It makes for a glaring example of gender disparity in Bollywood, when there is a single female director on a panel of five celebrated filmmakers of the industry. Alankrita Srivastava, who made Lipstick Under My Burkha, shared the dais with Anurag Kashyap, Kabir Khan, Ayan Mukerji and Nitesh Tiwari at the Jio MAMI Movie Mela, held on Saturday.
To be fair to the Movie Mela team, it did address the female under representation on the dais, saying, “We did reach out to other (female) directors because we wanted more of them on the panel but they weren’t available on this particular day and time.”
But Srivastava rightly took the opportunity to say it aloud that the inequality on the panel is reflective of the “actual situation” in the industry, which of course is shameful.
“The fact that they are five directors on this panel and out of five, only one female is sitting that means 20 per cent. It’s actually very reflective of the actual situation. The problem is not that how many women there are in the panel, of course one should always try to have more women, we actually need many more women making films. Also, there are very limited number of people to choose from. So, the fact that there are not many women on a panel is reflective of a state where there is not enough female representation in cinema,” she said during the session.
The director said that not only in India but world over, it has been that the struggle for a woman does not stop once they get to tell the story they want to, because the bigger struggle lies in being able to do so consistently.
“If we do the math, the percentage of women making the films is really less. It is a matter of shame because I feel this is one area where we really have not broken the glass ceiling, because while we have perhaps five or 10 working female directors, there are very few who consistently made films. This is a problem even in Hollywood. Often you have someone (a female), who makes one film or two films and then is not able to make anything else. Even though there are a lot of women who go to film school, they are not able to pursue a career in direction. Now, in fact, they become assistant directors, studio executives and take channel jobs but not so many of them are able to make their films, or make them consistently,” she said.
It is not very difficult to substantiate what Srivastava said. It took American filmmaker Patty Jenkins more than 10 years to make her third feature film, despite her second project, Monster, being a huge success and earning its leading lady Charlie Theron an Oscar. It was only in 2015 when Warner Bros approached the director to helm Wonder Woman, which today stands as a blockbuster.
“There have been things that have crossed my path that seemed like troubled projects. And I thought, ‘If I take this, it’ll be a big disservice to women. If I take this knowing it’s going to be trouble and then it looks like it was me, that’s going to be a problem. If they do it with a man, it will just be yet another mistake that the studio made. But with me, it’s going to look like I dropped the ball, and it’s going to send a very bad message.’ So, I’ve been very careful about what I take for that reason,” Jenkins had spoken to The Hollywood Reporter about the 12 year gap between her second and third film.
The fight for equal representation and treatment as men is intense for women on every level of filmmaking, Srivastava added, whether it is a struggle to get producers to trust them or to get good show timings for their films.
“There is no easy explanation or solution except that more people watch films by women filmmakers. The industry is in a space that there is more trust in female filmmakers and people are not judged for being females. These dynamics do exist. Like if you are a woman, this happened in my case, it might be that the kind of film you want to make the industry, which is driven by men, might not feel it is viable. It is a long process. For example, in terms of timings, the exhibitors who decide what timings will a film will get, there is no woman in that team. The battle is at every level. It begins with the kind of film you want to make to getting the funds to people feeling that she is a girl, she can’t do it. Filmmaking is controlled by men.”
One cannot deny that in Hindi cinema, more often than not, and this includes the stories with female protagonists, the women characters are written from a male point of view, perceived in relation to men. Srivastava, during the discussion, said that having more women on the director’s chair will change the direction a story takes on screen, departing from the “misogynistic” route.
“It is also important for women, who are already working in cinema, to really encourage more female filmmakers. Encourage them from a early stage. We need to have more women editors, sound recordists. We need to have more collaborations where women participation is more. I feel that will also change the kind of cinema India watches. Most of which is very misogynist. If we will have more women making films, there will be much stronger female point of view in cinema. We don’t even know what will happen then! That should be the goal we should be looking at.”