Women-centric films are increasingly talked about, what with the film-going audience maturing and also with content taking centre-stage. But how are women faring behind the camera, as technicians as well as in corporate jobs in the film industry?
Fatima Begum became India’s first female director when she directed Bulbule Paristan in 1926. BR Vijayalakshmi was not only India’s first cinematographer but also Asia’s first woman cinematographer. Jaddanbai was not only a music composer but she also produced Talashe Haq in 1935, a film she also acted in. Bhanu Athaiya, Indian cinema’s most well-regarded costume designer, began her career in 1950 and is the first Indian to win an Academy Award.
However, these women were exceptions to the rule in what has always been a male-dominated industry. But things are changing, and more and more women are choosing careers as, say, editors and cinematographers, and more high-profile careers as directors and producers.
This week, we ask professionals in our industry just how much women behind the camera have progressed over the years. Are women technicians paid at par with their male counterparts? From corporate houses headed by women to women producers and mainstream directors, women are emerging as big money spinners, but do you think women in the industry are getting their due? Here’s what the trade has to say.
I think it is a privilege to be part of a company and a sector (M&E) where women are empowered and significant contributors. We are collaborating with so many talented women on and off screen. This is across writing, producing, directing, editing, acting, business, distribution, lawyers, entrepreneurs, designers and much more! What’s also been a great trend is that our theatre-going audience (which most research tells us is male-skewed) is loving movies with strong female protagonists and characters and these need not only be female-led stories. From our movie slate, movies like No One Killed Jessica, Fashion, Haider and Disney’s Khoobsurat come to mind as well-crafted female-led films, and in our forthcoming slate, there’s Fitoor, Katti Batti and Dangal! We have a lot more ground to cover but I think we are getting there.
Personally, I haven’t experienced a glass ceiling in my career. However, I do think that the payment structures for women directors, writers, technicians and support staff must be put at par with their male counterparts. Interestingly, the media and entertainment industry employs one of the largest female workforces in the country and so it is critical that the work is judged for its worth and nothing else.
There is a running debate about the disparity in male and female stars’ fees. Although we have had a number of female-led films breaking records at the box office, whether Piku or Tanu Weds Manu Returns recently, that number has to rise for the industry to agree to a change. While the star system continues to be male dominated, the fact that an increasing number of women are taking leadership positions in the industry is an evidence that times are changing slowly but surely. We have always been driven by ‘hero worship’, whether in Bollywood or in the South. But with content becoming king, things are slowly changing.
Women technicians have come a long way in our industry in terms of their numbers as well as their job profiles. We are also seeing a rise in the number of women in high-profile posts and leadership positions. This is a success-driven industry and people are paid according to their ability to deliver. I think that takes precedence over gender. I say this with regard to technicians. Actors are a different cup of tea. Also, I don’t think producers are getting their due and there is still ambiguity about the value they add to projects. I think directors need to be judged more for their capability rather than their last box office figures or proximity to stars. But most of all, I think to really get their due, women need to be judged without the ‘female’ tag. We never say ‘leading male producers’ on a list so why do we need to say ‘female’? I think we need to judge achievements without gender qualification. Only then we will have a level playing field.
The roles of women technicians have evolved to a great extent but they are still limited to a few areas like direction, costumes, hair, choreography and set designing. We are yet to see women technicians evolving in areas like lighting, production, cinematography and editing. In fact, recently when I had visited Akshay (Kumar) on the sets of Airlift, I was pleasantly surprised to see a woman cinematographer, Priya Seth, behind the camera. So I guess we are heading in the right direction, even if gradually. The payment structure is not at all equal but this is the case throughout the world. I am happy to see the issue of remuneration being raised, not only in Bollywood but in Hollywood as well.
The fact that this year has been the best year and one that is ruled by women at the box office says a lot about the times and for women in the entertainment industry. Yes, there are great times ahead.
The issue of gender equality is suddenly being talked about and I feel it’s a reflection of society at large. Women are increasingly being empowered and, I believe, this is a decade about strong women. Women are growing stronger, not only in our industry but in the corporate world as well. At the same time, I strongly believe that my field is not gender-biased. If you have talent, you will survive and success will be yours. Yes, women-oriented films are doing well but we also have to realise it’s the content which is working.
Women have always played an important part in every sector of filmmaking. It’s just that there were fewer women working. I think, in the generation preceding mine, Renu Saluja was the only woman editor who worked with the finest directors like Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Govind Nihalani and Kundan Shah. But now we have many woman editors who are very successful. I personally have never faced any gender discrimination, work-wise or money wise. Things have changed and there are many women working on film sets today. There was a time when actresses were ready to be part of a big-budget film because it featured a big actor and she knew the film would enter the ` 100-crore club. But actress like Kangana Ranaut have changed all that. Now she carries films on her own shoulders.
