Kathryn Bigelow, the first woman director to win an Oscar, on what ails a woman in a man’s world.
How did it feel to have
The Hurt Lockerbag six Oscars, two for you personally, for Best Motion Picture and Best Director?
It was the best gift I could have ever imagined and I’m overwhelmed by every response I’ve received. There’s no way to describe it. It was the moment of a lifetime!
First woman director to win an Oscar, a BAFTA, a Guild of America Award… Will your pioneering achievement help the cause of women in Hollywood?
Thanks for all the beautiful words but I just think of myself as a filmmaker and wish that some day this gender difference will not be a part of human beings. If I could motivate young blood to tell good stories, I’d be gratified.
Tell us about the impossible genius James Cameron whose wife you were for three years. You even made a movie together,
Strange Days, that he wrote and produced. It’s obvious that he still respects you enough to not mind losing the Oscars to you.
James is a very good friend and was once a partner too. He was so proud of me and I’m just so honoured to be in the same conversation with him. It was an overwhelming experience!
Would the two of you collaborate on another project?
Yes, why not if anything exciting comes up. We are still good friends and I just love his movies.
What did you like best about
I liked James’ every minor detail, his research is phenomenonal. He makes extraordinary films and
was one too. The special effects were magnificent!
s success proves that the audience has given its nod to this new kind of cinema that James has introduced.
When Cameron bagged the Oscar for
Titaniche said, “I feel like the king of the world.” Did you feel like a queen?
I was numb and finally understood what James must have felt then. It was amazing! But I would not be standing there if it wasn’t for Mark Boal who risked his life for the words on the page.
James was in India recently, do you plan to come down too? Have you heard about Bollywood?
Oscar history is known to everyone. Today everyone knows (AR) Rahman and Frieda Pinto too. Bollywood is quite unavoidable. The Middle East gave me nice memories and though I know only a little about India, it will not keep me away from visiting your country for long.
During a recent interview, Mira Nair admitted that Hollywood was still a boy’s club. Would you agree?
Not completely, but to an extent, yes. Last year, female directors knocked out hits like
Alvin And The Chipmunks
Julie & Julia
. And actresses outperformed most of their male counterparts. Still, you can’t deny that it’s really hard to get finance for a movie directed by a female director because the industry thinks that most of them have risen to power by directing (and often writing) films that appeal only to women, whether or not that’s their natural inclination. Of course, that’s not true.
Twenty years as a director and just 10 films. Would the number have gone up had you been a man?
Never! Like James (Cameron) I believe in quality and not numbers. He took 12 years to come up with Avatar. For me, the time period was seven years with
The Hurt Locker
I turned one of journalist — screenwriter Mark Boal’s articles into a TV series —
. That took a fair amount of time. Then, in 2004, two years after
, I learnt that he was going off to Baghdad with a bomb squad. That war had been under-reported and I was hopeful he’d come back with some material worthy of a cinematic translation. He did and we started scripting in 2005, raised the money in 2006, shot in 2007, cut it in 2008, and came to the theatres in 2009. What people don’t realise is how long a film can take in development.
The Middle East is a male-dominated society though Jordan, where you shot, is definitely more progressive. What was it like for you, a woman, filming there?
It was cheaper to shoot in the Middle East and as an independent filmmaker; budget was a major concern. Jordan is a secular, westernised country as compared to Iraq, and in some of the outer neighbourhoods, we received lots of support and receptivity. We filmed one sequence in a Palestinian refugee camp. As soon as we started, a crowd of young guys gathered, rocks were thrown and a few fights broke out. We filmed through it all. They soon realised that we were just doing the same shot, over and over, and started to applaud at the end of each take.
You filmed with a lot of Iraqi refugees including prisoners of war. What’s the plight of women and girl children in these war camps?
I couldn’t get access into the Palestinian war camps but they are more or less the same in every country. There is extreme poverty and lack of resources but at least they are out of the war zone. All of our extras were Iraqi actors and two of them had been prisoners of the Americans in Iraq. Ironically, they played prisoners too in my film. That was surreal — and a little uncomfortable — but they laughed and said that they were happy to work. I was overwhelmed that somehow we could help each other.
How much of the script relived Mark Boal’s experiences as a journalist covering Baghdad?
I tried to do justice with the first hand familiarity of Mark’s dreadful experience there but there were lots of blood scenes in the initial draft that were too violent to show. We finalised the script after 17 drafts.
A lot has been said about Jeremy Renner’s 100- pound bomb suit that he had to wear all day in 115 degrees. How did you cope with the blistering heat?
It was really punishing for Jeremy. I was sensitive to his needs and his oxygen levels but there’s only so much you can do. In June, the temperature was up to 135 degree Fahrenheit and we felt like we were standing in front of an overheated car with the hood up. The blast of hot air hit you all day, everyday.
There’s talk of you doing a
Godzillaremake. Will you go the 3D way too?
What Godzilla? I’m not planning anything in 3D as of now.
The Miraculous Yearand
Shhhhhh... Can’t say anything on them yet.
Okay, one last question: Will you ever direct a simple, fairytale romance?
Incidentally, what is your idea of love?
I would love to direct movies in different genres that would give me a chance to explore my skills. Love is an expression to tell your loved ones how you feel about him or her. It’s a universal experience yet every individual occurrence while bound by a common thread, is absolutely unique. Love is what love is. To everyone, it expresses itself differently.
