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Wonder Women

Screen + Sound + Stage

Text by Ranjabati Das. Illustration by Swati Sinha

There is a marked distinction between how Farah Khan portrayed Deepika Padukone in her first movie, Om Shanti Om (OSO) and the way Rohit Shetty directed Kriti Sanon in her third Hindi movie almost a decade later in Dilwale. Although each have been undeniably “Shah Rukh Khan films”, Padukone had a meatier position in OSO. However, Sanon managed to end up a reputable efficiency in her fifth outing; Bareilly Ki Barfi (BKB) was helmed by director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwary, who has spoken about how Sanon was tagged merely as “glamorous” in her earlier movies, having been forged on this mould by her male administrators. “I hope that BKB redefines who she is,” she had mentioned through the movie’s promotions, hinting that the opposite administrators had barely scraped the floor of the actor’s potential.

When males have deigned to push the reason for younger feminine actors in Bollywood, it’s usually resulted in dissatisfactory narratives. Contemplate the curious case of main males utilizing their affect to again or “launch” younger feminine expertise. Most of the ladies, regardless of exhibiting promise, slipped by the cracks following a uncooked deal when it comes to display screen time and characterisation. The “heroine”, in such circumstances, is a second-class citizen relegated to play second fiddle to the persona of whichever male star is headlining the present. Part of the media is complicit – articles scream “X turns mentor for his co-star” however by no means the opposite manner spherical. Usually, the prejudices behind the scenes seep into the best way these characters are depicted on-screen. Strong feminine voices behind the digital camera are subsequently important in priming the bottom for content material that questions the patriarchy and amplifies ladies’s points. And it’s not restricted to the query of illustration. We want ladies who’ve established themselves within the trade to actively foster feminine expertise and voices, creating lasting bonds of assist.

Consider how each Meghna Gulzar, who was born into the movie trade, and the self-made Shonali Bose have served as efficient position fashions. Gulzar refers to her physique of labor merely as content material that resonates along with her – that it focuses on ladies is merely incidental, she says. But even she has to voice her opinions loudly and repeatedly as a way to be heard. Contrarily, Bose calls her cinema “women-centric” and makes it with the particular view to interrupt gender stereotypes. But in male-dominated Bollywood, the place there may be little house for particular person id in case you’re a girl, each doyennes proceed to be categorised equally – as “female film-makers” whose cinema is “female-centric”.

The lopsided reality is that girls – or another minority group inside the patriarchy for that matter – are routinely stripped of nuance and painted in broad strokes. In an trade that’s fast to pigeonhole ladies, the dearth of feminine mentors exacerbates the plight of ladies artists with no ties to the trade. The state of affairs is “challenging” based on actor Shivani Raghuvanshi, 29, who left an imprint along with her portrayals of Neelu (Titli), Jaspreet “Jazz” Kaur within the Amazon Prime Original sequence Made In Heaven (MIH) and, most lately, Vasudha (Raat Akeli Hai). Defining a mentor, within the context of Bollywood, as “someone who essentially provides clarity”, Raghuvanshi presses on the significance of getting a supply of inspiration and steerage who’s relatable and whom she will be able to preserve going again to for assist. “Mentors don’t have to be there for you 24/7, but they could often offer you a piece of advice that can change the way you look at certain things,” she provides. In MIH, Jazz tries to suit into Delhi excessive society. In actual life, too, Raghuvanshi, a Delhi native, has tried to assimilate into a brand new city tradition (Mumbai), and in her journey, she has had each women and men offering sure cues at essential occasions. “I have personally benefited from advice from both genders, but I have to say that women are very perceptive. When I was in a low phase, and it was getting difficult for me to get by, the costume designer of Titli, Fabeha Khan, came to my rescue. I was very young, and she would regularly check up on me at times when I felt like I just didn’t belong here,” she says.

Written by Reema Kagti, Alankrita Shrivastava and Zoya Akhtar and with episodes directed primarily by Shrivastava, Zoya and Nitya Mehra, MIH was fuelled by an all-woman crew who triumphantly dropped at our screens a fancy feminine protagonist with shades of gray (Sobhita Dhulipala). The intrinsic variations between women and men additionally filter into the best way the 2 genders mentor. “Women have an innate power to understand relationships, and Zoya has a beautiful insight into how relationships work, which is what forms the crux of her films. I had always worked under male directors. It was a very different kind of experience working with Zoya because she could intuitively understand where I was coming from when I asked certain questions to understand the psychology of the character,” Raghuvanshi explains. “If I can call one person my mentor, and it’s not just related to work because the lines between the professional and the personal are blurred for me, as they are with most women, it’s my showrunner and one of my MIH directors, Nitya Mehra, who has guided me on personal matters too. I admire her independence and unbiased nature, which is a rare commodity. The way she talks to each and every person on the set inspires me; I can’t put the emotions I feel towards her into words,” she says.

It’s one other matter that the one calling the photographs in MIH is trade insider Zoya, whose manufacturing home Tiger Baby Films collectively produced the present with Excel Entertainment (headed by her influential brother, Farhan Akhtar).

