In a male-dominated industry like Malayalam cinema, where female directors, editors, costume designers and other technicians were virtually non-existent in the past, the last few years have seen the rise of some prominent names who have carved a niche for themselves. Music, however, continues to be an area where the female presence is sorely lacking.
In Bollywood, a select group such as Jaddanbai (the first female music composer in India), Usha Khanna, Saraswati Devi, and Sneha Kanwalkar made their presence known by working with some established filmmakers; but they have not been able to acquire the same status as their male counterparts. Mollywood also faces the same problem.
“There is the attitude that female composers won’t be able to deliver as well as their male counterparts,” says Sayanora Philip, who composed the score of Kuttanpillayude Sivarathri this year. “In Malayalam, most of the women just wanted to sing. It is only recently when one or two of them started getting the opportunity to compose that I pondered the possibility of doing the same myself.”
The main stumbling block seems to be the work-life balance. “Being a composer requires you to spend a lot of hours away from your family,” says Sayanora. “There is a big difference between singing a song and composing a background score. I was able to do it because my family was very supportive.”
The priority should be given more to the artist and not their gender, says Sayanora.
“How many filmmakers today say, ‘Let’s bring a female music director to do this’? Not very often. But I think there is a possibility of this situation improving in the near future. So far, nobody has told me, and I haven’t sensed this yet that they are uncomfortable working with me. Whoever I’ve worked with have been very supportive of me.”
However, Neha Nair, who composed two songs for Iyobinte Pusthakam, has a different take. “I think it mostly has to do with the fact that a male director is uncomfortable with the idea of approaching a woman,” she says. “Usually, when a director or producer hires a male composer, it is someone close to him or in his network. I got an opportunity because I collaborated with a male composer (Yakzan Gary Pereira). I’m not sure I would have gotten that if I was working alone.”
Producers and directors should be more open to working with female composers, adds Neha. “Most men have a problem with taking opinions from women.”
Neha believes that the only way to bring about a change is by bringing more female technicians on board. “The male-female ratio has to be balanced. And well-established female directors working right now should try to incorporate more women in their team. Funny thing is, these female directors also call male composers. But seeing how getting opportunities is extremely difficult, it would behove them to hire more female composers in the future.”