Why aren't there more women composers in Bollywood?

Music composer Usha Khanna

"When I became a music director, not many girls were interested in this field. Everybody wanted to be a heroine for the glamour factor. I guess that was the reason why women are not in the field even now," Usha Khanna, the only successful woman composer in Bollywood so far, said over phone from Mumbai.
Khanna, who worked in Bollywood for almost three decades, made her debut as a music composer with the 1959 film "Dil Deke Dekho". She became famous by composing songs like "Chodo kal ki baatein", "Shaayad meri shaadi ka khayal", "Zindagi pyaar ka geet hai" and "Agar tum na hote" among others that went on to become chartbusters.
Khanna was quite active as a composer until the mid-1990s and her last film as a composer was the 2003 release "Dil Pardesi Ho Gaya".
After her, Sneha Khanwalkar was noticed for tunes in the Abhay Deol-starrer "Oye Lucky! Kucky Oye!"
"I wonder why women are not coming and taking up music direction as a profession. Definitely, it is a very creative field and tough too since you have to juggle a lot of things together. But I believe that women are good with that and possess those skills. So capability is not an issue here," said Khanwalkar, who is in her 20s and is one of the youngest composers in the industry.

According to Sajid Ali of composer duo Sajid-Wajid, music direction remained a male-dominated profession because there weren't many women who wanted to cross the barrier.
"The problem is that nobody attempts to break what has been the norm for years and years now. In the olden days, not many girls were allowed to come out and sing and perform and this lack of opportunity prevented them from becoming a music director," he said.
For singer Sukhwinder, who has sung hits like "Chaiyyan chaiyyan", "Dar-de-disco" and Oscar winning song "Jai Ho" in "Slumdog Millionaire", the gender gap in music direction is surprising.

"It's surprising that we don't have women composers in Bollywood. Women are sensitive and creative. Something that is needed to make music, so it is quite strange why more women are not taking up this profession. Maybe timings are a constraint," he said.
Asked if he would be comfortable working with a woman composer, Sukhwinder was quick to reply: "How does it make a difference whether it's a male or a female? If the composition is good and the poetry is meaningful, I would go by the merit of the song and not the gender of the composer."
Commenting on the gender divide, Khanwalkar said: "I didn't face any hindrances because I'm a woman. Filmmakers just want to know whether you are on the same plane as them; that's it."

Khanna added: "Initially when I entered, there were doubts about whether I will be able to do the job or not, not because I was a woman but because I was just 17-years-old then. But I cleared all doubts through my work. I never faced any kind of discrimination or bias in my entire career."

While Khanwalkar and Khanna are the only known women composers in the Hindi film industry, the first woman to try her hand at composing music was Jaddan Bai, the mother of noted actress Nargis.
In 1935, Jaddan Bai made a film "Talash-e-Haq" and composed the music for it too. It was the legendary singer K.L. Saigal who had noticed her talent and encouraged her.

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