Friday, February 22, 2019

When the last word is hersAlankrita Shrivastava

When the last word is hers

Lipstick Under My Burkha, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, Manmarziyaan, Piku... new women writers are changing the narrative of cinema with their fresh perspective16 Feb 2019 | 1:16 AM

Author Carolyn See once said, “Every word a woman writes changes the story of the world, revises the official version.”

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Nonika Singh

Author Carolyn See once said, “Every word a woman writes changes the story of the world, revises the official version.” So when a woman writes in an essentially male-driven movie industry, what do we get? Their distinctive voice lends freshness to dog-eared narrative that has conventionally trodden the familiar male perspective with men calling the shots in most departments. Hail women writers of Bollywood. Some of these are directors too. They are not only looking at the world differently but also bringing it to us on a new platter with invigorating seasoning and untried flavours.

Finding the balance
Juhi Chaturvedi, writer

In one of his interviews, director Shoojit Sircar said had the idea of sperm donation (for Vicky Donor) germinated from anyone other than a woman writer (read Juhi), he would have rejected it outright. When women venture into a seemingly sleazy subject, its treatment is unique as well as sensitive. When the script is in  Juhi Chaturvedi’s hands, she gives us an emancipated and caring Piku while there are many subtexts in Vicky Donor. In both films, Juhi resists the temptation to paint romance in broad brush strokes. In a romantic moment in Piku, she lets a gaze and silences speak rather than a kiss. The heroine in Vicky Donor is a divorcee.

Being a woman has been no deterrent for her; it has not fettered her in anyway. She is the first woman whose name went up crediting her with story, screenplay and dialogues for October. Yet she does argue, “When women are in charge, the risks are weighed more conservatively and a keener eye is kept on her hit-flop ratio.” But she doubts if women can be ignored any longer. Plus they do have the choice. “I will never put women down. I will say no to a film if it does not portray fair sex in the right light.” 

Brought up in a joint family, she often saw her mother and other women members of the family eat after men. She avers, “Perhaps, it was in those years that seeds to bring about a change were sown.” Her characters are well-rounded and balanced. She is no firebrand feminist and wouldn’t like her women to be rebels without a cause. At the end of the day, writing for her is not sloganeering but finding the balance. Her next film is The Sky Is Pink but she knows other shades have to be accounted for too.   

Being honest to oneself
Alankrita Shrivastava, director-writer 

She locked horns with the censor board for what was strangely dubbed a ‘lady-oriented’ film, Lipstick Under My Burkha. Its writer-director Alankrita Srivastav wasn’t surprised, “The popular culture has been so driven by male gaze that films on women have become a category in itself.” In an ideal world, 50 per cent of the films should be about women, but at the same time, she reasons, “Womencentric films are not necessarily a woman’s point of view.”

Undeniably, her rather bold film didn’t baulk from entering the forbidden erogenous zones of women’s sexuality. Yet, she firmly believes there is a female gaze.  “I would never allow the camera to hover over a woman’s body parts randomly in the manner as it often does in our cinema.” From the days when she was one (as assistant director) of the three women in the crew on the sets of Gangajal to today with success of Lipstick Under My Burkha up her sleeve, she is hoping things are changing. For her, however, it’s not a question of changing the narrative but being honest to oneself. “If you are honest to your work, your politics, your point of view will automatically come across and you won’t have to try too hard.” What her next film Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare would entail, she is not at liberty to disclose. But her assertion, “Not challenging the status quo by itself would tantamount to perpetuating existing patriarchal values,” is a clear pointer that she won’t be toeing the beaten track.

