Women’s day just went by. We are still fighting for equal rights. This sounds quite strange, does it not? In today’s times when one Alyssa Carson prepares herself for setting off towards Mars, another girl in some distant village of India is fighting for her basic education. But this is the general scenario. Today, I will talk about the equal rights of women in the film industry of India, be it Bollywood, Tollywood or any other regional industry.
We all know that in the initial days of filmmaking, women of good families would not act in the films. Like operas, men used to play female roles, but gradually the producers got concerned about the fact and to make things more natural, they used to cast women from brothels. We all know the names of Hiralal Sen, Dada Saheb Phalke and Himangshu Rai but how many of us know the names of Fatima Begum, Kamlabai Kamte or Durgabai Kamte?
Fatima Begum can be called one of the first female producers of Indian cinema and also the first female superstar. In 1926, she started a production house where she produced several hit films in the fantasy genre. Devika Rani was another known woman of initial Indian cinema. She was an actress and the wife of Himangshu Rai, a famous filmmaker of that time. She also was the co-owner of the famous Bombay Talkies.
Then there was Aruna Raje Patil, India’s first trained woman film technician. The popular thought of a woman in the film is either as a ‘heroine’ or a playback singer, but the above-stated women broke the stereotype and pioneered a new era.
According to a report by the Geena Davis Institute (2017), only one in ten directors in Bollywood are women. The ratio of male to female technicians is even lesser, we still love to watch stunts performed by the hero or the male stuntmen other than a female stunt person.
The reason is that we like to see women being rescued, not the ones rescuing. Bollywood is a bigger reflection of what is happening around the entire country.
The recent #MeToo movement is a mirror to the reality behind the silver screen, how female aspirants, even popular actresses, are prayed upon. Is this cinema’s reward to the female contributors? According to an art critic, “Men act, women appear.” Unfortunately, this statement is still applicable in 2021.
We love heroines to be slim, fair and pretty and the industry also pays them lesser than the male actors. We have female directors having several national and international acclamation but most of us don’t know their name. As a result, their films, in spite of being very good, remain unknown and unwatched. This is how we are paying them.
It is high time we change our attitude towards female film technicians. There are worldwide initiatives especially for female filmmakers or female producers; there are several festivals dedicated only to female filmmakers as well as technicians but until and unless we initiate a shift in our perspective, they will continue to remain neglected and unsung.
There are some women filmmakers who are spoken about for their work like Mira Nair, Alankrita Shrivastava, Rima Rai and more. But to change the ratio, we need more directors like Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari and Zoya Akhtar, so one day, there is no need for a separate women filmmakers festival and the competition is truly equal.