Out of the 198 films to be screened this year at the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival with Star, 58 are by female filmmakers, which is not even one-third of the total participants. While the percentage has gone up by four per cent from 2016, the year the festival was revived under a new team – out of 209 films, 43 were by female filmmakers – the current ratio proves the need for higher women representation in a skewed industry can never be emphasised enough.
It becomes imperative even more at film festivals, which are designed to promote alternate voices and empower stories less heard. So, as the 21st edition of the festival begins, indianexpress.com turns its eyes at five female directors whose upcoming films at MAMI have already gotten everyone talking.
Gitanjali Rao (Bombay Rose)
Even when the going got tough, not for a single moment did filmmaker-animator Roy think to leave animation and pursue the “easier” live-action films. And it’s perhaps the result of her perseverance of over six years that ended up in Bombay Rose, her first feature animation film, set to make its Indian premiere at the Mumbai film festival.
“It’s a very long process. Right from 2011-12, I was working on a story for a feature and many ideas came and went. There were three characters from three different places in India but what happens to them when they come to Bombay that story kept developing and evolving over a period of time. Rose is the connecting factor in the love stories in the film. The ideation took six years but when it came to executing it, I finished the film in record time of 18 months.”
Rao began her career with animation short, Printed Rainbow, in 2006 and has since then directed shorts like Chai, The Love Story and Shorts. She tells indianexpress.com it’s as fun as tiring to continue making animation films in a country, which is yet to exploit the potential of the format.
“We have to compete with Bollywood, Disney, Pixar and we are not even given any kind of state support so it has been very difficult but it’s fun to take up the challenge in a way that if we don’t do it then there is very little chance. Bombay Rose will help that image to change from the producers’ side. It has to start from there. People need to start having confidence in it and putting money into it.”
Seema Pahwa (Ram Prasad ki Tehrvi)
Actor Seema Pahwa had earlier decided to write an article about this story of a family that comes together for the funeral of its patriarch. But years of living with it, since her father’s death, made her realise it was meant for the screen.
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“I had thought that I would write an article about it but then the story, its characters started getting developed and I started enjoying it. I didn’t take more than 15 days to write it because when you have clear thoughts, it doesn’t take much time to put pen to paper,” says Pahwa, whom the audience has seen acting for more than three decades now.
This, however, was an unplanned directorial debut, courtesy her director friends, who “betrayed” her at the last moment. “Once I had written it, I went to my various filmmaker friends and asked them to direct it but they ditched me! They told me that this was my story and only I was the right person to tell it.” And here she is, now gearing up for the film’s premiere at MAMI.
“I keep thinking about relationships. This incident happened years ago when my father passed away. I observed that time that how we only lie to each other in a family and how there’s a deep meaning behind this behaviour. We force ourselves to maintain relationships. But relationships need effort. They can’t sustain without it. This stayed with me for a long time…,” she describes Ram Prasad ki Tehrvi, which boasts of actors like Konkona Sensharma, Naseeruddin Shah, Vikrant Massey and Pahwa herself.
Arati Kadav (Cargo)
A demon running a post-death transition service in a spaceship might sound wacky to many, but it’s just a part of debut filmmaker Arati Kadav’s imagination. “I have grown up reading mythology, even writing stories around it in school. I was deeply influenced by it. And because I was really inclined towards science, I studied Computer Science. When I started working, I realised I wanted to use science as a medium of expression. I wanted to tell stories that were inventive.”
That’s what led her to Cargo, her debut feature film starring Shweta Tripathi and Vikrant Massey. “This film is a culmination of seven years of struggle. Cargo is my sixth screenplay. I was working on a short sci-fi film and I realised that in this genre it is very important to control the look so I had to minimise it all.
“I thought I would go for a spaceship and at that time I had written a story of a superhero in a spaceship. Then my interest in mythology came in. I like to juxtapose life with death. I like to play with duality. I was already toying with the idea of bringing out mythology and making it more high tech for today’s generation,” says the writer-filmmaker, who previously directed shorts like Time Machine and Gulmohar.
Cargo, jointly produced by Kadav, Anurag Kashyap, Shlok Sharma, and Navin Shetty. is touted as India’s first sci-fi film and its helmer knows the responsibilities that come with it. “When you start a sci-fi film, when I started, I was alone. So at that time I would hope that things don’t fall apart. That’s why you work harder. If there’s a spaceship, it should look convincing. It should be well researched and there should be enough material in it to make it look authentic,” she says.
Sapna Bhavnani (Sindhustan)
Little did celebrity hairstylist Sapna Bhavnani know that a chance meeting with a group of Fakirs at a music concert would spark a journey, both personal and professional. “When I saw that group of Fakirs from Sindh perform, I wondered that this is where I come from and I didn’t know it had such rich culture. I went back home googled Sindh for the first time and it opened my eyes to so much about my roots and origin.” Sindhustan is a documentary that let the debut filmmaker explore Sindhi culture, the pre and post partition era through conversations with Sindhis across the world and her love for tattoos.
Bhavnani got both her legs inked with various findings about the community and its history to bear of the story of Sindhustan in a literal sense. “You have to be insane to do something like this. I can’t recognise my own legs now. I am a bearer of stories now. Wherever I keep my feet, my stories will follow.”
Bhavnani has written, directed and produced the documentary, which she was an exhaustive but a rewarding experience as it has transformed her completely as a person. “When I spoke to my grandmother and other people, who had to leave their homes after partition, and I saw them smiling, I felt so stupid. It made me question my anger. I didn’t have to lose anything and yet, I was so angry all the time. These people lost it all, and here they are, smiling like children! If you want to tell stories it has to come from a place of love.”
Tannishtha Chatterjee (Roam Rome Mein)
Tannishtha Chatterjee- the actor- is used to glory. She has been enthralling the audience with her performances for more than 15 years now (Monsoon Shootout, Parched, Brick Lane), and even as she turned director, fame continues to get pulled towards her. Her directorial debut, Roam Rome Mein, due for its Indian premiere at MAMI, has won an award at Busan International Film Festival a few weeks ago.
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Excited to announce that my movie #RoamRomeMein, is the official selection for #BusanInternationalFilmFestival! The movie also marks the directorial debut of my dear friend @tannishtha_c @erosnow #RRMinBusan #FrancescoApollini #AndreaScarduzio #ValentinaCorti @RidhimaLulla @talwarisha @magiciffilms @rse_pl @ravi_walia007
But the film wasn’t possible without its share of initial hiccups. The debut filmmaker has admitted in an interview that it was “really tough” to get financiers for Roam Rome Mein, which she calls a search film. As her statement to the press goes, “It is a feminist film with a male actor.” It stars Nawazuddin Siddiqui, whom Tannishtha acted alongside in Lion (2016). It was also on the film set that both the actors spoke about collaborating with each other on another project, albeit they didn’t realise it would happen in the next two years.
“I wanted to make a very feminist film with a male protagonist that shifts something in me through a life-changing experience. Putting… internalizing that perspective, represented through the outside experiences in his journey. So, he goes through that journey,” she said in an interview.
Roam Rome Mein also features an international cast of Valentina Corti, writer-actor Francesco Apolloni, Andrea Scarduzio and Urbano Barberini.