Three Indian directors, speaking on an Industry Conference panel at the hybrid 45th Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), threw light on the fight to break the shackles of patriarchy in a male-dominated movie industry.
The TIFF Spotlight on ‘Women in Indian Cinema’, moderated by film critic journalist Naman Ramchandran, was organised with the support of the Indian consulate general in Toronto.
The filmmakers on the panel – Leena Yadav (“Parched”, “Rajma Chawal”), Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari (“Nil Battey Sannata”, “Bareilly Ki Barfi”, “Panga”) and actor-turned-director Tannishtha Chatterjee (whose debut behind the camera, “Roam Rome Mein”, is doing the festival rounds and awaiting release) – spoke as much about the challenges they face as about the opportunities they now have in a changing world.
Apoorva Srivastava, Indian Consul General in Toronto, said: “We agreed to partner with this initiative because of two reasons: one, women directors bring in a fresh perspective and two, this totally aligns with the aim to increase women’s participation in the movie industry both behind and in front of the camera.”
Chatterjee, a TIFF regular who is currently helming Season 3 of Amazon Prime Video’s “Four More Shots Please!”, asserted that while misogyny is an undeniable reality in the movie industry, she faced no problems as a first-time director.
She had a largely female crew, including the director of photography, and so gender was never an issue during the “Roam Rome Mein” shoot, Chatterjee said.
The film, about a man whose sister goes missing, does not simply address the women’s empowerment theme. In the process of his search, “the male protagonist realises his own deep-seated gender prejudices”, she said.
“I wanted to make a film about women,” said Chatterjee, “but I also wanted to shake something in men.”
Yadav, striking a hopeful note, said: “I think we are as an industry transitioning from reacting to gender to reacting to individuals.” She, however, was quick to add that “solid conditioning” is still a problem.
Some people on film sets in Mumbai, she added, make blatantly sexist statements without probably meaning what they say.
There is so much competition in the Mumbai industry today that decisions regarding who will be hired and who will not be “have gone beyond gender considerations if you are good at your job”, Yadav, whose “Parched” premiered in TIFF in 2015, said.
Sharing her experience during the filming of “Nil Battey Sannata” in Agra five years ago, Iyer Tiwari said: “The local production people took a while to get used to the idea of taking orders from a woman. It was kind of difficult but they did come around by the end of the shoot.”
Yadav, too, was up against similar resistance when she went scouting for locations for “Parched”.
“The villages I went to refused me permission because I was a woman,” she said. “The villagers said our women will get corrupted by you.”
On the logic behind the making of “Parched”, Yadav said: “We wanted to blow the pants off ‘Sex in the City’ by making ‘Sex in the Village’. The idea was to have an honest, unfiltered conversation on sex.”
Yadav asserted that she wasn’t interested in telling a “sad story about repression”.
She added: “I am telling a story celebrating the spirit of these women, these survivors.”
“I am also empathetic to the men, who are not being addressed and who need an equal amount of healing from their conditioning. It is difficult being that man in that society,” Yadav said.