Costume designer Niharika Bhasin, 51, believes that girls are constructed for mentorship. “Women mentors are definitely more tenacious, in my opinion. Even if they are let down, they don’t let their ego get in the way. And in my experience, women don’t toot their own horns,” she says. Niharika has been mentoring religiously ever since she joined this subject greater than a decade in the past, and she or he serves up names of different linked ladies like herself, in addition to those that began as outsiders, who do the identical. “But you don’t hear about them as much in this context. Unfortunately, mentees do not speak about their mentors unless they get some mileage out of it – no one wants to state they have had help or that someone has added to their career graph. And thanks to [the pressure of] social media, there is a growing culture of not sharing credit,” she provides. Quite a variety of her assistants at the moment are costume designers in their very own proper. “These include Indrakshi Pattanaik, who has won a National Award for the Telugu film Mahanati, Ayesha Khanna, who is working on Deepika Padukone’s upcoming production ’83 , Mallika Chauhan [ Love Aaj Kal (2020) and Luka Chuppi], Poornamrita Singh [Gully Boy], Kirti Kolwankar and Maria Tharakan [Paatal Lok, Mission Mangal, A Monsoon Date and Badhaai Ho] and Sawant Prashant [Choked, Ghost Stories and Lust Stories], who now works with [Anurag] Kashyap,” she rattles off. “I have more women mentees than men because I think it’s about giving back to your community. I wanted to leave behind a legacy of kick-ass costume designers, a team of people who could help and mentor each other,” she says. Niharika, like Gulzar and Zoya, has a particular edge over others who come to strive their luck in Bollywood sans any connections. Even if she doesn’t determine as a part of the elite circle, the very fact nonetheless stands that she had sufficient of a toehold within the trade to debut with a Sudhir Mishra movie due to her brother, Arjun Bhasin, being an already-established costume designer.

Producer Ashi Dua, 35, who’s from small-town Bareilly, says that her mother and father “still don’t understand what it is that I do for a living”. Although she considers Anurag Kashyap to be her mentor, she echoes Niharika in relation to counting the professionals of her feminine colleagues. “I find it both empowering and rewarding to work with women. I am currently very excited about working with director Nitya Mehra for a show on one of the OTT platforms. We have a team of three girls and one boy who are writing it, and I love working with them. I love working with women in general because we are so much more attentive about detail, committed and dedicated, and we stick to the timeline. We also understand budget constraints very well. Yes, most of the power is with the insiders in the industry who happen to be men. But it is the same in every industry in the world,” Dua says virtually.

The feminine gaze has additionally been necessary to director Anu Menon, whose current directorial ventures embrace Shakuntala Devi and the primary season of Four More Shots Please! (FMSP) on Amazon Prime. FMSP, which follows the lives of 4 younger city ladies, was created by Rangita Pritish Nandy, written by Devika Bhagat and Ishita Moitra, and directed by Menon and Nupur Asthana. Menon had emphasised in an interview again in 2017, “It’s important to have many more women directing to get the female point of view on screen…. Since many decision makers in the industry are still men, they don’t warm up to female film-makers easily. We need to change the narratives we see on-screen…. We have to continue fighting till there is true equality between the sexes. I am proud to be a ‘woman director’, and if in any way my work or my words can inspire more women to follow their dreams to become film-makers, I would feel satisfied.”

Atika Chohan, 40, who has written a variety of “female-centric” movies (Guilty, Margarita With A Straw, Chhapaak), considers all the ladies she has shared a co-writing credit score with – Gulzar, Bose, Ruchi Narain – as “mentor-y”. “But in terms of strong influence and impression,” she says, “working with Meghna will always be a very special experience of my life. She is intense, meticulous and deeply intelligent, and I found myself challenged in good ways to meet her creative expectations. From the younger crew, I have worked with [writer] Kanika Dhillon, but she is already quite established in her work and style, and does not need mentoring from me. I’m currently working with a first-time director. Now that I am more independent in my work space, I like to work in power equations which are equal and inclusive,” she concludes. Chohan shows the empathy and lack of ego that Niharika described as core qualities in ladies who usually tend to embrace newcomers regardless of, or even perhaps due to having confronted discrimination themselves.

One may make a cogent argument for all those that refused to talk up for this text in concern of the backlash they could need to face. Both women and men in addition to the media have been cautious of spotlighting the ingrained patriarchy within the system in case they offend or get shut out by Bollywood biggies, underscoring the suffocating extent to which self-censorship operates in these circles. The tacit rule is that the facility is concentrated within the fingers of a jealously guarded coterie – principally males – that consists primarily of trade insiders.

Saroj Khan, one of the crucial profitable feminine choreographers in Bollywood, handed away two days earlier than Guru Purnima final July. The many tributes flooding the varied forms of media recall her relationship with the one two bankable feminine stars who may pull a movie again within the day – Madhuri Dixit and Sridevi. They wouldn’t have been the celebs they have been if it weren’t for Saroj’s skilled steerage and her penchant to extract emotive facial expressions, which grew to become their emblems. Think Dixit’s Dhak Dhak quantity from Beta (1992).

Three-hour-plus operating occasions, objectification of ladies and ill-timed songs have been the very hallmark of Bollywood until comparatively lately, a truth that’s reified by linguistics in the present day. “Bollywood”, which used to refer extra to the formulaic, masala motion pictures until the ’90s, is a much more nebulous time period now.

An important a part of its evolution is that the ladies in positions of energy are creating cinematic autos not just for themselves but additionally for individuals who are but to ascertain themselves. While a post-#MeToo India continues to be grappling with the constructions of privilege, even inside the ladies’s motion, these brokers of change are taking the primary steps to create a extra equal setting on set, together with filling a veritable vacuum out there by assembly the rising calls for for movies by ladies, for girls.

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