Calling the shots

Calling the shots

New-Age Directors

Not any more and with more women directors debuting than ever before, it’s time to take a look at the emerging women directors of India.

While Farah Khan has enjoyed the most commercial success, there is another bunch who have debuted with remarkable films, some even moving on to a second film, and they all have their own distinctive styles, identities. Debutante filmmaker Bela Negi (Daayen ya Baayen) says she feels inspired by “all the women who came in before me, who have made it easier for me to make my film.”

During a recent panel discussion at the MAMI festival in Mumbai, some of these women directors talked about what it is to be a woman director in an industry that still continues to be male dominated. Is there a different set of expectations, is there any condescension faced, is it tougher to raise funds, or is it after all more fun being a woman director? 

It bothers Leena Yadav (Shabd, Teen Patti) that there is an expectation that “a woman director will make a film that is off-beat and has strong women characters.” And it really gets her back up if a producer approaches her saying he has a subject that requires a woman’s touch!


For women directors want to tell stories that they want to tell and not necessarily “softer” films. Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker should be a case in point. Leena Yadav made Shabd because an author’s journey fascinated her. Sooni Taraporevala says that “most first films are about a world you know” and Little Zizou emerged out of “a personal feeling of outrage at the kind of religious fundamentalism that was happening” around her. The scriptwriter of many Mira Nair films knew this was one script that she had to direct herself.

Nandita Das’s Firaaq had the Gujarat 2002 riots as the backdrop and she believes that “violence influences women as much as men, or more.”  On the other hand, Zoya Akhtar’s Luck by Chance happened to be her first film by chance, for although she had many ideas, this was the only script she completed. 

Journalist-turned-filmmaker Anusha Rizvi (Peepli Live) feels that she is not a planned filmmaker. She says, “The story chose me more than anything else and then it had to be this story that I had to tell.”

The story had come to her mind when the Prime Minister announced monetary compensation for families of farmers who had committed suicide. Sona Jain (For Real) agrees with Rizvi that the story comes in a flash and then you need to dedicate yourself to your chosen story.

Being a women director comes with the gender baggage of course but as Zoya points out, “One needs to work with a crew that knows how to treat women.” The discrimination begins early on and Sona Jain believes “getting investors to part with their money is tough, and more so if you are a woman.”

Rajshree Ojha has learnt to live with the fact that “people are more willing to listen to a man” and during the shooting of Aisha, she sometimes asked a male crew member to ask for silence on sets after she had failed. Nandita Das is irked by the fact that people take her desire for a more egalitarian shooting set up as a “woman thing”. But Nandita tackled it all right, the “initial vulnerability of first few days of shoot giving way to a belief that it is all right to be yourself.” 

Anusha rationalises that “a certain condescension and mild flirtation are two things that women face in all workplaces” and one should just accept it, ignore it and move on. Bela finds it amusing that when things happened smoothly during her film’s shoot she would be complimented, “you are just like a man!”

While it irritates Nandita to be told not to “cry like a woman” when she complains about anything, Zoya insists on “being there in all my hormonal glory.” She thinks a woman director should be exactly what she wants to be and “boy, if you can’t handle it, you leave!”

New Icons : Directors Zoya AkhtarPerhaps its easier for a Zoya Akhtar to call shots in a film that is being produced by her brother Farhan Akhtar but most women directors agree that the gender identity is one they are stuck with.

While Anusha talks of the discomfort of being one of the seven women crew members in a 150 member unit, Rajshree says hers was a set where they fought and wept, admired the gorgeous clothes, shoes and men around, and were unapologetic about being women. Zoya says, “I am happy to be a director. Gender doesn’t apply”, adding “but I do take the wardrobe home sometimes!”

Sona feels that women directors like nurturing and extracting strong performances from their characters. Sooni gifted herself Little Zizou on her 50th birthday. These women who have stories to tell and want to tell more of them are finally trapped by the economics versus arts debate.

Nandita says, “The economics of a film interferes with its creative aspect all the time and I cannot relate to my film being called a product.” Perhaps it is not so different whether you are a male or female when you are putting together your project. As Zoya so succinctly sums up, “If you can get an Akshay Kumar, you can be a dog and you will find a producer!”

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