Women Directors in Indian cinema – PART I

    As filmmakers, women date back to World War I, but in terms of numbers, they are minimal. If and when auteur critics and film scholars turn to the study of women directors, they typically look for ways in which women directors conform to or diverge from patterns followed by men directors. With the Western tradition of dividing human nature in dual but parallel streams, attributes traditionally associated with the masculine are valued, studied and articulated, while those associated with the feminine tend to be ignored.Male directors shift genres more smoothly and fluidly than their female counterparts. Judith Mayne observes that “surprisingly little attention has been paid to the function and position of the woman director.” In fact, the entire concept of authorship itself, traced back to Cahiers du Cinema’s auteur theory transported from France to England, and America, is historically encumbered with patriarchal overtones. Kaja Silverman has stated that Roland Barthes, while announcing the “death of the author”, sought to elide not only the author as an institution, but also as the occupant of an exclusively male position.



    A few elements that bring women directors in India together are:

    (a) a bias towards ethnicity in terms of plot and theme;
    (b) reliance on following a narrative structure often based on literary works;
    (c) subtle and direct attempts to celebrate womanhood;
    (d) a strong and bold depiction of sensual feelings and relationships between a man and a woman beyond the parameters of socially sanctioned bonds;
    (e) some conscious or unconscious tendency to present men in the negative light.
    Technically, Indian women directors reveal –

    (i) an obsession with capturing the physical detail of each mise-en-scene,

    (ii) stronger emphasis on characterisation than on incidents,

    (iii) Imaginative camerawork that explores the visual space within each frame,

    (iv) Strong bias towards setting, period, locale and the socio-physical backdrop to define the context of the story/plot/theme,

    (v) Use of ‘mood’ music for the background score, and

    (vi) No noticeable tendency to experiment with an anti-narrative structure within cinema.

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    Shoma Chatterji
    Shoma A. Chatterji is a senior journalist, film scholar and author based in India. She specialises in Indian Cinema, has won the National Award for Best Writing in Cinema twice. She has done her P.Hd and post-doctoral research on Indian cinema. She has authored 24 books of which more than half are on cinema.


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