Over the last few years, the Indian streaming space has led the charge in championing female narratives in a way the big screen hasn’t. India’s booming OTT landscape has showcased several diverse stories centred on women — Disney+ Hotstar’s Aarya and Humans, SonyLIV’s Maharani, Amazon Prime Video’s Pushpavalli and Made in Heaven, to name a few.
“Since the beginning of 2020, we have collaborated with over 2,400 women creators, talent, and crew both on and off screen in India.”Tanya Bami,Netflix India
As for Netflix India, for all its faults and fumbles in the original series space, one arena where it has consistently delivered is in narratives centered around women. In the last year alone, the streaming giant has offered up Bombay Begums, Aranyak, Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein, and The Fame Game — shows mounted around female characters. Bombay Begums features female writers and directors, and Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankein, a female writer.
That said, the larger OTT gender representation story behind the camera remains far less encouraging. A recent report published by Film Companion and Ormax Media found that, out of almost 130 movies that released between 2019 and 2020 across theatrical and streaming, less than 10% had female HODs on set. This is why when Netflix India held the third edition of its Now Stree-ming event, aimed at celebrating the platform’s female artists and storytellers, I was ready with my questions. My panel comprised of actors Shweta Tripathi Sharma ( Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein), Swastika Mukherjee (Anvita Dutt’s upcoming Qala) and Masaba Gupta ( Masaba Masaba), together with Netflix India Series Head Tanya Bami and the popular Sima Aunty (Sima Taparia of Indian Matchmaking). Edited excerpts:
Shweta and Swastika
What do you feel streaming has given you that the big screen hasn’t?
Shweta Tripathi Sharma: As an actor, what I find most exciting about the OTT space is that characters are no longer “dry cleaned” and they go beyond the fixed definitions of what a hero and heroine can or should be. What I love is [that] we’re judging less. It’s more relatable and real and the stories and characters have a lot more depth, juice, and meat.
What’s also great about doing an OTT series is, unlike a film, I can revisit my characters. That gap between seasons gives you time to reflect on what more you can bring to those roles. Your characters are literally evolving with you.
Swastika Mukherjee: For me, it‘s opened a truck full of opportunities. I’ve been doing Bengali films for more than 20 years, but if it wasn’t for the OTT space, I’m not sure how many films I would be able to do in Mumbai. We’re telling the kinds of stories we want to, without people telling us we’re risking our image. It’s kind of a second innings for me.
While Netflix India is telling diverse stories about women, what is being done to champion female storytellers behind the camera and on set?
While we’ve had some very dynamic and powerful stories that champion female narratives, even behind the screen we have been very inclusive. Since the beginning of 2020, we have collaborated with over 2,400 women creators, talent, and crew both on and off screen in India. Our workforce has one of the healthiest gender ratios, 51% of which are women. People often discuss the glass ceiling, but more than 50% of our senior leaders are female. [When it comes to] leading the charge with our creators and our workforce, we’re doing what we can.
Your show Masaba Masaba is helmed by a female director. What changes are there with more women in key positions of power on set?
Masaba Gupta: It’s interesting because, in season 1 of Masaba Masaba, almost every HOD was a woman. And it was just because they were all great at their jobs. In season 2, we have a very steady mix of men and women on set.
“[Giving women opportunities] should be a way of life, not something you do because you want to have a ‘we hire women’ banner on your website”Masaba Gupta
I also think what’s started to happen is that, to make women get an equal seat at the table, men are being put down. You don’t need to put one down to uplift the other. I keep saying this — the idea that a woman should be given her position in the world shouldn’t be a marketing gimmick. It should be a way of life, not something you do because you want to have a “we hire women” banner on your website.
Swastika Mukherjee: That happens quite a lot nowadays. If we’re talking about what we want, it gets twisted as we’re attacking men. It’s not about crucifying men to get what we want. We want what is ours and that should happen organically. We’re having to fight for something that is normal, which is exhausting.