8th March every year is celebrated world over as International Women's Day. Each year B-town celebs too celebrate this special day with much gusto. However despite a handful of women directors in Bollywood and a few women centric films, our film industry continues to pre-dominantly remain a male dominated industry. Sample this- out of approximately 103 films released in 2012, only 8 were directed by women. Besides out of approximately 103 films released in 2012, only 6 were women centric films. Last but not the least, out of the top 25 production houses only 2 (Balaji Motion Pictures by Ekta Kapoor and Grazing Goat Productions by Ashwini Yardi) are headed by women. So is it fair enough to say that gender bias still exists in Bollywood? Bollywood Hungama's Nikhil Ramsubramaniam and Ryan Lobo spoke to a few prominent women filmmakers and got their opinion on certain pertinent issues.
Does the gender bias still exist in Bollywood?
Shrishti Arya (producer of films like I Me Aur Main and London Paris New York):
"No I don't think there is a gender bias as such, but if there is a bias in Bollywood, I think that the largest bias is a bias towards a good script, and towards new material. In fact if you see there are more women directors now than there were earlier, and I really think that apart from male or female directors what we really need are good directors, since I would like to believe that direction is not gender driven per se. I personally have been working in this field for the past 20 odd years, and have never felt restricted by my gender as such."
Reema Kagti (director of films like Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd. and Talaash): "Definitely YES, there is a gender bias not just in this industry and our country but in the whole world. If you look at it, representation of women in the work force overall is not very good. Especially in India, if you see, in any field, be it corporate, medical or any other sector, which has traditionally not been considered as a ground for women. Having said that I feel regardless of the demographic, Bollywood as compared to the rest of the country is a more progressive place for women, which is why in the past 10 odd years there has been a massive influx of women coming into various jobs in this industry."
Gauri Shinde (director of English Vinglish): "I don't really think it's about gender bias. There are just not that many women directors. Probably women are sticking to other departments in the filmmaking business or are choosing other professions."
Farah Khan (ace choreographer and director of films like Main Hoon Na, Om Shanti Om and Tees Maar Khan): "No...I don't think there is a gender bias at all. In fact I think that even 8 films being directed by women is still a very high number as compared to what it was earlier. In fact if you do a tally of Hollywood films, we may rank higher than them when it comes to films directed by women. What I really think is that if you have a good script and know what you are doing, people don't really consider your gender. Before I made Main Hoon Na, there was a general perception that women don't make hit moviesâ€¦that they always make these so called niche films, or films based on some sensitive issues. However, Main Hoon Na was an over the top commercial success and that I think helped change this perception."
What are some of the obstacles/challenges preventing more women directors from entering Bollywood?
Shrishti Arya: "I think that films have become a glamorous and ok kind of profession over the past say 15-20 years and currently we are seeing a lot of influx of female technicians on television, but a lot of people still perceive the film business to be very different from what it is. In fact it's as murky as any other job, the difference being that its high profile and the chances of making it big are also pretty slim comparatively. I think that the job security is one of the major deterrents for women coming into the field."
Reema Kagti: "As far as obstacles faced are concerned, I think in terms of actresses by and large, most of our films tend to be male centric. So for an actress, a film that features the woman as the central character is very hard to come by, hence the nature of scripting itself features the rest of the cast except the central male character as a foil. Besides if you see women centric projects don't get the same amount of budgets as their male counterparts.
Personally I haven't faced any problems being a woman in the industry; however I am not saying that every woman that has come into the industry has not had a problem. All the crews and production houses I have worked with have been very conducive working places for women."
Gauri Shinde: "I don't think there is any real obstacle preventing a woman from turning director. I think it's a matter of choice. If any woman wants to direct, she will make sure that she directs. You have a lot of women directing TV serials, ad films, documentaries, corporate films. Filmmaking requires a lot more patience and is time-consuming but I am sure that in the future you will see a lot more female directors in our industry."
Farah Khan: "When we talk about obstacles faced by women in the industry it divides when it comes to actresses, as they are altogether a different breed, I can't talk about them at all. But when you come into the technical field in movies there is really a lot of hard work that's needed. Besides there are no stipulated hours of working, no holidays as suchâ€¦so unless you are truly passionate about it only then enter. Also the job is usually an all consuming factor and being a wife and a mother I think there is a lot of work and pressure that comes in, like for me, when I am out I want to be home by 8 P.M. Now this was different when I was single, now I have to think a 100 times before I go and take on an outdoor shoot, that's when our whole priorities in life change, we start to think about our kids, how do we get them there, how do we make time for them. But then this isn't the same for male directors, for them it's very easy they just pick up their bags and goâ€¦their wives are there at home to take care of the kids. So yes the work and pressure are definitely doubled for women, and more so when they have a family and kids. In fact I would say we work four times as hard to be considered half as good as the others."
Why do we see very few women-centric films being made in Bollywood? Will this trend change?
Shrishti Arya: "Yes this is because the love stories have reduced, and till we don't end up doing a film like Kill Bill it's not going to be really very trendy to make a women-centric film. Even Kahaani was more emotionalâ€¦the visual of a woman at her most vulnerable moment doing something so extraordinarily strong is what made it work. When you're making love stories you tend to see a lot more of the female protagonist but while making action movies, you don't really see women doing much except providing an emotional anchor to the main male protagonist."
