Women Directors in Indian cinema – PART II

    Women directing films within Bollywood are increasing every day. But they still remain a small fraction of the larger horizon dominated by male directors because here too, the numbers are rising both within the national mainstream and regional cinema. Nevertheless, they form a significant minority in terms of the substance, the issues and the content of their films. A few of them have consciously stepped into mainstream cinema, entirely a male domain, instead of focussing only on woman-centric subjects and issues. The emergence of women directors at the turn of the 21st century has seen some women directing alongside men as co-directors such as Sumitra Bhave and Sunil Sukhtankar who always direct together, or, Shiboprosad Mukherjee and Nandita Roy who are very successful in the commercial mainstream and so on. But most of them are confined to regional cinema. For logistical purposes, this analysis will keep them out of purview. So, with Indian women directors who define “The Other” as they work outside Indian shores with foreign funding and often, foreign technicians, are also excluded from this study.  Among these are Mira Nair, Deepa Mehta, Pamela Rooks and so on because they belong to a different culture and their perceptions on exclusively Indian subjects are tinged with the “outsider’s” viewpoint on the Indian condition.

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    Farah Khan

    Farah Khan has no qualms about making out-and-out mainstream films complete with wonderful song-dance numbers which are a throwback to her long track record as a very successful choreographer. Her debut film Main Hoon Na (2004) was produced by Shahrukh Khan’s  Red Chillies Entertainment. It boasted a very good acting cast and though it did not quite get its message across, it drew packed theatres all the same.

    This was followed by Om Shanti Om (2007). This film combined several genres – family drama, war, and espionage, lots of music and dance and romance through two couples that spelt out its director’s objective of making mainstream films with lots of, masalas. Though it drew several complaints and led to court cases, the film turned out to be a big hit filled with lovely songs and an audience-friendly story of a young man’s struggle to become a star in Bollywood. This is married to murder, reincarnation, music and dance, and a story of immortal love across two generations harking back to Bimal Roy’s biggest hit Madhumati.

    She manages to draw in producers willing to put in very good money for her high-end projects though the films after OSO such as Tees Maar Khan (2010) was a flop and Happy New Year (2014) was really a bad film. But she keeps on moving and is not one to be stopped by disappointments.

    Alankrita Srivastava

    Young Alankrita Srivastava, who directed Lipstick Under My Burkha turned the tables on sex being the exclusive domain of men, an extremely patriarchal mindset by making four very ordinary women the subjects of their sexual choices manifested differently.

    This film openly and without embarrassment explores not only the woman’s sexuality but also the ingenious and devious ways women invent to try and fulfil their sexual and other desires clandestinely, using the veil to their advantage and the lipstick for their satisfaction in a way they like to and not because they are forced to. “It boils down to the suppression of sex or abuse of the woman across the patriarchal map so the sexual desire of women seeped naturally into the script.

    I or my scriptwriter did not forcefully impose it into the film,” says Alankrita who has set the film against the backdrop of Lucknow, a historic city where Hindus and Muslims live together in peace and harmony.

    Conclusion

    In the ultimate analysis, it is fair to state that these women have the power, the insight and the talent to move beyond modes of expression prevalent within a patriarchal ideology. Yet, it is also true that, in an environment where certain forms of representation are culturally dominant, (such as mainstream cinema or parallel cinema directed by men), alternative forms have a tendency to be interpreted as a challenge to dominant forms, even if they are not challenging, either by intention, or by accident.

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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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