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Will Bollywood gender bias ever end?

B'wood isn?t nice to women directors, says Saibal Chatterjee.Women brigade

india Updated: Mar 10, 2006 11:29 IST

Bollywood isn’t a hospitable place for a woman director. On International Women’s Day, can the mandarins of the Mumbai movie industry place their hands on their hearts and vouch that they are doing their best mete out justice to members of the fairer sex seeking a toehold in the industry as independent directors? On the evidence available, they’d only be lying if they made any such claims.

A stark contrast is provided by the fact that most Indian filmmakers who are making waves on the global stage are women – Mira Nair, Deepa Mehta and Gurinder Chadha. They have, of late achieved critical applause and commercial success in equal measure. But their international breakthroughs haven’t exactly come to the aid of the filmmakers’ sorority back in India.

Not many of the women directors who made their Bollywood debuts in the past three years have been able to mount their second film yet. The only exception, of course, is actress-turned-producer-turned-director Pooja Bhatt. She has had the advantage of being backed by a leading Bollywood production banner that is known for its extremely low turnaround time.

Let us, however, keep Pooja Bhatt and the ubiquitous Farah Khan, top-notch choreographer and the director of the 2004 smash hit, Main Hoon Na, out of this discussion for the simple reason that they are no different from the general run of Bollywood filmmakers. The two films that Bhatt has directed to date, Paap and Holiday, are undisguised copies of Hollywood flicks.

Farah Khan has made it on her own in Bollywood. She gave us perhaps the first Bolly dance sequence done naturally and imaginatively, Pehla Nasha from Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander and is on top of the world with her hit, Main Hoon Na.

FarahKhan, of course, did not have to leave India’s shores for inspiration – her blockbuster was a mish-mash of many Hindi films that we have seen over the decades. The choreographer is, of course, already on to her second film as director -

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, which is expected to make it to the theatres by the end of the year. Bollywood loves her because she has shown no inclination so far to break the rules of the industry.

Women directors who have done that have been finding it far more difficult to push their careers along. For one, their films were box office disasters. But infinitely worse than that was the fact that they did not try to fit into convenient Bollywood slots.

Editor-turned-director Leena Yadav debuted early last year with the intriguing Shabd, a small film with the look and feel of a big production thanks to the star cast (Sanjay Dutt, Aishwarya Rai, Zayed Khan) and the translucent cinematography by the director’s life partner, Aseem Bajaj.

Yadav is now casting for a new film that she has already scripted. It is set to be produced by Ambika Hinduja’s Serendipity Films, the off-mainstream outfit that is behind the soon-to-be-released English-language film directed by Homi Adajania, Being Cyrus. Yadav is looking for big stars to spearhead the cast of her second film as well because, by her own admission, she does not want to be trapped in the ‘small film’ cubbyhole.

That is a good sign indeed. Bollywood’s women directors are making bold to compete with the big guns – needles to say, they are all male – on an equal footing. Ruchi Narain, who made her first film, Kal – Yesterday and Tomorrow, under Sudhir Mishra’s production banner, is yet to taste box office success, but she isn’t letting that stop her from thinking big the second time around. She has several scripts in her kitty and will get started as soon as one is green lighted by a producer.

Vinta Nanda, whose maiden directorial vehicle, White Noise, opened in 2004, and actress-turned-director Revathi, who has two films behind her (Mitr, My Friend and Phir Milenge) are both still a fair distance away from launching their next ventures.

One of the more interesting debut films released in India last year was Shonali Bose’s Amu. The US-based filmmaker is currently planning a period film about the contribution of women revolutionaries to India’s freedom struggle. It is only a coincidence that the words women and struggle are both contained in that description of her proposed film, but it could just as well extended to sum up an account of the plight of India’s women directors.

Debutante directors like Shona Urvashi of Chupke Se fame and Parvati Balagopalan, who made the reasonable successful Rules – Pyaar Ka Superhit Formula three years ago, haven’t been heard of since. And that is no reflection on the quality of the films they made. Male directors in Bollywood have made much worse films and got away with it.