“When Alia Bhatt does a Raazi, Deepika Padukone does a Piku or Chhapak, then you know something is shifting. It’s great to see female-lead films, be it in terms of female cast, female directors and female producers. These are exciting times for women in cinema and storytelling, perhaps the best we’ve ever seen in India,” Said Alankrita Srivastava, (Lipstick under my Burkha fame director) in an interview. Her statement is totally agreeable. Women actors, directors, producers , set designers etc are re-writing the Bollywood script . No longer relegated to the background, these women are changing the Cinema milieu in India!
Recently released posters of the movies ‘Chhapaak’ and ‘Saand ki Aankh’, do not only represent the respective movies but also manifest something much powerful ,that may still be underneath the surface but is just about to pop out- the actors who are no longer shy of showing themselves in unflattering, realistic ways if it helps portray the character they play, the stories that is fresh, on our everyday life and its situations . If the character demands them to look a certain way, they are going all out to do that. Bhumi gained weight for her movie ‘Dum laga ke haisha’ , and now in ‘Saand ki Aankh’ she is playing a feisty woman shooter in her sixties. Deepika has gone all out to look her part of an acid attack survivor- in a movie she is producing as well.
When did they become this bold? When did the narrative start accommodating the female characters so actively and invincibly? Of course, we had movies like Mother India, but those were very few and far between. But increasingly Bollywood is surprising the audiences with more motion pictures with women centric stories, told in an honest and sensitive way. These stories are connecting with the classes and masses alike.
While our female lot of actors have become greedier for challenging roles (Kalki blew my mind with her performance in Shonali Bose’ ‘Margarita with a straw’), the sensitive portrayal of these characters is also to do a lot with the shift in behind the camera scene. What was once a male-dominated industry, has in recent times seen more women getting behind the camera. Also, there are now more woman producers, studio heads, publicists etc. and they are bringing a fresh perspective with a diversity of mind-boggling concepts. Not a surprise then that there is a palpable change of sensibility in the narration. “As cinema is a reflection of the world around us, with more women coming into the mainstream business, more women narratives will grab the limelight,” said Zoya Akhtar in one of her interviews to a portal and she couldn’t be more correct.
We have had two-time national award winning woman directors like Aparna Sen (for 36 Chowringhee Lane and Mr. and Mrs. Iyer) and then Deepa Mehta who breathed ‘Fire’ at a time when most of the male filmmakers took safe, time tested paths. And yet it took some considerable time for women to sort of announce that they have arrived- finally! Somehow, with their kind of sensibilities, they are bringing much more to the table for the audience than bargained for. Unlike what most of the people perceive, for this crop of women film makers and actors, it’s the story that’s paramount and not the gender, age or sexuality of the characters.
There is ‘Pahuna: The Little Visitors’, produced by Priyanka Chopra and directed by Paakhki A Tyrewaala and then there is Raazi, directed by another woman director, Meghana Gulzar with one of the finest performers of the recent times, Alia Bhatt. Zoya Akhtar brought her kind of vision with movies like ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dubara’ and most recently ‘Gully Boy’! And could we have a movie like ‘English Vinglish' without the acting prowess of Sri and sensitive dealing of the subject by Gauri Shinde! It was a brilliant portrayal of a woman who overcame her insecurities to stand out on her own. In a way, this can very well be said about the women in Bollywood who are overcoming their insecurities and are standing out on their own. It’s heartening to see the list getting longer and that too with substance. These women are shining even on the global stage, suggesting promising signs of change. In 2015, Ruchika Oberoi won the FEDORA prize for best new director at the Venice Film Festival with her first feature, Island City. Then there is Konkana , who not only dazzled us as an actress, as Mrs. Iyer but also became the second woman, After the Russian director Yuliya Solntseva, to win the best director award at Cannes for her movie ‘A death in the Gunj’.
And there is Alankrita Shrivastava, who made everyone sit and notice her work in ‘Lipstick under my Burkha’. She, along with her female protagonists made one and all realize the true potential of ‘women vision’ and acting prowess! Indeed, India’s women filmmakers are introducing narrative experimentation quite candidly. Leena Yadav’s ‘Parched’ is another such movie that revolves around rural women in Rajasthan, challenging conservative sexual mores with much abandon.
The point is, these women powerhouses are increasingly becoming the norm rather than just one-off thing and with this, stories of women have found their way from within the four walls of homes and workplace into theaters and eventually into people’s heart. The best part is, these movies are no longer ‘just the art cinema/documentary/short film’. They are pretty much as commercially viable as the movies made by the male directors with predominantly male protagonists in stories that's just a 'make believe world' ( Why is Simmba shouting in my mind!). The preferential line for a ‘Hero’ centric movie over a ‘woman story’ is blurring and quite fast! It’s no longer the status-quo for the male film makers and the male actors!
Still there are miles to travel as is put across by Alankrita. “I think we are very far from telling enough stories about women. We are half the population. Until half the films made, are about women, we will have miles to go. Also, there needs to be an equal number of women behind the camera.” She says. She poignantly goes on to add that on top of just featuring more female protagonists, Indian cinema should “change the lens and prism through which we look at female characters.” Given the ongoing male-dominated nature of Indian society, “it is convenient to portray women in a way that continues to feed patriarchy — and all this is done in the name of commerce,” she notes. How true!
But these women are crossing all the bridges. Supporting them and their narratives are not only the emergence of much more independent and assertive Indian women on the horizon of Indian social landscape, an enlightened, exposed to the global culture audience, is also coming to their help, who want freshness in stories and the portrayal of the characters ( Just a bit off to this feature, but the debacle of movies like Thugs of Hindostan, Zero and latest, Kalank, just goes on to prove that audience today is much more smarter ). Besides that, Amazon Prime and Netflix are also making it easier for these women content creators to create and reach out to their targets globally!
To sum it all, women content creators of Bollywood might have miles to walk, but the walk is no longer lonely! Table is surely turning!
Copyright © Aradhana Mishra