They are usually (and unnecessarily) described as ‘women filmmakers’ but a host of new, young directors with sharp voices are making their mark this year and the next. Besides the three talented women profiled here (two of whom, incidentally, are from Delhi’s St Stephen’s College), there are four others who are almost ready with their new releases:
Kiran Rao debuts in 2011 with
releases next month
Zoya Akhtar is currently shooting her second feature film
Zindagi Milege Na Dobara
Tees Mar Khan
is due this year
It’s not been an easy ride for Anusha Rizvi, Rajshree Ojha or Sona Jain (just like it hasn’t been a a cakewalk for the others), but while they all agree on the gender bias within Bollywood, they also agree that they can crack a whip on set just as hard as any man.
Director: For Real, Release date : September 17, 2010
Earlier work: Vasarma’s Lovers (12 min), Krishen Khanna: My Life (docu)
“That was 2001. It’s been nine years and finally my film will release next month. If anyone had told me it was going to be so hard, because I am not from a filmi background and do not have deep pockets, I would not have started For Real.” Written, produced and directed by Jain, the English language film For Real is the story of an unhappy family seen through the unique perspective of a six-year-old girl.
The film stars Sarita Choudhury, Zoya S Hasan and Adil Hussain. “I am a student of world cinema and that is where I see my sensibility. I know it’s a tough journey but I feel someone should document the story of urban India and the people the way they really are, for real. Like Peepli [Live] – thank god someone is showing real people,” says Jain for whom film is an art and not a profession.
On facing a gender bias, she says, “When people see my film they are shocked that I am the director. Vishal Bhardwaj said he was shocked that it was made by someone who is not married because it was as if the camera had been placed in a married person’s bedroom. On set, I am much the boss and if someone has a problem working with a woman, that’s their problem.”
Once For Real, an independent film being released by PVR, is out, Jain will begin work on her next feature, tentatively titled Delhi Aah, the story of five very different Delhi wallas. She has also written a romcom called Rishtey Hi Rishtey being directed by Amitabh Shukla. “I am releasing my film here, but I am a fish out of water.
I know my film will make money for my investors and I will shoot my next film next year. People say a film with a female character nahin chalegi. I don’t understand talk like that and I don’t get affected by it,” says Jain.
Director: Peepli [Live], Released: August 13, 2010
Earlier work: Documentary films
As a 21-year-old History graduate from St Stephen’s College, Delhi, Anusha Rizvi thought there could be “nothing better than working with Prannoy Roy at NDTV.” After four years, she was sure that her heart lay elsewhere – in
documentary filmmaking, to be precise. In the last seven years she has worked on films on the farmers’ cooperative movement, made a piece of docu-fiction on the hijacking of flight 814 and put together a documentary on Naya Theatre.
Along with her husband Mahmood Farooqui, writer and co-director of Peepli [Live], she has also been working to revive Dastangoi, the art of storytelling in Urdu, and written and directed her first feature film. Thanks to the marketing muscle of producer Aamir Khan, Natha, the farmer who resolves to commit suicide in Peepli [Live], has become a celebrity character.
Before its release in India, this satire on the urban-rural divide travelled to the Sundance, Berlin and Durban film festivals. “Some farmers attended the screening at Sundance, which was most unexpected, and they said they felt connected with the film as it is something they also go through,” says Rizvi. The humour, she says, is not a tool to reach audiences, but a natural corollary to its setting.
“The effort was to be rooted and rural India does have a rude-crude humour. It is part of their language and therefore a part of our film. And if you a start a film with the elder brother telling the younger one ‘tu kar le,’ you can’t really do it with a straight face.”
Getting Aamir Khan on board was a fluke, almost. Rizvi emailed him at the end of 2004 and was surprised to get a reply the very next day. “I don’t know why he replied. I think in filmmaking, a lot of it is timing,” she says. Khan provided sound advice to the debutant who admits her greatest challenge was technical aspects.
“One of the things Aamir did was give us the camera 10 days in advance so we could experiment with the lenses. He also dissuaded me from developing a storyboard, saying it would restrict me. Therefore we had to concentrate a lot more on what we had available on set.”
Now that her first feature is out, Rizvi plans to take a deep breath before giving her next step some serious thought. She takes the label of ‘woman filmmaker’ in her stride saying: “We are such an oddity that our gender must be specified. The gender divide is in everything – why not filmmaking, which is very conservative anyway?
It used to irk me but now I think, what is the point of having an attitude about it? My advice to other women is that it’s best to work around it. One way to do that is to be a tough taskmaster.”
Released: August 6, 2010
Earlier work: Badger (2002, short film), Chaurahen (2007, feature film)
Born in Kolkata, raised in Bangalore, educated in USA and making a career as a director in Mumbai. That is Rajshree Ojha’s journey so far. The 34-year-old who has previously made a short film called Badger and a feature film, Chaurahen, came up with the idea of Indianising Jane Austen’s Emma when she reread the novel while recuperating from a broken leg.
“I thought it would make a fun movie,” says Ojha who had American romcoms in mind. “I had returned to India after 10 years in the US, and I was faced with matchmaking, marriage talks, class system. It was a culture shock.” Ojha’s favourite character in the book is Emma because “she is so grey – you like her on one page and want to throttle her on the next page.
But every Indian woman has experienced the arranged marriage / meetings phase where the man must be well-read, of good social standing, with a healthy bank balance – like looking for Mr Knightley.” Reactions to the film have been varied. Ojha says, “People have either loved it or hated it – which is interesting and surprising. I set out to make a fun, frolicsome film, not something serious.
But I’m not sure what people were expecting.” She accepts that as a first-time Bollywood filmmaker, she did make some compromises, but, she adds, “I stand by my work. I am the director, I take responsibility for it. But I will be more cautious of what I do.” When asked about rumours of interference in the making of Aisha by the producers, she just laughs and says, “I would rather not comment on that.”
Ask her how she feels being labelled a ‘woman filmmaker,’ rather than just a filmmaker, and she says, “It’s not been an easy journey. People would look at my script and assume that it is a ‘woman’s issue-based film’ or they would compare me to other women in the industry. People would mention the art-house directors and ask ‘where are they now?’ And I’d mention Farah Khan, and how she has paved the way. It was like I was in the 19th century, surrounded by men who know everything.”
She is collaborating on two other scripts – a period film set in the 1960s and a romcom set in India. “I hope to continue doing good work!” she says.