Reema Kagti: "If we are to see more women-centric films coming in the future, first we need the audience to change. They need to get more interested in women centric films. I say this because Bollywood is a profit oriented industry so ultimately we make what is in demand. So if there is a rising interest among the audience for women-centric films, it will certainly help, as it's all supply and demand driven. An increase cannot happen in isolationâ€¦both the audience and makers have to move ahead hand in hand."
Gauri Shinde: "I think more than just being women-centric films, women's roles need to be stronger in our films. Our actresses need to get more solid roles. The stereotypes need to be done away with. Why use terms like 'women-centric' films when we never refer to a film as 'male-centric'? Creativity is not gender based. A good story is what is important and whether it's about a male or a female doesn't really matter."
Farah Khan: "The thing to consider here is that even if it were a women-centric film, it has to be gripping; it has to be entertaining, dramatic, like see Talaash which had two very strong women characters in it. Even Kahaani was a really gripping story, and we didn't miss the hero in it. So basically if you see, it's the story and script that matters not the topic whether it's women-centric or not."
Have you ever faced any personal experience where male members of your cast didn't listen to your orders and instructions?
Shrishti Arya: "No, I have never faced any problems of this kind ever. Yeah but my cast and crew have always been very protective of me. For e.g. None of them will ask Goldie how are you going home post pack up at 2 A.M. but they will ask me that and I kinda enjoy that attention (smiles)."
Reema Kagti: "Never, in fact we were shooting in London and Zoya and I were sitting in a room where an American journalist asked us this question. Aamir who was sitting there quickly jumped in and said, 'They don't have any problems with the men who work with them'. So I don't think so, I have had the good fortune to work with very progressive people."
Gauri Shinde: "No...fortunately I have not faced any such situation. In fact there are many women in the filmmaking business working in different departments be it editing or costumes or scripting or production design so it's not like people are not used to having women on set. It's just a perception."
Farah Khan: "Not at all (laughs)...in fact I think they don't treat me like a woman at all in that sense (laughs). But even otherwise if you go on sets and you know what you are doing and want them to do, they will happily and readily listen to you. It's a level of confidence that they have in you as a director, not whether you are a man or a woman. As for women, I think we are far more organized and well-planned."
Currently only 2 of the Top 25 production houses are helmed by females. Do you see that trend changing in the future?
Shrishti Arya: "It's an ongoing battle, but with more and more women entering the field, things will change. Like last year we launched a new female director (Anu Menon) and for us when she walked into the room it wasn't her gender that mattered, it was the script that did. But why she had failed to get a producer until then, I cannot really say."
Reema Kagti: "Definitely I think this will change, but then you have to keep in mind that India is an extremely patriarchal county, where in some people have brought their daughters up right. So the second and third generation are changing this, they are making it better for women on the whole. Now with the number of women coming in to various different positions in the industry, I am certain you will see a rise."
Gauri Shinde: "Absolutelyâ€¦I personally know of many upcoming women producers who are doing really well for themselves, so in the next one or two years itself, you will see many women handling the production aspect of things."
Farah Khan: "Now this cannot be answered very easily, but then again, I think it's basically a question of having that kind of an ambition, interest and drive. As for me I feel better off in the creative field, than the business angle. Besides I feel heading a production house isn't easy, it consumes a lot of your time and you have to be always available, so you really can't have a family life. But if you look at television, most of the channels are being headed by women, so I guess it's more a matter of time rather than any kind of gender bias or anything."
Is it fair that there is a disparity in the remuneration given to female artists vis-a-vis their male counterparts?
Shrishti Arya: "The remuneration of any artist is based on their draw on Day one and ticket sales potential. As for movies, according to research surveys, cinema viewership and choice of movies is male driven, while that of television is female driven, so there are a lot higher paid females on television. Hence basically, I think it's all about demand and supply. But in consolation I think sometimes it does make a difference, and this will remain till the time we stop delivering a film solely on the basis of the male actor."
Reema Kagti: "Yes there is a disparity, in fact even in Hollywood the actresses don't get paid as much as the actors do, even in the world of sports for that matter...look at Wimbledon... the male players get a higher amount in winnings as compared to women players. Like people say men play five sets and women play three, but I think that's ridiculous...it's just an excuse to pay the women players less. Though I don't know why this exists but I am hoping it will change. While in Bollywood if you see, this problem is only with actresses, look at technicians, writers, and directors, this kind of discrimination is really not seen."
Gauri Shinde: "No...it isn't fair but until women bring in the big bucks I don't see the trend changing. It's all very commercially driven and till now it's been the men who have been bringing in the big bucks but I hope it changes in the future. If both the male and female protagonist in a film have equally strong roles, there shouldn't be any disparity in the remuneration offered."
Farah Khan: "This disparity in remuneration between male and female actors is a worldwide concept. Besides I think that till the time an actress can guarantee the kind of opening that a SRK or a Salman Khan can give you, this will exist. While on the other hand, I think that even some of our actresses are to be blamed for this, because all they simply want is to be cast in a movie alongside a big hero, they don't even mind being decorative pieces standing around in that film rather than be cast in a smaller budget film that features them in a bigger role. I think that this is where the women under value themselves, and what you see your worth is what you finally get."
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