WORKING WITH LEGENDS
My first feature,
, was William Dafoe’s debut film. It was a stylish ode to the Marlon Brando film,
The Wild One
, and Dafoe gave one of his best performances. He was completely in character. He made even me believe in him.
had Jamie Lee Curtis as a rookie cop. She is a complete sweetheart, a spontaneous actress and quite a talented one too.
I was in a state of shock when I heard that Patrick Schwaze was gone. He was an exceptional actor with a dynamic personality. In my bank robbery film,
, he played the adrenalin guru Bodhi and with glazed eyes and silver-tongued expertise, pulled off a very difficult assignment of being both sane and insane simultaneously.
legend, Harrison Ford, is a man of action and all business who doesn't like to waste a minute on unnecessary star trappings. He tears into each role with the same gusto. He played a tough submarine commander in my movie."I have never faced any bias because of my gender.....I got the kind of respect and pay scale that I did because I knew my job and was good at it."-Farah Khan on the war of the roses
I have never faced any bias because of my gender. Even as a choreographer, I got the kind of respect and pay scale that I did because I knew my job and was good at it. I have worked with all the A-list actors, directed two of the biggest superstars, Shah Rukh Khan and Akshay Kumar, and if anything, I think I’ve got away with a lot of things because I’m a woman.
For the distributors, it makes little difference who directs a film as long as it sells tickets. Man, woman or eunuch, the industry is ready to accept anyone who can deliver the goods.
But yes, there is a lil’ boy’s club, constituted of a handful of male directors. I’ve won awards as a choreographer but as a director I’ve lost out because of these lil’ boys who made up the jury and refused to vote for me. I guess, they feel threatened by a woman who has strayed into their world and churned out bigger hits. At an all-directors’ conference, when there’s a photo op, I’m kept out. They tell me to go stand with the girls. Why should I? Hey, I’m one of the top 10 directors in the industry too! And I have every right to be in the picture.
What sets me apart from other women directors is that unlike several of them who made so-called sensitive and issue-based films, I went full-on commercial with my very first film, Main Hoon Naa. And stayed true to my kind of cinema with my second film, Om Shanti Om, too. I was rewarded with two blockbusters that worked in Bombay, Delhi-UP, CPCI, Bihar and the overseas market too. Even my third film, Tees Maar Khan, is going to be mainstream cinema at its lavish best and I can promise you that it will be a big hit too.
For me, I don’t think gender dictates the kind of movies you make. It has more to do with the kind of person you are. I make movies I grew up watching. There are male directors who make women-centric movies. Being a woman on the sets can help you in other ways though. For one, I’m far more organised. I know how to look after my team. My actresses insist that they are more comfortable with me. Even if I’m shooting a wet song with the actress under a waterfall, I take care with the detailing, right down to the undergarments she is wearing. That’s not something a male director would ordinarily do.I’m okay with sexy — Katrina (Kaif) is very glam in Tees Maar Khan — but I refuse to get cheap or vulgar. There’s nothing titillating about my movies or my movie stars!
It’s heartening that many more woman directors are entering the field now. There are far more in India than in Hollywood today. Do I see them changing cinema? Cinema is changing by itself because the audience is changing. Filmgoers are younger and more open to new cinema. They don’t want the same old, same old. And that’s good news for us directors — man or woman!
"...when the man-woman aspects of their personality combine that they make a good filmmakers." - Aparna Sen
For me my gender has never been an issue. I may have made a Paroma or a Paromitar Ek Din in which the woman was the central character but I’ve also made a Yugantar that was a story about a marriage in which both the partners had equally significant roles.
And now, I’ve made The Japanese Wife in which despite the title, it’s the man, Snehamoy, who is the pivot of the plot. I’m proud to have created this character of a shy, retiring schoolteacher married to woman he’s never met, and working with Rahul (Bose) to bring him to life.
For that matter, Rituparno Ghosh has etched out some memorable women characters in films like Dahan and Unneshe April to name a few. In my opinion, most directors are androgynous in their mental make-up. It is only when the man-woman aspects of their personality combine that they make a good filmmakers.
For me, the biggest problem as a filmmaker has been finance. Arranging it is always an uphill task but that’s not because I am a woman but the kind of movies I make. I could have made things easier for myself by venturing into regional cinema but after giving most of my life to mainstream cinema as an actress, I’m fed up of that kind of the films. The reason I became a director was to experiment with a new kind of cinema. And that’s what I’ll continue to do, no matter what the problems.
That’s not an option my daughter has. Even I didn’t. I started out with Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen and then had to do my share of Bengali commercial movies. If you want a career as an actor, you have to straddle both worlds, the way Konkana (Sen Sharma) and Rahul (Bose) are doing today.
Aparna's take on Bigelow winning Oscars
I don’t know why we are making such a big deal about a woman director winning an Oscar. How many woman filmmakers of note has Hollywood had in the past or for that matter how many male directors either who deserved to win? I know of Jane Campion whose ’93 film, The Piano, got her an Oscar nomination for Best Director. She was only the second woman in Oscar history till then to be nominated in this category and have received a Best Picture nomination too.
The first woman ever nominated for Best Director was Lina Wertmuller for Seven Beauties (1976). Campion lost the Best Director Oscar to Steven Spielberg for Schindler’s List but won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. And 17 years later, Kathryrn won both the Best Director and Best Picture Oscars.
I haven’t seen The Hurt Locker but I have seen The Piano and was most impressed. But desite the achievements of these two women, there are still far more men directors in Hollywood than women. Ditto for regional cinema… And Bollywood too, with Farah Khan being the rare exception.