Some shine in the spotlight. Some stay in the background and put the spotlight for the others to shine. We had both kinds for a Women's Day pan discussion and as it progressed no it was not hard to comprehend why success for these participants has been unprecedented.
Whether it’s scripting a film or song lyrics, whether it’s acting in a film or producing it, whether it involves working on the nuances of a stand-up routine or whether it means creating content for latest streaming platforms, all our participants had one thing in common - the relentless pursuit to challenge stereotypes rather than fit in. Meet Jennifer Salke - Head Amazon Studios, Vidya Balan – actress, Guneet Monga – producer, Zoya Akhtar – director, Sumukhi Suresh – comedian, Sooni Taraporewala- screenplay writer, and Gazal Dhaliwal - actor and writer.
As these creative heads got together to discuss what the current narrative for women in the media and entertainment industry look like in India, there were moments of cold fact checks, intense discussion and some humour too. The panel moderated by journalist Anuradha Sengupta saw these women speak about the overall canvas of story-telling, which they all agreed was finally looking more nuanced with vibrant flourishes as more colors have been added to the palette.
Actress Vidya Balan, who has experimented with a variety of roles, excitedly spoke about how she’s received better, stronger roles than ever before. “Everything in the industry is getting more female-centric with a range being offered that is also commercially viable,” she added.
However, it was then asked if the change will be long term or does it come with a shelf life. Zoya Akhtar believed that this change is for the good of all Bollywood. She went on to say, “Quite honestly, no one is portraying anyone, man or woman, the right way in Bollywood! It’s time we all deserved some realism.” Added, Gazal Dhaliwal, writer and actor, of Lipstick Under My Burkha, “Perhaps we can finally bring to life the men we all deserve in our stories!” prompting laughter from the audience.
The conversation explored some intriguing thoughts from minds that brought us the likes of Gully Boy, Dirty Picture, Pushpavalli and The Namesake. It was emphasized that female narration should be pushed to show just how much women have come forward. While comedian Sumukhi Suresh has embraced this, she also felt that “it needs to be taken a step further and offer women the chance to not only be the best ‘female comedian’ in their field but expand this judgement to the best in their field. Period.”
Extending this thought Jennifer Salke, spoke of this year’s film selection at the US Sundance Film Festival that involved work from four women and how this fact wasn’t remarked upon. She said, “We’re finally coming upon a time where a fuller consideration of work from directors, irrespective of male or female, has come into play! This is not a conscious thing, but simply considered the norm.”
Narratives driven by women saw the social media angle also thrown in by Oscar winning film producer Guneet Monga. She said, “Social media is effectively acting as a platform that is enabling women to bring forth their stories and holding those accountable for their actions.” This democratizing of the story telling is also helping women they felt.
It all came down to development of women for the larger good of humankind. Sooni Taraporewala, screenwriter, photographer and filmmaker, summed up our session pretty well, “We should go beyond the boxes of male or female to really progress. The need of the hour is to be nuanced, rather than black and white. To truly love and understand each other, is the key to progressing as people, as women.”
Browse through some more pics (below) from the event.