connections have to scrounge for scraps. Most just give up and go into ad or documentary filmmaking, where the doors are not so tightly shut.
Then there is the perception problem—women directors are expected to make films about women’s issues, if they don’t, they are seen as sell-outs; if they do make films about women’s problems they are told they are ghetto-ising themselves.
Still, with all the talent available, it’s a shame that over the last century, Indian cinema has had so few female directors. Producers don’t trust them with money unless they can get a star, and stars won’t allot them time unless they can get a major production house interested in backing them. In short, it’s next to impossible for a woman to get into mainstream, Bollywood, or Hollywood. Yashraj Films have, however, handed over the reins of some small films to women, which is laudable.
It is not denigrating Farah Khan in any way, to say that she makes films like a man— her style is flamboyant, she does let her femaleness hamper her. She does not even believe that women in her films have to be flagbearers for the woman’s cause, because she owes it to them. If the character needs to be sexy, the actress plays it that way. If the woman is a smart survivor—like Deepika Padukone in Happy New Year—she won’t hold back just because she doesn’t need to present a strong female character opposite Shah Rukh Khan. Farah admits without apology that she does not want to make ‘women’s films’. She also concedes that the best films about women have been made by male directors.
According to a report in Variety magazine, a study conducted by The Sundance Institute and Women in Film, where many industry people were interviewed:
“44% said female directors are perceived to make films for a subset and/or less significant portion of the marketplace.
42% believe there is a scarcity of female directors and a small pool to choose from in top-grossing films.
25% cited women’s perceived lack of ambition in taking on directing jobs.
22% cited the skewed representation of women in decision-making roles in the industry as a factor in limiting job opportunities for female directors.
12% cited the belief that women “can’t handle” certain types of films or aspects of production, such as commanding a large crew.
A level playing field is a long way off!