Times have changed and today no one looks at gender. All that matters is the quality of your work. We have always had women in technical departments especially in costumes and as part of our production team. Honey Irani has been there for a long time. Earlier, there weren’t a whole lot of women working as per se. Now that more and more women are being employed, I am sure our industry hires more women than any other industry.
We talk about women-centric films because we can see them doing great at the box office. But the spotlight rarely shines on women behind the camera who are running the show. There has been an increase in the number of female technicians in our industry. Earlier, we hardly had any female cinematographers and composers, not today. Though, earlier, women were not hired as cinematographers because the job sometimes involves heavy equipment, we now have some talented cinematographers with everything going digital. There are also many women producers successfully running the show, whether in films or television.
Many women have key leadership positions in the film industry today, a change that has accelerated over the last 10 to 15 years. Women directors are now some of our best, women cinematographers and editors are among the most sought after, and women screenwriters are winning awards every year. Add to this women who are running studios and production houses and you can see that women are doing very well in the business. And this trend will accelerate. At Whistling Woods, I see so many young girls joining cinematography, direction, editing and the media management courses. They will be a vital part of the talent pool, going forward. They are not yet paid the same as men are but this is a problem across the world and across industries but it is changing quickly and soon that gap will vanish and women will get their due.
In today’s world, where women are challenging men in various spheres, Bollywood is no exception. Women have always been making a mark in Hindi cinema in artistic aspects. However, over the last few years, things have truly changed with women making a mark in various aspects of filmmaking like editing, music and photography. While earlier, they excelled in areas such as costumes, make-up and choreography, they are now finding work in the technical aspects of filmmaking. For example, women have set a benchmark in the field of editing over the years. The gender divide is slowly eroding.
There is a sea change. Earlier, women were discouraged from working in the film industry and female technicians were very rare to find. But times have changed and women are now working in every department of filmmaking and doing quite well too. There is a gender bias but that is fast changing. As far as remuneration goes, yes, women are still paid less than their male counterparts for the same work. But going forward, those who have talent will forge ahead. Stereotypes that held women back are melting away and it is now acceptable for women to work in the film industry.
Over the years, we have seen an increasing number of women technicians in our industry and that’s a fantastic sign for our creative growth. A woman’s perspective, sense of style, aesthetics and narrative are quite different from those of men and that contributes fabulously to our films. More so, we now have women technicians and executives who are brands and that is phenomenal! Unlike how things work for actors, salaries of people behind the camera are directly linked to merit, irrespective of gender. I’m sure ladies like Farah Khan, Zoya Akhtar, Aarti Bajaj, Sharmishtha Roy are paid significantly more than many men who operate in their fields because their work merits it. However, women have the unfair advantage of having started late in the industry when it comes to working behind the camera, compared to men. Having said that, they’re well on their way to making a name in the industry. Production houses headed by Priti Sahani, Sangeeta Ahir and Shrishti Arya have very interesting films in the pipeline and I’m sure they will make heads turn and earn a lot of appreciation and money through their work.
It’s encouraging to see this space evolving. Numerous women technicians are working on all verticals in the industry and the scene is positive. From Saraswati Devi in good old black and white days for scoring music to Bhanu Athaiyya for winning Oscar to Renu Saluja for editing, it was always heart-warming to see these achievers. With new age cinema, we have a gang of women technicians like Farha Khan, Gauri Shinde, Mira Nair, Juhi Chaturvedi, Pooja Bhatt, Tanuja Chandra, Kalpana Lajmi and many more who achieved their laurels and pushed the envelope to a different level. In all verticals like music (Sneha Khanwalkar), direction and writing and editing and lyrics, there is an usurp of new women quotient which is respectable and good. Nowadays there is no discrimination. They work equally to their male counterparts and are paid equally. It’s a great sign. We are in new age cinema with a lot of transparency and openness. The discrimination is the matter of past. The young women guns are readily equipped to handle this. While the women in corporate houses like Jyoti Deshpande and Shikha Kapur have proved again and again that their decisions have reaped benefits for the Industry, the directors like Zoya Akhtar and Kiran Rao have given hits. They have an understanding of business in Corporate Houses and so are seen in some of the money spinners which are acquired and marketed by these women forces.
The budgeting and marketing comprises of mullah and a lot of decision makers in this area are women, who have likely to have a better sense on spending. Similarly on creative front, the likes of Gauri Shinde, Farha Khan and Zoya Akhtar had been bankable.