Over the last decade, Tamil cinema has largely been for men, by men and of men. Hence, it has been doubly difficult for women filmmakers to break into the male-dominated film industry and call the shots. Yet, a new breed of confident young women have successfully taken their films mainstream, against all odds, without making a big deal about their gender or resorting to feminist themes to make their mark. “Producers or stars expect only certain kind of stories… they expect a lot of feminism from us,” says Nandhini J.S, director of the romantic comedy “Thiru Thiru Thuru Thuru”.

“A woman who has actually come this far, they assume, has anger. So they are surprised when I tell them a neutral, fun, light-hearted story.” Nandhini explains: “When a man goes to a producer with problems of men, they are ready to listen to it. But when a woman goes to narrate a story with ‘womanly’ problems, they don’t want to listen to it, because the market is filled with men. We are actually trying to satisfy a male market. I was raised equally wherever I went. In my life, I didn’t face too much injustice. I am a city girl. I’ve had a good life. So, my stories are quite fun. I don’t want my gender to be associated with the kind of films I make.”

Madhumita, director of “Valamai Tharayo”, says she was in for a culture shock when she came to Chennai and started work on her film. “I was raised abroad and had worked on many short films, documentaries and on ‘The Pirates of the Carribean’ before I made my first film. So, the work culture here was quite a shock. But, luckily for me, I was able to prove myself as the leader of the group that understood my vision, and we were able to make the film I had in mind.”

Does she believe that women treat women characters differently? “Yes, women directors are different in the sense that they are more interested in developing characters and sentiments and are probably a tad more careful about how they portray women characters,” says Madhumita. Nandhini adds: “Why does the college girl we see in films behave like an eight-year-old? It’s a man’s fantasy of how he wants his girl to be. He wants his girl to agree with him. Archana in ‘ThiruThiru...’ is a nag and irritating, telling people what to do. Arjun is how I see men in real life. They are carefree, they care only when there’s a time and need for it.”

Nandhini’s senior, Priya V, who made “Kanda Naal Mudhal” and “Kannamoochi Yenada”, believes that women filmmakers are turned down more because of the genre of the films they come up with, than their gender. “May be, women do make softer films,” she says. “My next project with Prithviraj and Bhavna is a little more grungy… we make things a little differently. The industry has been encouraging. May be, because they all know me and I’ve been around for years. Prasanna in ‘Kanda Naal Mudhal’ is probably how I want a guy to be.”

Comfort factor

Anita Udeep, who recently made “Kulir 100”, believes that that the industry is not exactly ready to take commands from a woman. “When I narrated a story to a producer, he asked if we could ask someone else to direct it. He wasn’t sure if stars would let me direct. When I tell a male star that the heroine has a lot of scope to perform, he is not comfortable with that. When I tell a female star that she has a performance-oriented role, she says doing roles of substance makes it difficult for her to get ‘glamour’ roles. If she does a solo-heroine role, her market goes down completely.”

Gayathri, who makes films with her husband Pushkar (“Oram Po”), believes that lack of a family audience is responsible for male-centric films. “If you go to any theatre, most of the audience is below 30 and male, across centres. If you are making a woman-centric film, from a marketing point of view, you are kind of restricting yourself. From an economic point of view, right from snacks and the cost of tickets to parking, it costs quite a bit for a family to go to a movie. Also, they have TV shows to watch. For a family audience, movies have become a special occasion.”

“As a filmmaker, I believe in making films that I would like to watch,” she adds. “I have frat-boy kind of taste. I like films such as ‘Dude, Where’s my Car’ or ‘Hangover’.”

As Anita says: “There are a lot of preconceived notions because distributors and producers have been in the industry for far too long. To their luck, something will click that reinforces their beliefs. A new generation has to come in…right from producers, actors, distributors … new people who will work towards something new. Today, people laugh and say ‘ Paavam, she does not know’. This is the world we are in and we have to win in this. Otherwise, you have to make low-budget films, break even, and be happy.”