Actress, costume designer, director or editor — women in Bollywood are taking a lead on many fronts in showbiz. A reality check with the fair maidens in films, on whether the film industry provides a level working ground for all
Hema Malini, Film producer
There is no doubt that the film industry is male dominated when it comes to pay cheques, with the men always being paid more than the women. But as a producer, besides the regular challenges which every producer faces, I did not face any kind of problems because of my gender. There was nothing like male ego of actors or technicians when making Dil Aashna Hai or for for that matter Tell Me O Khuda. I would attribute that to me being a senior and a respected artiste of the industry.
Sonam Kapoor, Actress
We, women, are definitely trying to bring a change. An example is Bewakoofiyaan, where the director, the cinematographer and the editor is female. I made a choice in the last two years to avoid films where I’d just be a flower pot. And films like Khoobsurat, Bewakoofiyaan and Dolly Ki Doli are a reflection of it. Arbaaz Khan, who made a male dominated Dabangg, is making a woman-oriented Dolly Ki Doli with me. So, people are investing money on women-oriented projects. When I signed Raanjhanaa with Dhanush, there was a lot of negative reaction from the industry. But when you make difficult choices and it pays off, that’s a huge thing. In terms of money, yes, male actors get paid more. But women today have to make that choice, because we’re trying to propagate change.
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Farah Khan, Film director/ Choreographer
I definitely feel that women professionals get equal opportunities and salaries in Bollywood. No department (except for heroines) is gender baised. Men and women are treated equally as long as they know their job and are good at it. Women get paid equally well as their male counterparts. In fact, I get paid much more than male directors and more than male choreographers when I choreograph a song.
Saroj Khan, Choreographer
Women can do wonders if they decide to. I have just finished working on an all-women film made by a Spanish team with Nandita Das in the lead. I started off as a shy 14-year-old, but managed to gain respect with time, when I became quite bold to take on the jobs that men were doing. But I must say that while men shirk certain duties, women will do their job diligently. Earlier, choreographers were treated like amateurs and were easily ‘replaceable’. But when I composed Ek do teen for Tezaab, everything changed for good. It brought respect to all the choreographers. From being paid Rs.15,000 per song, I began demanding a lakh post Ek do teen. Choreographers began getting paid well and a category for choreography was included in the awards. Gender bias will continue to prevail, my advice to women is they should continue to fight for their rights, be it in any field.
Shilpa Rao, Singer
Fortunately, music has become very artiste oriented, and places everyone on the same map, irrespective of their gender. It’s great to be a professional in a time where if you are a good artist and performer, you do well for yourself. We get equal opportunities today, whether it is to do with salaries or assignments as they are directly proportional to our work and efforts to do varied work. I may have faced challenges as an artist, but definitely not as a woman in the industry. I work on a project if I am the perfect choice for it. Simple!
Neha Parti Matiyani, Cinematographer
I started out as an assistant to cinematographer Ravi K. Chandran, and I have never faced any discrimination or gender bias. Undoubtedly, my male counterparts found it easier to get independent jobs, while it took me a few months more to land my first independent film. Since cinematography is a physically challenging job, the general mindset is that as a woman she will be unable to handle it. But, the trend is changing slowly and steadily, and now we have more women joining the profession. So, I guess we are breaking through the grassroots. Unfortunately, we have to prove herself constantly, that we are good at our work for people to believe in us. I, too, had to prove my mettle with a small budget film (Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge) produced by Y-Films, before Yash Raj Films offered me a mainstream production like Bewakoofiyaan. It’s like going through a test to survive in the industry and if judged good, you survive.
Dolly Ahluwalia, Costume designer
Women definitely get good opportunities in the film industry today. It could be a professional in any department – be it dress designing or choreography. We are in a position to give creative inputs and our decisions are valued. The industry has given me my space and dignity. The challenge a woman has to tackle in the present scenario, is the male ego. We all work with several men and at times, their ego gets hurt when they have to take instructions from a woman. But if the woman puts her foot down, they know she means business. Women do have their physical limitations, but if we are determined and honest, the sky is the limit.
Juhi Chaturvedi, Writer
As a writer, I have not faced any gender bias. People would generally not want to mess with us, as they want a good story. But actresses face a tough time in trying to prove themselves. Aspersions are cast if an actress becomes successful. Somewhere, we have forgotten how to treat our women with dignity and respect. Women are not afraid of competition, but fear the perceptions created about them. For instance, when I go for a narration with the director, more often than not, any query regarding the story will be addressed to the director. They hesitate to make eye contact with a woman. Except for a handful of women directors like Zoya Akhtar, Farah Khan, Kiran Rao, who have made their mark, how many women assistant directors have progressed into becoming full-fledged directors? Although, things are changing,there should be more women calling the shots. This can only happen if we change the way we perceive women.
Deepa Bhatia, Film editor
The fact that we have so many of us, like Namrata Rao, Aarti Bajaj, Hemanti Sarkar, and many more doing such interesting work (in the editing department), speaks for itself. The film business is a democratic one, so if you’re doing good work, that’s what matters. The only distinction is good and bad. There’s no discrimination between a man or a woman, at least as far as the technical departments are concerned. The disparity is evident when it comes to actors, because it’s a male-dominated industry in terms of the reach to the audience. If at all there are challenges for women, then I’ll say it from the point of view of a mother, it is to strike a balance between family and work. In my case, most directors have been respectful if I say that I have to go home early because my son has his exams. Men don’t have that kind of pressure. But I think these challenges also make me more discliplined in my work, in the sense that I work more hard and gets things done in a shorter period of time because I know I have something to go back to. So, I think the challenge is in trying to get that balance for a lot of us, who have children and family to look after.”
Anvita Dutt Guptan, Lyricist
Women working in various departments within the industry are empowered. I personally believe that as a lyricist, you don’t get work based on your gender, it is your talent that gets an upper hand. People sign you for a project depending on your work, so there is no room for discrimination. More than gender discrimination, the main challenge for every artist is to get better with each project and prove your mettle.”
Compiled by Geety Sahgal, Namita Nivas, Farida Khanzada, Priya Adivarekar and Ankita R. Kanabar