The last session, ‘Cinema, Wide Angle,’ on Day 1 of THiNK was an entertaining, sparky conversation between the filmmakers Reema Kagti, Anusha Rizvi and Zoya Akhtar. Moderated by NDTV journalist, Nidhi Razdan, the women quickly set about demolishing various shibboleths. “This woman filmmaker thing,” said Kagti, “why’re you making a big deal because I’m a woman?” All three agreed that they would rather just be described as filmmakers. Kagti described the “mind that’s directing” as an “androgynous mind”: “If I have to objectify a man I will, if I have to objectify a woman I will. It’s what I do, I’m a filmmaker not an activist.” Kagti went so far as to say the film industry is a way more liberal place than the rest of the country. “It’s a healthy place to work, that why there are the three of us on this stage.”
Zoya Akhtar was a little more critical, acknowledging that while the first feature film made by a woman (Fatima Begum) in India was back in 1926, there is a “bigger issue regarding women in cinema in India. Why are women’s stories not funded; why do actresses have a shorter shelf life; why arent the audiences going to watch them?” The major male stars here, just as in Hollywood, command far higher fees. “Every decade,” Akhtar said, “has had a female-oriented film that made a lot of money and people ask, “now will the industry change?” Akhtar doesn’t think it ever will: “It’s the way it is the world over. Our heroes have had 20 years of being heroes, they’ve gone through four generations of actresses.” For Rizvi, questions about ‘women filmmakers’ or, for instance, the representation of women weren’t ones that interested filmmakers, only critics and some filmgoers. For the filmmaker, it’s about telling a story and being faithful to that story and to the film’s characters.
When it came to the representation of women, most Hindi movie stereotypes and item numbers didn’t bother any of the filmmakers. What did exercise all of them, each expressing their disdain, was the movies’ depiction of the ‘good Indian girl’. “I’m as Indian as the chick in that soap, on that show,” said Akhtar, “I’m sick of being told to dress a certain way, act a certain way to get the boy.” Kagti was, typically, more blunt: “All four of us onstage are hoookers [by that standard].” Akhtar, Rizvi and Kagti are all busy, backed by producers, making major films. It speaks well of them as individuals, of their talent, but the successes of particular artists don’t excuse the failings of an industry, or more importantly, a culture.