In part 2 of our around the globe series I thought it would be good to take a look at Bollywood. Whilst the industry shares its name with Hollywood, is it incorporating female filmmakers any more than its American counterpart?
The short answer is not really.
Representation of women in films coming out of India have been criticised for their gender stereotyping and even sometimes abusive nature. This heavily male dominated cinema has led to films directed by women becoming the victim of censorship due to there “lady orientated” content and therefore has resulted in real women coming in as directors receiving the same treatment as female characters in the films.
Alankrita Shrivastava is one such director who, relatively recently, went through this struggle with censorship over her film Lipstick Under My Burkha. This was because as Shrivastava explains that “The censors have a problem with a female point of view; they’re just not comfortable with something that questions or disturbs the status quo” (1). The film follows four young girls search for a little freedom in their small crowded town in India and it’s clear in just that little synopsis what may have sparked the censors.
It seems that for Bollywood getting female voices heard is even harder, the issue stemming more from India’s culture itself than from any bias within the film industry. But of course one feeds into the other so there is a lot to change about the way India culture sees women before any big movements can be made within its cinema.
Shrivastava says “This perspective has led to discrimination against women, violence against women. Our popular culture justifies this perspective, and makes stalking seem like love, makes harassment and abuse of women okay.”
But that doesn’t stop certain women from trying. Apart from Alankrita Shrivastava filmmakers like Zoya Akhtar, Anu Menon and Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari are all making films in Bollywood, despite the cultural discrimination, and challenging the gender ideals set out by the industry itself. Ashwiny stating that like she doesn’t like “being tagged as a woman director. No one tags a male film director as such. And unlike four-five years back, there are enough women in the industry now.” (2)
Bollywood is struggling with its representation of women and bringing equality into the rolls of its women both off and on the screen, but its not for lack of trying or for lack of wanting to change. And whilst the women of India’s cinema may be censored for striving to make films that lack the stereotypical musically happy plots of Bollywood’s cinema, it is hopeful that through their push for making films about the issues affecting Indian women will shift the culture to become more accepting.