Nandita Dutta speaks to Airports India about her latest book F Rated and her views on women filmmakers in India
“A good career option for a man but exploration for the woman.” This is the statement that thousands of woman are fighting against every single day. What do you feel about it? Did you ever face such comments from either your friends or family, or even colleagues?
Not exactly in those many words, but I have often faced judgement from my family for being “too ambitious” at the cost of all the other relationships and obligations that a woman must invest in. I think what’s happening is that while people are no longer closed to the possibility of women working outside of home, there is still the belief that their profession or career is secondary to their primary “calling” or “responsibility” of getting married and raising a family. It is an “exploration” for a woman because eventually, structural factors will force her to make a choice, and she will end up choosing family over her profession.
“What women create is an art, but only a man knows what the box-office demands.” Why do you think this notion is still out there?
Thankfully, content-driven films have been doing very well at the box-office for a few years now, but until sometime ago, there was a certain type of formulaic and unimaginative film that became a box-office success. My sense is that most women do not want to pander to that formula. When they get a chance to make a film, which is hard to come by in the first place, they exercise their unique vision and tell the story they really want to tell. The other side is that the powers that be in the film industry, the stars and the producers, prefer to put their money and trust into men, which means it is only natural that you will have more men making box-office hits than women. However, I have to say that things are changing now, but not at a pace that we would like them to.
There have been several discussions on various platforms about the need to stop comparing the work on the basis of gender behind it. What do you feel is the reason behind this comparison.?
While everybody will agree that gender should not be used as a discount coupon, I think it is delusional to assume a level playing field for men and women. That films should be judged purely on merit is a seemingly logical but an extremely short-sighted argument that does not take into account the entry barriers that women face. Men have it relatively easy making their first film, and are generously given a second chance if they fail, while that is not the case with women. My book grapples with this question constantly: should women filmmakers be called “women filmmakers” at all? Why or why not? And I hope that after reading the book, readers will be able to make up their mind on that.
The idea of having a woman leading in any field has comparatively become more acceptable in the metropolitan cities. However, the situations are not the same everywhere. Do you feel that cinema is a good medium to change this mentality?
Definitely; cinema has an enormous hold over people’s minds and hearts in India. Creating well-rounded female characters and stopping to glorify misogynistic male characters can go a long way in changing people’s mentality. When I was a girl growing up in a small town in India, I looked for role models on the screen, and I know that it would ring true for a lot of women. Having said that, women will automatically find wholesome representation in films when there are more women writing and directing films.
So many years have passed and it is still difficult for a woman to find their voice in the film industry. What do you think is going to change the scenario for the woman in the industry?
That is not an easy question to answer. I have had to write a whole book trying to find answers. But one thing that immediately comes to mind is that if production houses make a conscious effort to channel their confidence and resources into promoting women writers and directors, they will see wonderful results. Also, as viewers, we have to put our money where our mouth is.