As Kerala Minister AK Balan was reading out his speech announcing the winners of the prestigious Kerala State Film Awards on Thursday in Thiruvananthapuram, he slightly stressed on the fact regarding the presence of women in the film industry. He noted that of 110 films that were considered for the awards, 58 films were made by newcomers, and there was just one film, which was directed by a woman. The statistic coming out on a day when the world celebrates women’s achievements across the history and nations is ironic. And it reminds us of how little progress that we have made when it comes empowering women in the film industry.
There was a time when the film industry firmly believed that films with women in the lead cast would never make as much money as the films that have male actors. Not just the filmmakers in India, the majority of the world drank to that chauvinistic belief. Women were reduced to an eye candy, a fancy set piece and plot device used to feed the masculine and aggressive persona of the leading men. The situation is not any different today, but of late we had a few women artistes who have been rewriting the rules of engagement of the film industry for good.
Who would have thought in their wildest dreams that a superheroine movie Wonder Women would bring in a collection of $821.8 million globally? Who would have thought that Wonder Woman would give the much-needed break to the Warner Bros and DC Extended Universe after they were disappointed by their iconic superheroes Batman and Superman (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice)?
Not that we all ended up being happy and applauded as popular chauvinistic perception about non-viability of women at the box office were shattered. Some had to body-shame Gal Gadot over her cleanly shaven armpits and other physical attributes. That’s a different story for another piece.
That said, the global success of Wonder Woman goes onto show that unlike what we have been fed by the inferior men, women stories do have a large and wide market.
Now the problem is the world expects men to create memorable roles for women. While a few good men are doing their best to empower women characters on big screen, we still need more women in business to achieve the desired results. We need more and more women directors, screenwriters, camerapersons, producers who can present the stories of their gender with much more specifics and nuances, in a way that male directors can never do.
The chances are if a man had directed Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot may have never landed her career-defining role because the director might not have been convinced by the physical attributes. Director Patty Jenkins knew what she wanted in her Wonder Woman. Not the oomph factor but a quality of innate innocence and a strong personality.
A male director can never make a film like Lipstick Under My Burkha. Director Alankrita Shrivastava would agree. English Vinglish may not have been so moving if it was helmed by a man. A man is fairly incapable of being so observant to capture on camera the emotions that matter. The emotions that tell us all, without the character in the frame uttering a word. It takes a woman director like Gauri Shinde.
We have many women in Hindi to make unpretentious and accurate women-centric films but just a handful down south.
In Tamil, we are celebrating Nayanthara as the ‘Lady Superstar’, a title she earned for her successful track record at the box office. Director Doss Ramasamy wrote horror story Dora with a male protagonist in mind. Following the success of Maya, he changed the gender of the protagonist and roped in Nayanthara. In Aramm, director Gopi Nainar has Nayanthara doing hand gestures and slomos similar to what we’ve seen male actors do in similar scenarios.
In Vikram Vedha, Varalaxmi Sarathkumar’s Chandra slaps her boyfriend, who slaps her. If Gayathri had not co-authored the film, Chandra may not have been allowed to trade slaps with a man on screen.
In Aruvi, having a women protagonist makes director-writer Arun Prabhu’s job easy in demonstrating the society’s habit of preying on the weak at the drop of a hat. The film is more about how the city pollutes Aruvi. The director has managed to only scratch the surface when narrating specifics of Aruvi’s problems and her feelings.
Even men with great noble intentions, fall short when it comes to capturing the little details that make a huge difference and leaves everlasting impressions. We need more ladies, who understand that if you want something to get done, you should ‘do it yourself’.
Dear ladies, so stop waiting for men to write interesting and meaty roles for you.