Although Hindi film industry has witnessed considerable progression in terms of the portrayal of female characters, yet Bollywood cinema faces a strange conundrum as the notion of women empowerment is often misconstrued with a woman playing a central character. Female film directors in India strongly feel that women are conquering all fronts in the society but inside the filmdom they are still viewed as second grade denizens whose presence isn’t a deciding factor for a film’s budget.
Actor and director Nandita Das also shared the same view point at a round-table recently organized by the Bombay Times to get a female perspective on why cinema is still hesitant about women-centric stories. Nandita encountered a question about her recent directorial Manto and why she made a film about a man when she talks so much about women.
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“Why a film on Saadat Hasan Manto and not Ismat Chugtai? The reason is I was more impacted by him than her! A film having a female gaze is different from a film that has a central character who is a woman. People easily confuse these two and assume there may not be much for an A-list hero to do,” she said emphasizing on telling a story which reflects female attitudes.
She further explained that the very definition of a female-centric film has altered in Bollywood, which is why superstars avoid to sign them.
“You have to get an actor who is not A-list. How you deal with the characters in a film is what it all boils down to. Even if they make a female-centric film in mainstream Hindi cinema, it doesn’t always have a feminist angle. It’s actually more misogynistic,” she expressed adding women had only been shown as a ‘love interest’ and the practice has shaped mindsets.
“We have built heroes in a way that we haven’t built heroines. We have usually seen them as the love interest of the heroes. There are exceptions but this practice has existed for ages now. If you argue too much, you will be subtly told to shut up.”
The Firaaq director is hopeful that things will change through more female participation in the film-making process. “These boundaries of perception will break with time, when more women start making more movies,” she said.
The director’s father, painter Jatin Das has recently been accused of sexually harassing a woman 14 years ago. However, despite these allegations Nandita Das has continued her to support the #MeToo movement.