A delegation of actors, producers and directors walks into Raj Bhavan to discuss the problems of the Hindi film industry with the prime minister. There are no women in the delegation. It would have been easy to dismiss this as a poor joke had it not been on us. Last week, at the interaction with the PM, 18 of Bollywood’s most high-profile men, including actors Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn, producers Bhushan Kumar, Siddharth Roy Kapur and Ronnie Screwvala, Central Board of Film Certification chief Prasoon Joshi, and director Karan Johar discussed policies and problems in what Kumar tweeted was a fruitful exchange on “issues pertaining to the industry”. Only, in its exclusion of women as equal stakeholders, the manel, much like a previous one that had met the PM in October, threw into focus the ingrained patriarchy in India’s largest show business.
modi meets bollywood, akshay kumar meets modi, narendra modi, Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn, Bhushan Kumar, Siddharth Roy Kapur, Ronnie Screwvala, Prasoon Joshi, Karan Johar, Alankrita Srivastava, Guneet Monga, Dia Mirza Sandhya Mridul, Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra
Rightly, women directors and actors such as Alankrita Srivastava, Guneet Monga, Dia Mirza and Sandhya Mridul have called out the men on this exclusionary politics on social media. As in any other industry, in Bollywood, too, women have broken the glass ceiling and claimed their spot under the sun. From Fatma Begum, often considered to be the first female director in the industry with her 1926-film Bulbule Paristan, to Srivastava, who fought a protracted battle with the CBFC to release her film, Lipstick Under My Burkha, in theatres in 2016, women in the industry will tell you that the fight has been long and hardscrabble, and victory, mostly bittersweet. The #MeToo narrative has thrown open the gender disparity in the industry through accounts of harassment by directors such as Vinta Nanda. But, still, these women have persisted. For every Deepika Padukone or Priyanka Chopra whose brand value matches that of their male counterparts, and who have crores riding on them, there are also those behind the scenes, who have quietly and consistently pushed for more. Names such as Hetal Dedhia, Bollywood’s first female gaffer, Shanoo Sharma, one of the industry’s most successful casting directors, or make-up artiste Charu Khurana, who moved court for women to be allowed into the Cine Costume, Make-up Artists and Hairdressers Association — that had been the sole preserve of men till as recently as 2014 — may or may not be familiar to the industry watcher, but these women have managed to forge paths where there have been none and made a success of their journeys.
To leave such women out of the narrative that will shape the future of the industry is not just unjust but also a failure of foresight — a refusal to acknowledge that the time for equal opportunities is urgently and immediately upon us.