For the first time in Indian cinema, two films directed by women that were released within two weeks are seeing a dream run on their respective OTT platforms. The Malayalam film, 19 (1) (a), by Indhu VS (Disney+ Hotstar) and the Hindi film, Darlings (Netflix) by Jasmeet K Reen have kept our minds and hearts full and are on top of ‘most watched’ lists.
Both films have garnered similar populist appeal and feature famous stars in lead roles. The story in both films can be labelled with words like ‘edgy’, ‘noir’, ‘poignant’, ‘niche’, ‘issue-centric’, ‘heroine-centric’… Both films have the transformation of a protagonist (Nithya Menen and Alia Bhatt) as a core theme. Both deal with a larger issue impacting an individual and reiterate the fact that no one can exist in isolation, that there is no individual without society, and vice-versa, and what impacts one, impacts all.
In 19 (1) (a), politics and freedom of expression find a soft spot without the film being preachy or jingoistic about it. Darlings is about domestic abuse. Both problems are handled with care, authentic emotion, and splendid performances. Both show a spectacular eye for good filmmaking. The cinematography and music specifically in both films are top-notch. That we now have two additional ‘women directors’ to the tiny percentage of debut filmmakers in India who are women, is in itself a feat to be celebrated!
It’s 2022, and yet, we are lagging behind in women finding a seat at the top. It takes longer than ‘just a while’ for a woman technician/writer/director to find her voice/spotlight in cinema. It takes longer for women who aren’t inherently wealthy to become producers or directors, as investors don’t come forward to give that equal opportunity. The ask is for just that much. An ‘equal opportunity’ to participate in the game, and thereafter, let the best man win! (pun intended).
Though Netflix and Amazon hire women executives to lead their content and business portfolios, it doesn’t guarantee that other women talents will find equal opportunity on these (or other) platforms. At the end of the day, it is all about who got impressed with your story and how well you were able to use the opportunity to sell it. This is great—no complaints, but more often than not, even to get to this equal opportunity, women have to be extraordinarily patient and ‘hang in there’.
As we discuss the O’Womaniya report which shows us the dismal percentage of women in HOD positions inside a film set and otherwise in the film industry, another film helmed by a woman, Kiruthiga Udhayanidhi, dropped on Zee5 Tamil. Paper Rocket is in the ‘feel-good’ space and features multiple actors and landscapes. This genre is seldom taken seriously because people think it’s easy to whip up smile-inducing or tear-jerking scenes (like they say in advertising, babies and puppies are great click-baits).
But it is as tough to elicit warmth on screen as it is for any other emotion. Also, this genre is what is expected of a woman filmmaker in general, right?! A look at the filmography of directors like Reema Kagti and Zoya Akhtar show the tremendous scope of the ‘feel-good genie’. The genre is a gift that can keep on giving!
Women making good cinema today will become a gift for the next generation of filmmakers. More women behind the camera and inside the film industry in key positions will enable more representation, and we can then see more of us leading from the front. It’s about time (and as the line from Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy goes, “Apna time aayega…”