So much remains unsaid
Tanuja Chandra, director-writer

She can easily take a bow as one of the pioneers in the field. Back in time she co-wrote Tamanna and Dil Toh Pagal Hai; more recently, she created this inside out beautiful female character Jaya, in Qarib Qarib Single, which came as much from her imagination and experience as well as that of her co-writer, Gazal. Certainly, there may not be any empirical evidence to support that women are more sensitive. “Yet, my gut instinct tells me, there’s bound to be a difference in the way women create characters.” The change she would have loved to see in Bollywood since she began her innings is still far away for stories about women’s inner lives are still a rarity. She asserts, “Truthfully, the female voice has been suppressed through centuries of storytelling, so imagine the sheer freshness of perspective if it were to express itself unfettered.”

Personally she may not have experienced persecution because she was fortunate enough to begin her career in companies that respected and wanted to work with women. “More than my gender, the problem lay in my desire to make films about women. Even in my first film, I had to have a male star in it to get it produced. That’s where the struggle lies. In recent times, there are more women’s stories that are receiving funding, but they’re nowhere close to the desired number.” 

Of course, it is not to say that women can’t be misogynist. “Women writers are susceptible to the same pressures as men to make a film a hit! Perhaps, more.” However, whether she writes or directs, the characters are in complete sync with her vision. “I direct very intimately.”

Looking beyond stereotypes
Kanika Dhillon, writer

When women like Kanika pick up the pen, women characters do not sit back and lament their pitiable condition. Instead, they break shackles and stereotypes. Take the bindas Rumi in Manmarizyaan. She has premarital and extramarital sex, talks of condoms, smokes, in short is badass yet beautifully sentimental. Her heroine in Kedarnath is no pushover either.  “Am in the story or story is in me? Sure there is an umbilical connection. Rumi is me. So is Robby or Vicky and the characters in Kedarnath.” Yet point blank, she refuses to see writing through the prism of gender and insists, “Writing is not about gender. It’s about ideas and opinions. To call me a woman writer would be limiting.”

What explains the limited number of women writers is the same that applies to their unequal presence in other fields. “As a society, we are yet to wake up to women force.” Among the challenges that women writers face is that as and when an opportunity presents itself, they are expected to make certain kind (read relationship, emotional) of films. She questions, “Why can’t I write a sports drama or a war film?” She wants to explore male psyche, may be a bromance. Being the author of books like Bombay Duck is a Fish and The Dance of Durga may not have helped her Bollywood career, but the training as a writer, the discipline, ability to etch out flesh and blood characters has held her in good stead. Want more proof? In her upcoming Mental Hai Kya,  she promises two equally strong protagonists, beyond the gender divide.

Raising the bar
Gazal Dhaliwal

She is a unique person in a unique position giving us unusual stories. Gazal Dhaliwal, a transwoman co-writer of Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga and Qarib Qarib Single, insists, “Women writers are raising the bar, compelling men to look at women’s stories with the same robustness.” The fact that she is a transwoman in the industry does not make her the odd woman out. There is, however, curiosity about who she is. Her own story of how she overcame the challenge of gender dystopia, a woman trapped in a man’s body is worthy of celluloid translation. As and when this Patiala girl decides to fully bare her heart, she would love to direct it herself. Till then, she is busy rewriting the script. Having brought a lesbian character into the mainstream cinema in Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, she, however, would not like to be branded as just a writer of LGBTQ community. Women can and must tell all kinds of stories, she firmly believes.

Alankrita Shrivastava
If you are honest to your work, your politics, your point of view will automatically come across, and you won’t have to try too hard.

Juhi Chaturvedi
When women are in charge, the risks are weighed more conservatively and a keener eye is kept on their hit-flop ratio... But women can no longer be ignored.

Kanika Dhillon
Writing is not about gender. It’s about ideas and opinions. To call me a woman writer would be limiting...Why can’t I write a sports drama or a war film?

Tanuja Chandra
The female voice has been suppressed through centuries of storytelling, so imagine the sheer freshness of perspective if it were to express itself unfettered.

Gazal Dhaliwal
Women writers are raising the bar, compelling men to look at women’s stories with the same robustness.... Women can and must tell all kinds of stories.

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