Women Directors in Indian cinema – PART II


    The New World of Women

    Among the virtual ‘flooding’ of the ocean of directors are names like Reema Kagti who is successfully striding across mainstream cinema in recent times, having debuted with the delightfully entertaining Honeymoon Travels Private Limited,  Meghna Gulzar whose output is far from prolific but significant all the same, Leena Yadav who began with a thud with Shabd but recently drew attention with her latest film Parched, Ashwini Iyer Tiwari who drew excellent reviews for the out-of-the-box film Neel Battey Sannata followed by Bareilly Ki Barfi this year, Zoya Akhtar who made a brilliant debut with Luck By Chance followed by the thumping hit Zindagi Na Miley Dobara, Farah Khan who refuses to leave the mainstream orbit never mind whether her films click or do not but finally met her happy ending with Om Shanti Om, Nandita Das whose first film Firaaq made a lot of noise at international film festivals is being followed with Manto, her biopic on the famous author Sadat Hasan Manto and Alankrita Srivastava who raised a hornet’s nest among the CBFC higher-ups with her maiden directorial film Lipstick Under My Burkha. Konkona Sharma made her directorial debut with Death in the Gunje with great promise of better things to come which she has done with a few short films. The directors of the “New Brigade” if we call them that are educated, trained and bold enough to step both into a territory dominated by men as well as explore radical issues within the gender question. Let us take a closer look.

    Nandita Das

    “The journey of making Firaaq gave me the opportunity to express my concerns and beliefs. It has been a cathartic experience. It has pushed my boundaries and helped me grow both professionally and personally. I chose an ensemble structure because in mass violence there are no individual heroes or villains. When thousands have suffered, the suffering of only one person cannot be glorified. I wanted to explore the conflicting and complex emotions of fear, anxiety, prejudice and ambivalence in human relationships during times of crisis.  The challenges for me lay in making a rooted and contextual film and yet garner a universal audience. I wanted to provide the necessary realism and the universality of emotions that would make people across cultures relate to it,” said Nandita Das, who evolved from being an actress across cultures and directors, about her rationale for making a film on such a sensitive issue.

    Firaaq is like a celluloid anthology that carves a niche in the minds of the audience for capturing and freezing in time, moving images of the anger and anguish of personal responses to the Gujarat catastrophe. A recurring motif through Firaaq is the uncertainty that dogs the Muslim identity. It is not a happy metaphor, but one cannot escape its reality. Firaaq scans the lives of a few people over 24 hours, one month after the Gujarat carnage took place in March 2002 taking away between 3000 and 5000 lives. It exposes the underbelly of a city on the verge of moral and physical collapse where, Hindu or Muslim, some minds and many bodies are damaged forever. A few look around to take stock of their bearings in this changed scenario of hate, danger and uncertainty to move ahead, come what may.

    In her second film Manto, she takes a big leap to excellence and international recognition what with the film having been screened at the Cannes in the Un Certain Regard section. Manto is based on a segment of the life of Saadat Hasan Manto, one of the most controversial writers who migrated to Pakistan and died at a relatively young age. Nawazuddin Siddique has firmly entrenched himself in the film in the title role of Manto.  “But he did a significant role in my first film Firaaq when no one knew him,” says, Das. She has given him a completely new look with a wavy haircut and period pair of glasses. Those who have watched the film, heap praises on it.

    Konkona Sen Sharma

    Aparna Sen’s daughter Konkona Sen Sharma is a brilliant actress. She stepped into films to become a director but found herself turning into an actor of no mean merit. It took her years to make her directorial debut with A Death in the Ganj. The director, on a nostalgic trip back to her childhood, revisits a small town called McCluskieganj where she would join her parents for brief holidays till they sold the house. The time-frame is seven days just before the New Year way back in 1979.

    The director structures the film opening with two young men with 1979 haircuts and jackets discussing without emotion how to pack a dead body in the dickey of their old Ambassador. The camera’s perspective is from inside the dickey as if the dead person is looking at them from below. The film closes with the two men inside the car driving away.

    A Death in the Ganj is lyrical in its portrayal of a small town distanced from the madding crowds, yet it conveys a palpable sense of imminence. It involves a constant sense of motion – emotional, psychological and at times, even physical that follows the track towards the unavoidable tragedy in the end. Take a bow Konkona, you have given us a niche film targeted at a niche audience, true; but you have not tried to shy away from your refusal to compromise and making a film that is entirely “out of the box”.

    Meghna Gulzar

    Born to two distinguished parents Gulzar and Raakhee, Meghna Gulzar has the cinema in her genes and has made a mark with her somewhat radical subjects. Her first film Filhaal (2002) explored the rather fragile issue of surrogate motherhood. Though it had reasonably good actors, it did not do well at the box office but established Meghna as a director who thinks and treats her films differently. Her short film Puranmasi (2007) a part of Dus Kahaniyan, was a touching story of an innocent mother’s tragedy for being misunderstood by her own daughter.

    Just Married (2007) was quite mainstream with some lovely songs but somehow, it failed to get the message of arranged marriage across and did not do well at the box office. Talvar (2015) had a political agenda. Though it was a professionally sophisticated and enriched with excellent acting, in essence, it appeared to be a planned strategy to whitewash the guilt of the parents of a teenaged girl who were imprisoned for having murdered their only child. This was based on a true story that was covered by the media extensively. Soon after the release of the film, the parents were released and cleared of the accusations of murder. The film was slickly made and shot inside an apartment with very little camera movement outdoors.

    Meghna’s most outstanding film is Raazi released recently to rave reviews and packed theatres. Packaged glamorously and mounted lavishly, Raazi is technically a finished product. But what enriches the audience is the story of the diabolic and strategic manipulation of a young girl to initiate her into espionage, brainwashing her with the dictum “motherland first and then yourself.” The realistic acting is mind-blowing especially when the young woman stands confused between her responsibility as a spy and her growing love for her unsuspecting husband. Even the marriage is a manipulation where the girl, based on a true story, is not even asked whether she would like to become a spy or not even by her own father!

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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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