There has been a lot of chatter around “women-centric” films. I put that in double quotes because telling women’s stories is considered offbeat. Given that we make up some 50% of the population, it’s strange that we still want to refer to these stories, about completely regular women as a whole new genre. We’ve been making movies about men and their problems for donkeys years now and I don’t see them being called male-centric movies. Now that we’ve moved on from taking shots of thrusting pelvises and heaving bosoms, maybe we can look at reel life stories as an extension of real life.
Increasingly, the stories being told in reel life are reflecting our reality. And I think that’s endearing. We spoke to the women who are spearheading shows and movies on Netflix– the ones that hold a mirror to real life- and got them to spill the beans on what they think about the changing narrative of reel life being based on real life.
The Netflix Naari
Tahira Kashyap, producer and author is of the opinion that reel life imitates real life and vice versa. “It’s both ways actually. Cinema portrays reality and and at times pushes the boundaries of reality and inspires people towards having liberal mind sets. For instance in the film Queen, it was a concept based on single honeymoon, basically the girl going on a solo trip which is liberating for an Indian woman especially in her patriarchal set up, where at times she needs to be accompanied even while going to the market. Cinema gives wings to dream to many and at times its content is based on that one outlier, but encourages many others to push their limits. Be it my own short films, Pinni which is based on a small act of rebellion by a mid-aged house wife or Toffee the short film based on child marriage. Cinema at times, is an extension of one’s beliefs and at times based on changing social structures for women that need to be portrayed on a larger canvas for mindsets to expand and eventually change. We today have women doing breakthrough roles in cinema, at times as someone’s figment of imagination, a sense of true desire to see women liberated and at times it’s based on observations like in my other short film Quaranteen Crush in Feels like Ishq. Either way, it’s a good time to see women doing some amazing roles which earlier were there only for the men to consider.”
Rytasha Rathore was loved in her role in Masaba Masaba on Netflix where she plays the designer’s best friend. “What’s happening now is that women are writing their own stories. Women are finally getting into rooms where we previously had limited or zero access. Now there is a new generation of strong and empowered women who bow down to no one. We no longer have female characters only written by a room full of men and their skewed views of what being a woman is. A character like Gia from Masaba for example – she is a well rounded individual with a whole narrative of her own as opposed to the mainstream Bollywood trope of “heroine ki best friend”. It’s such an exciting time to be a female actor and creator. The possibilities are endless!”
Mrunal Thakur’s take is interesting. She says that reel life inspires conversations previously considered taboo. She says, “I think cinema has always lead with change and always been a mechanism of change to a certain degree. Many narratives are sometime not popularly accepted or known, hence a story reflecting that on screen helps it to reach a far wider audience. Real life changes of social acceptance and the strive to do that definitely inspires filmmakers and actors to bring that to the screen. But often stories which are often tabooed have been seen on screen and have lead to a conversation which is where art inspires a talk/conversation.”
Of course, we had to speak to Neena Gupta, the powerhouse of talent and the upholder of really cool views on women’s roles in reel life and real life. “The role of women in our society is changing. But that’s only in big towns and that to maybe just like point point point 1% of women population, but it is very good that at least there is a beginning, it has started. Women are getting educated, they are working, they are looking after their health. They are enjoying their work. It is not like earlier days where a woman could only be a teacher – that was the decent kind of a job for women – not other jobs. But now they are doing all kinds of things. When I go to shoot these days, women are not just actors, there is a whole lot of women now working in production as well. As camera assistants, camera women etc. So when there’s a change in society, there is bound to be a change in the content of anything like movies, novels, short stories, documentaries, everything.”
She continues, “A very big advantage of OTT platforms where the budgets are not so huge is that you are not dependent on the Friday or Saturday collections. People can watch it whenever they want. So new kinds of things are written for women. The biggest example is me, who’s 60 plus, and now getting very interesting roles to play. I! who had nothing much to play for the past 30 years. Also, I’m getting a lead part in films also at my age, which was never heard of. Social media has also changed society. Yeah, I mean, there are women oriented films written where the hero is a woman. People are talking about women’s sexuality, which was like a total taboo thing and films are being made about them. People like experimenting with things and trying to do different kinds of things, which is very heartwarming.”
Guneet Monga says, “I really hope that women are no longer seen as damsels in distress. That now everybody consuming cinema is able to see a reflection of themselves. I really hope that it is evolving and changing. I think it’s not just an India thing, it’s a global thing. I do think that the shift in pop culture, the power of social media is impacting things at a ground level. It only goes from strength to strength. ”