Filmfare Awards 2018 has been quite welcoming of female directors. While Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari took home the Best Director award for Bareilly Ki Barfi, Konkona Sen Sharma bagged the Best Debut Director for A Death in the Gunj.
Not just the Filmfares, 2017 itself has seen quite a few female directors produce some quality cinema. And that is a refreshing change. The male-female ratio is still pretty bad in terms of direction, but, as they say, a change is a change. A change is also a tiny ray of hope that things might improve further this year.
Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s Bareilly Ki Barfi was a romantic drama, that managed to sell the done-to-death story of a love triangle in all its glory. The director, who first impressed the audience with her debut film Nil Battey Sannata, achieved greater success with her second film. Nil Battey Sannata’s main premise dealt with a house-help’s dream of making a space for herself and her daughter in a society burdened with hierarchies of all kinds. Lead actor Swara Bhaskar and Ria Shukla were convincing in their portrayals of their respective characters. And the film performed fairly well at the box office. In fact, Tiwari had won the Best Debut Director award for Filmfare in 2017.
With Bareilly Ki Barfi, Tiwari cemented her position as a successful and capable director. Tiwari was clever enough to know that the Indian audience never tires of a love story, and so she weaved her own brand of magic around the age-old genre to deliver a hit, and a knockout performance by the supremely talented Rajkummar Rao. Of course, the writing and the performances helped her case. But it was Tiwar’s way of narrating the tired format that won everyone over.
Tiwari is also smart enough to know what she can work with. Small towns and universal themes are her thing, and she has stuck to them faithfully. Despite being born and brought up in Mumbai, Tiwari has a keen interest in what the smaller spaces have to offer, in terms of story-telling.
“I would say I am trapped in the whole idea of simplicity and in the idea of slow living,” Tiwari had said in an earlier interview with Firstpost while promoting Bareilly ki Barfi. Her films have the old-world charm, and it becomes all too clear once you get to know about her cinematic influences.
“I love the films of Sai (Sai Paranjape) and Hrishi Da (Hrishikesh Mukherjee). Their filmmaking sensibility stemmed from their own simplicity. The characters, which we encounter in their films, inspire me a lot,” she had said in the same interview.
According to reports, Tiwari is currently giving all her time to a new female-centric film and has approached Alia Bhatt for the same. Sounds promising.
While Tiwari had already made her debut in 2016, film actor Konkona Sen Sharma made her debut as a director last year with the critically acclaimed A Death in the Gunj. A Death in the Gunj is a period drama and a coming-of-age story about a shy young man and his inhibitions and dreams. While the film in itself didn’t have a great opening at the box office, Konkona’s maiden effort as a director was appreciated by many.
It was hard not to compare Konkona the actor and Konkona the director while watching the film. A Death in the Gunj is just the kind of movie Konkona would have herself been a part of in the capacity of an actor, had she been offered a role in it. It was the brand of thought-provoking and subtle cinema that Konkana has become synonymous with. The film didn’t have a mass appeal, as it didn’t create the atmosphere of high drama and entertainment which Hindi cinema is known for. But then again, A Death in the Gunj is not really a Bollywood film in the conventional sense of the term. Its characters primarily conversed in English (and a little bit in Hindi and Bengali). But it bodes well for us, the audience, that Konkana doesn’t want to follow the beaten path. As they say, variety is the spice of life.
Of course, these two are the women who were recognised for their hard work this year at one of Bollywood’s biggest events. But there are other women who have contributed as much to the medium, if not more.
Alankrita Shrivastava’s controversial film Lipstick Under My Burkha was the subject of many debates and discussions. For its content, for its title, for its dialogue and for its treatment of women, Lipstick Under My Burkha grabbed many eyeballs. It was earlier denied a release in India, but after many deliberations and meetings, the movie hit the theatres everywhere in the country on July 21, 2017.
Shrivastava challenged the censor board, was unafraid regarding her project, and was willing to go to any lengths to get it released in the country. That alone speaks a lot about the kind of director Shrivastava is. It would be great to see her material come alive on the big screen again if she repeats the determination and effort of her second film (Shrivastava has previously directed Turning 30).
Tanuja Chandra, who has previously directed Sangharsh and Dushman, returned to the big screen again with the Irrfan Khan and Parvathy starrer Qarib Qarib Singlle late last year. Qarib Qarib Singlle was a light-hearted romantic comedy, which, it is safe to say, was not boring, despite being predictable. Both Irrfan and Parvathy gave charming and believable performances, but one cannot help but wonder what would the fate of the film have been if the makers had cast someone else? Chandra has the skills, what she needs is a stronger narrative, the kind that holds the attention until the very end.
Last year saw some changes. More female directors, with quality cinema. But if the definition of more is only four, we have a long way to go. So, here’s looking at you, 2018.