Mumbai Fest: What Women Want

Festival Panel Highlights Emerging Female Directors

MUMBAI -- Without resorting to obvious cliches like “girl power," the Mumbai Film Festival included a panel discussion on issues related to women filmmakers, in light of the number of upcoming women directors here that have been making their presence felt recently.

Add to that the fact that this year's all-female MFF jury is headed by Oscar winner Jane Campion and the setting seemed appropriate to discuss what women really want when it comes to making films.

Moreover, this year's Oscar entry from India, Peepli Live, is directed by a woman, former journalist Anusha Rizvi, who was one of eight directors featured in a panel discussion at the festival Sunday that discussed the challenges women face in a male-dominated industry.

“Beyond just women directors you have to realize that women have been working in various technical fields in production for a while and the obstacles they face are seldom highlighted,” said Rizvi.

Rajshree Ojha, who recently directed Aisha -- a Bollywood take on Jane Austen's Emma set in upscale Delhi -- shared her experience working with a female producer on a film with female-centric characters. “Our set was women-dominated and hormonally charged – men were scared!” joked Ojha.

Well-known actress turned director Nandita Das learned from her experience with her directorial debut Firaaq that “it is essential to get the right producer. Honestly, my experience with my producers (film banner Percept Picture Company) left a lot to be desired and I had to be personally involved in concluding sales deals for the film among other marketing challenges.”

Being taken seriously as the boss on set seemed to be another challenge, but as Zoya Akhtar explained, “If I am a woman and the boss on set, well, others will have to just deal with it. If I want to cry then I will -– there is no way I am going to change anything about who I am.”

Another debutante director Sona Jain, whose recent release Be Real was an English film set in Delhi about a young girl who thinks her mother is an alien, added, “If you have to get the work done and the only way to do that is to be tough and bulldoze your way through, then so be it.”

Perhaps one of the most experienced professionals on the panel was Sooni Taraporevala (Mississippi Masala), who recently turned director with her 2007 debut Little Zizou, said “For me turning director was about experiencing a new kind of freedom as just being a writer can sometimes be limiting. My debut film was my gift to me as I turned 50!”

Obvious expectations from women directors when it comes to themes and directing styles also offer challenges. “My film Firaaq was about the aftermath of the 2002 riots in Gujarat (western India) and without showing overt violence it still had elements that scared audiences,” said Das. “So it's not that women can't tackle such themes in their films.”

Similarly Peepli Live -- which premiered at Sundance -- has garnered critical and commercial acclaim for its satirical take on the issue of farmer suicides and the ensuing media circus it unleashes topped with bureaucratic red tapism.

Looking out for government support such as special quotas for women filmmakers didn't seem to find any takers, as Rizvi explained, “Considering how the government is handling existing and more serious issues from health to education or even women's rights, I really don't have much expectations.”

On a lighter note, like men, women too take away something special from their films. “I take some of the wardrobe home!” quipped Akhtar who made her directorial debut with 2009's Luck By Chance.