What it's like to be a Female Filmmaker in India
Nandita Dutta’s F-rated brings together diverse stories of eleven women filmmakers in India: Aparna Sen, Mira Nair, Farah Khan, Meghna Gulzar, Nandita Das, Shonali Bose, Tanuja Chandra, Anjali Menon, Reema Kagti, Kiran Rao and Alankrita Srivastava. A celebration of their womanhood as much as their work – this is a must-read.
Why did you choose these specific 11 women?
One, they represent a cross section of women filmmakers out there: from indie cinema to mainstream Bollywood, from the ones who were making films in the 80s to the ones who have started now. Two, these are the directors whose works I personally admire, even fangirl over. Three, these are the women you just cannot ignore.
Do you think sexism in film industry is in anyway different from sexism in other industries?
At its core, sexism is the same. But the way it manifests varies from profession to profession. In F-Rated, I have highlighted the ways in which it sexism becomes evident in the film industry: from what kinds of stories get funded to how your crew treats you on the set.
What social issues can we expect to read about in the book?
Social issues ... I am not sure! The minute you say social issues, the book becomes to sound boring, which it is anything but. What you can expect to read about is how gender, consciously or unconsciously, determines these filmmakers’ life and artistic choices. You will get to know them intimately as women.
How far do you think we have come and how far do you think we are yet to go in making the industry gender-unbiased?
If the number of women filmmakers is anything to go by, then we haven’t come very far sadly. We still have a long way to go in ensuring that the film industry becomes a friendly and welcoming place for women.
Share a sassy anecdote from the book
When Shonali Bose’s son was six weeks old, she directed a film as an assignment at film school. Just when they were about to roll the camera, her son demanded to be fed. Positioned between an assistant director and a technical director, who were both men, she bared her breast and put him on to suckle.
Share a sexist episode from the book
When Kiran Rao was shooting Dhobi Ghat, her cinematographer refused to take a shot that she really wanted him to take. She kept saying that the shot won’t be used if it didn’t come out well, but he refused to follow her instructions point blank. Obviously, she replaced him.
Who surprised you with her story the most and why?
Shonali Bose. For the kinds of unimaginable things she has had to go through in her life, and the sheer strength and grace she has done it with.
Some women hate the added prefix when being defined professionally. What do you think about “Female Authors, Female Actors, Female Filmmaker” etc?
I would say it entirely depends on the context. If a woman is part of a panel discussing how to option the film rights for a book at a literature festival and is introduced as a female author, that is downright offensive. However, it’s different when a woman is invited to talk about, say, why do so few women of colour get published and is referred to as a female author. You see the difference? Unfortunately, most people don’t get this nuance.
Despite individual perspectives, what unifies the female gaze?
Empathy for characters - both female and male - and acknowledging them as complex beings.
What do you hope for the readers to learn from these women’s stories?
I would like the reader to reflect upon what it takes to be a woman and an artist. I do not expect them to learn, but unlearn the ways of seeing and believing that assume the male position as default.
If you had a chance to write an autobiography of one of these women, who would it be and why?
Interesting! It would have to be either Aparna Sen or Mira Nair. Both of them have led incredibly rich and eventful lives, and have made beautiful and brave films. They are both badass, charismatic, outspoken, political women.
How would you define a Badass woman?
Someone who does not get weighed down by society’s expectations, does not care about pleasing people, and does her own thing.