Ladies Special: how women are rewriting the silver screen script

Actors All: Rasika Dugal, Richa Chadha, Tillotama Shome with Namrata Joshi, Cinema Editor, The Hindu, after the session on women in cinema.

Actors All: Rasika Dugal, Richa Chadha, Tillotama Shome with Namrata Joshi, Cinema Editor, The Hindu, after the session on women in cinema.  

Multliplexes, digital streaming have brought about a change

Making non-formulaic films, a trend that started when multiplexes became an urban phenomenon, has now got bigger with the option of digital streaming. As the film industry — Hindi and regional languages — find newer audience niches, the kind of stories they get to tell have also transformed. One happy result of this is that the portrayal of women in Indian cinema has undergone significant transformation.

“I see more empowered and diverse characters now. It is no longer just the mother figure or the virgin,” actor Richa Chadha said. Ms. Chadha was part of a panel on “Actors all: the new face of women in Indian cinema” moderated by Namrata Joshi, Cinema Editor of The Hindu.

This metamorphosis of the film industry has also resulted in a lot of “outsiders” bagging acting opportunities that didn’t exist previously. Despite their success though, the speakers on the panel — Rasika Dugal, Tilotama Shome and Richa Chadha — are still considered “outsiders” in the industry.

“I have always felt like an outsider. However, as a grown-up now, I treasure the fact that I am an outsider. It allows me the perspective to see things in the industry for what they really are,” Ms. Shome said. “Even though there is diversity now, there is no inclusion,” Ms. Chadha added.

The young millennials chasing acting careers now, are shaking up the industry in more ways than one. For one, they are not slaves of the tried and tested, and would rather explore themes and nuances of female characters that were previously considered taboo. And more importantly, they have introduced their “millennial” sensibilities to the industry and are vocal about issues of social justice, class inequality and sexual harassment.

Question of portrayal

“With digital streaming, which is still largely uncensored, in our stories we have at last managed to acknowledge women as sexual beings,” Ms. Dugal said, adding “although sometimes even if the writing is good, there is a difficulty in understanding how to portray this on screen.”

That Indian cinema has mostly looked at its women through the prism of the male gaze continues to be a problem, although the entry of women as writers and directors has led to a small, but certain change in that.

“If the male gaze exists in society, it will exist in cinema too,” observed Ms. Chadha. “All of us are constantly taking selfies and wondering if we look fat in it. Beauty filters have entered our lives. But we are getting somewhere.”

Speaking of her experience in working on the film Sir, in which a young, prosperous man falls in love with his domestic help, Ms. Shome said it had made her more acutely aware of the inherent indifference to the lower classes.

There cannot be a discussion on the current state of cinema, without delving into the rampant sexual harassment and abuse in the industry. While the actresses have initiated talks of implementing the regulatory requirements to deal with complaints of sexual harassment, the power structure in the industry is so lopsided that harassment is unlikely to be eliminated. While Ms. Shome, Ms. Dugal and Ms. Chadha are talented actors, their contribution to the industry is likely to be more than through their films — their ability to fearlessly articulate the ills that plague their industry, which has survived for too long by brushing things under the carpet, will certainly leave a lasting impact. These “outsiders” will prevail.

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Printable version | Apr 1, 2020 8:47:30 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/ladies-special-how-women-are-rewriting-the-silver-screen-script/article26231283.ece

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