Who says it’s a man’s world? Women directors in Tamil cinema are busy breaking stereotypes, says Subha J. Rao

Movie magic and a healthy dose of woman power. That’s what audiences have got in the last couple of weeks. There’s Soundarya Rajinikanth Ashwin’s hi-tech extravaganza Kochadaiiyaan, Halitha Shameem’s Enid Blytonesque Poovarasam Pee Pee, and Anjali Menon’s ode to cousins, Bangalore Days. Each of these films falls in a different genre, and pushes certain set boundaries. They question the general perception that inevitably exists of what movies women ought to be making.

Women are typically slotted in the rom-com or documentary mould. So, when Anjana Ali Khan made her debut with Veppam, which married some love with lots of action, it raised eyebrows, quite a few in appreciation. Most reviews for Aishwarya Dhanush’s love story-cum-psychological thriller 3 mentioned the fact that the film’s plot was not the usual debut material, especially for a woman.

The last couple of years have seen quite a few women directors who have created quirky, offbeat films. But how well has the industry accepted their efforts? Will they manage to create an oeuvre, find their signature, and make a place for themselves in movie memory?

Anjana, 42, still recalls her eight years of struggle to get a break in feature films. She was 37 when she made Veppam. “Your script becoming a film depends largely on timing, rather than on genre or who’s making it,” she says. “Once on board, you are treated just like a director; not a male or female director,” she says. “People were taken aback when they came to know the subject of my first film. But we don’t react negatively when we see a sensitive film made by an Iranian male director, do we? It’s pretty much the same thing…” Anjana’s next, which rolls this August, is a light-hearted story about a guy who falls in love with his dentist. This will be followed by an action-drama and a period film.

The industry, says Priya V, 43, director of Kanda Naal Mudhal and Kannamoochi Yenada, encourages anyone who is serious about their craft. “I missed chances because the producer did not like the story or narration, not because I was a woman,” she explains. At 34, Priya chose the rom-com route for her debut. “By nature, I like human drama. I’m not sure I can do action,” she says. Priya says that in a hero-based industry, few favour scripts that are not typically heroic. “But this is my struggle and I am in it for the long run,” she says. Priya, presently helping husband Bhushan with his Tamil serial, is in talks with Prakash Raj’s production house and Bejoy Nambiar for her next two projects.

Kiruthiga Udhayanidhi, 36, who made the über colourful Vanakkam Chennai, says she faced twin issues — she was a woman and she was inexperienced in movie-making. “The crucial thing is to pitch a concept well. When you do that, everything falls into place,” she says. Her next film is an intense family drama, and she’s firm about steering clear of feminist issues. “I like commercial films. I don’t want to force-feed my ideas to people. I want to make films vastly different from each other. No one must draw parallels among my films,” she says. “And yes, I don’t want to be branded. Ever.”

Aishwarya Dhanush, 31, had it easier even though she chose a mature subject for her debut. She says even if her superstar father and husband are removed from the picture, it was not a very difficult journey. “It would have been very difficult 10-12 years ago; fortunately, I came in when there is not a big difference with regard to gender,” she says. “Now, the movie is more important than the person making it.” Aishwarya’s next is an adventure thriller, Vai Raja Vai, and she says, “There is no norm that a woman must write a certain kind of script. Women have an advantage in that they can think both like a woman and a man.”

For instance, Aishwarya says she has always been drawn to thrillers. “There was an undercurrent of this in 3 too. I would like to explore before deciding my kind of genre. For now, I’m consumed by Vai… For this film, starring Gautham Karthik, Aishwarya says she gave a ‘regular’ narration to AGS, and approached the hero with a script, “just like any other director. No references, no recommendations”.

But sadly, women have not been as prolific and long-lasting as their male counterparts. That’s changing now, says Anjana. “It isn’t as much of a surprise any more to see a woman’s name in the credits as director.” Says Priya, who wants to do films forever, “I hope there comes a time when I am called a filmmaker, not a woman filmmaker.”

Others who made a difference

Janaki Vishwanathan: Kutty, Kanavu Meipada Vendum, Bakrapur

Lakshmy Ramakrishnan: Aarohanam

JS Nandhini: Thiru Thiru Thuru Thuru

Madhumita: Kola Kolaya Mundhirika