In January this year, three women creators formed Indian Women Rising, a cinema collective that aims to support and promote independent women creators in cinema. When producer Guneet Monga discovered that only approximately five percent of Indian directors are female, Tahira Kashyap Khurrana, Ekta Kapoor, Ruchikaa Kapoor Sheikh and Monga came together to form this collective that endeavours to correct the imbalance.
While the number of talented women given an opportunity to lead a big-budget film is appallingly minuscule, the streaming service and online content space appears to be levelling the playing field.
In the last six months narratives that dwell on women’s issues or spotlight women achievers, often helmed by women filmmakers, have received appreciation and accolades, from ‘Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl’ to ‘Shakuntala Devi’, ‘Bulbbul’, ‘Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare’ to ‘Tribhanga’, ‘Pitta Kathalu’, ‘Penguin’, ‘Criminal Justice: Behind Closed Doors’ and ‘Aarya’.
March 8 is globally celebrated as International Women’s Day. This year the theme for the day is ‘Choose to challenge’. So here are the voices of three actresses and creators who have chosen to do just that.
Actress Sushmita Sen on breaking stereotypes:
“The only thing I have ever done in my life is to be true to my choices, to my calling and to who I am, at a DNA level. I realised very early on that my choices were different. Sometimes this meant being very lonely and then one day out of the blue people are applauding it.
But in the beginning the reaction is so huge you believe the whole world is against you. No matter the lure of money, fame, opportunities, this has been the standard ground rule – if it questions the basic DNA of who I am, only I can sell it short; no one else can.
I have been careful not to let that happen, and while that has often put me in a financial crunch, in this not so happening place, I have no regrets. I didn’t compromise and I happened to break stereotypes.”
Actress-producer-director Pooja Bhatt on age and stage of life
“When I did ‘Daddy’ (1989), my father asked me if I wanted to be known as an actor or as a star and I said, it would be lovely if stardom came later but first I want to be taken seriously as an artist.
So I had to do stuff that I believed in. Now I feel like a brand new person, because for me it feels like I have been preparing for my latest role (as banker Rani in ‘Bombay Begums’) for the last 21 years.”
Recalling the first day of shoot for ‘Bombay Begums’ (on Netflix from March 8), she said, “The make-up man took three hours to do my make-up. That drove me crazy. He caked me up to such an extent that I wiped off the makeup with a tissue.
He had these ideas about how glam my character should be, and she is glam, but she uses her hair and makeup as a shield. The makeup man was trying to gloss over the wear of time on my face.
"I had to explain to the makeup man that If I was 25, I wouldn't have got this role. My age (49) earned me this part.”
Actress Mithila Palkar on being choosing to stay positive
“My social media personality is no different to the real me. Sometimes though you do need that voice outside of your head because social media attention can lead to excessive narcissism or self-doubt, neither of which is good. Being an Instagrammer does require some amount of narcissism and believing that someone out there cares about you, but self-awareness is also important. Be aware of what you can offer and what you cannot, what is in your control and what is not.”
On dealing with positivity and negativity the 28-year-old said, “I don't apply filters to my content, but sometimes for your own peace of mind you have to think of certain things, because social media is a very loud place, even if it is positive, and when it’s negative it is even louder.
If one out of 10 comments is negative that is the one that will ring louder. I do get trolled, but that's 10 negative comments versus thousands who tell you every day how much they love you and how much they like watching you. Unless criticism is constructive, it is of no use. If you are going to say you are ugly, there’s not much I can do about it. But if someone says you could have done this differently with this character then that is something for me to consider.
I read all the comments. It’s good to be aware, but the internet gives you a choice to consume what you want and ignore what you want. I feel like I am able to shut noises off. But on days when I am not able to, I just stay away.”