By Priyanka Bhadani
The last few years have seen Indian women going places. Despite being at the recieving end of a deep-seated bias, being stereotyped for long; of late women have been calling the shots. The number of women investing their money in films and getting involved in the entire production process has increased by a huge number in the last couple of years.
Unfortunately, in one of the first studies conducted by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, UN Women and The Rockefeller Foundation on gender images in global films (published in September 2014), it was found that female producers in India comprised only 15.2 per cent, way below the 22.7 per cent global average.
However, things seem to be changing now. If in the last decade, we had only a handful of actresses like Jaya Bachchan, Hema Malini and Pooja Bhatt investing their money into films, currently, there’s a considerably long list of actresses including Anushka Sharma (NH10 and an untitled project), Priyanka Chopra (Madamji), Dia Mirza (Love Breakups Zindagi and Bobby Jasoos), Lara Dutta (Chalo Dilli), Preity Zinta (Ishk In Paris), the newly-added Chitrangada Singh (a biopic on hokey player, Sandeep Singh) among few others who have taken the plunge and are ready to dabble in production.
Names like Guneet Monga and Ekta Kapoor are also to reckon with as they made their mark in a male-dominated industry with the right choice of films. These woman didn’t enter the industry with an ambition to act. They decided to call the shots behind the camera and are doing that quite successfully. In fact, after being unsuccessful in her first few attempts in film-making, Kapoor has attained both commercial success and garnered critical acclaim with films like Ragini MMS, Ek Thi Daayani and The Dirty Picture respectively.
Shyam Shroff, a veteran film promoter and director of Shringar Film Pvt Ltd, says that the change has come through not just in the film industry, but also in different spheres of the trade. “It’s not surprising. With the growing economy and a high emphasis on education, it had to happen.”
When actors turn producers
When Anushka Sharma took on the role of a producer with Clean Slate Films that is producing NH 10, earlier this year, she wanted to branch out into a different sphere of film-making. A few months ago, she also announced a second production venture as well. The title of the film is yet to be announced, but one of the youngest actor-producer knows what she is doing. In the announcement release, she remarked, “I’ve always been a risk-taker and setting up Clean Slate allows me to push the envelope further to collaborate with young, fresh minds to mount projects and create cinema that truly excites me, both personally and as a viewer.”
In fact, actor Priyanka Chopra on self-admission was not sure if she should produce a film, especially one that stars her, but she recently partnered with film-maker Madhur Bhandarkar for their upcoming, Madamji, not just as an actor but also as a producer. She told Screen “I am looking forward to setting up a production house. I love movies and I hope I will be able to tell good stories.”
While it’s a welcome change, one can call it unfortunate as when female actors turn producers, there are times they are not taken seriously. Dia Mirza, during a recently conducted Screen Big Picture, spoke at length about how when she turned producer, there were times her beautiful demeanor turned out to be a bane for her as many doubted her abilities.
“I remember when we were making our first film (Love Breakups...), few people came with suspicion; does she know what she is talking about? Do I really have to take her seriously?” remarked Dia as she further added, “It doesn’t take long to know, or tell somebody what you are talking about. Ek samajdar ko toh ishara hi kaafi hai. There have been instances where I had to deal with certain individuals, I can’t say it holds true for everyone because that’s the way we have worked all these years.”
But film-maker Mukesh Bhatt begs to differ when he says that it is the case not just with female actors turning producers, but even with actors. “It’s not just heroines who don’t know, even heroes don’t know. Just because they are men doesn’t mean they would be clued into the minor aspects of production. A hero is also equally suspected when he turns a producer,” says Bhatt, who considers the growing trend of actors turning producers as a positive trend. “At least, they would understand the agonies that producers go through,” he quips.
Earlier, actresses like Hema Malini, Jaya Bachchan, etc have called the shots as producers, but haven’t been very successful. While the success rate of the current crop is yet to be seen, Shroff remarks that to be a successful film producer it is essential to be a director too. “It’s also important to have a production designer or controller who you can trust more than yourself. Secondly, you need to complete the movie within the targeted budget, come what may. Thirdly, you should have resources to make films at least four more films,” says Shroff. It’s these minor aspects that need attention rather than the producer’s gender.
Interestingly, at a very young age, Ashi Dua went all out to bring Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar and Karan Johar, for her first production venture, Bombay Talkies, says that with female actors, it is basically the pre-conceived notions among people that becomes a drawback initially. “A gorgeous woman is distracting as a producer because you are so used to seeing her in front of the camera, but once you prove your worth as a woman who can take decisions, that changes. There are actresses who have done that really well.”
Non-acting producers have it easier
However, when it comes to Dua’s own journey, it hasn’t been that difficult. She says that her project took more than two years for the film to go on the floors because the idea required time from four different directors. “I had to get the go-ahead from all the four directors and then get the funding from Viacom 18 (the studio that backed the film),” recalls Dua who was 24 when she started working on the idea of Bombay Talkies, but the film released when she turned 28. Her struggle, however, was not being a woman, or that she has to fight in a male-dominated industry. “In fact, everybody has been really supportive, especially Vikram Malhotra (the former CEO of Viacom 18) was really encouraging, who agreed to work on the idea even before I got the approval from the directors,” says Dua who thinks that the industry is no longer obsessed by one’s gender. “It doesn’t really matter in today’s time. There is no such gender-bias. There’s nothing like ‘woman producer’, we are all producers,” she states matter-of-factly as she also adds that it’s time when people at large should stop talking about it. Agrees producer Krishika Lulla, who was behind last year’s successful romantic tragedy, Raanjhana. She thinks the climate is changing and it’s a great time for women to explore the film industry, not just as a producer, but also in other aspects of film-making. “It’s a challenging and fulfilling time,” says Lulla, who being the wife of Eros International head honcho, Sunil Lulla, knows that the industry is opening its arms to good ideas and concepts, rather than focusing on the person it’s coming from. “I am happy to have the backing of the family my husband – a studio head and a film producer himself,” she adds.
Bhatt praises women like Guneet Monga, who have taken the entire category a notch higher. “You can’t compare Monga with any of the actresses who have turned producers. She has worked really hard to reach where she is and knows the details of production,” says Bhatt about Monga, who has a film like The Lunchbox to her credit that has crossed 100 crore. “It’s time to applaud all those woman who have ventured into production,” he says.
Whether it is women-centric films, or women themselves, the film industry is witnessing a radical change, and with women turning money-spinners, we will be seeing more women at the forefront.