Monday, June 13, 2016
It was a great evening at the Essar House, celebrating 11th birthday of Laadli, a campaign for the girl child by Population First.
A big crowd had assembled to listen to five young women in Bollywood – not actors though - Guneet Monga, Juhi Chaturvedi, Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari, Jabeen Merchant and Pubali Chaudhari. Guneet is CEO at Anurag Kashyap Films and producer of Gangs of Wasseypur and The Lunchbox. Juhi is the screenwriter of Vicky Donor and Piku, Pubali is screenwriter of Rock On and Kai Po Che, Jabeen is film editor of NH10, and Ashwiny is director of Nil Battey Sannaata. It was pure joy listening to these smart and practical and exuberant women, Dolly Thakore was in her element, making them talk about themselves. What impressed me was there was no bitterness, in spite of obvious horrible experiences. They could crack a joke about themselves. And, they didn’t hate the men, neither particularly from Bollywood nor generally. Actor Swara Bhaskar who joined the discussion towards the end, was also candid about her experiences, especially with NBS.
Guneet has studied producing and has started her career as an intern in 2004. She has worked as a line producer too. She came to Mumbai in 2007, when she was all of 21. ‘I come from a modest family, was an only daughter. I was learning dance in school, so my father would ask me, ‘What should we tell people, that meri beti najti hai?’ I started learning taekwondo, meri beti marpeet karti hai . I started playing the drums, he asked, ‘What should we tell people, that meri beti band bajati hai ?’ So the focus was how I would marry. My parents died suddenly, one after the other, when I was 24. So I didn’t know what to do with myself. She worked with Anurag Kashyap for a long time, that was when GoW happened. Lunchbox was a different experience as it was a IndoFrench joint project. ‘I don’t have lots of money, I help raise money for a film. So I read the script, and am part of decision making at every level – casting, marketing, etc.’ ‘The problem is nobody wants to talk money with a woman. That too a young woman. I was too young to be heard, to be taken seriously, to discuss money with. People would ask me, Mam, who is the producer? My family thought I was gone into a dark space when I came to Mumbai, kind of haath se nikal gayi. However, now the same extended family is happy about her success.
Juhi, the writer of a different film Vicky Donor, had just a one liner in her head for some time. A man who sells his sperms. When she told the story to her long time Friend Shoojit Sarkar, he laughed at her. But he came back 3-4 days later and said he was ready to try it out. ‘When I started writing the script, I discovered the multiple layers of the story. They were not originally in my head.’ But when we went to talk to producers, uttering the word ‘sperm’ was becoming impossible. The men just couldn’t take it from a woman. They couldn’t imagine where the story would go to if it started with a sperm. So we said, the film is about kidney donor!
Ashwiny has made many ad films, and NBS is her first feature film. ‘When I was making a short ad film on the girl child for KBC, I went to rural Haryana. During a break, a few women in ghoonghat started to speak to me. They asked me if I was there with my husband, which I was not. My husband was home looking after my twins. One of the women told me secretively that her daughter was going to Gurgaon to study further. It was such a happy moment for her, but she didn’t want the other to know. The Mukhiya of the village was like, so what’s the big deal about a girl child being born? That’s when I decided, some day, I will make a film about this. I would often think about this. One day, my husband gave an idea, why not make a film in which the mother and daughter go to school together? I had an example of this at home. My masi studied library science at the age of 52 and then she taught in a school till the age of 60. She was so happy about this.’
Jabeen, who has edited a violent, aggressive film like the NH10, gave a good insight in the world of editors. Margaret Booth, who was working with MGM, was the first woman editor and apparently the term was coined for her. Editors were called ‘cutters’ till then. A big movie like Bonny and Clyde is edited by Dorothea Carothers "Dede" Allen. Ideally I am involved from the beginning, right from reading the script. There are more women editors than there are women directors/producers. Women are better storytellers, so they are better editors too. Jabeen had a point when she said, I had to ask myself am I being one of the boys? What difference am I bringing in?
The one name Dolly couldn't get right was Pubali's. Pubali is the typically fiery Bong Jadavpur university-FTII product. (BTW, Pubali means Purvai, that which comes from the East). ‘Rock On came to me just after I passed out of FTII. I was friends with a rock band back in Kolkata, I knew how difficult/impossible it is to bring together a band which has dispersed. So it was sort of easy. However, my challenge was Kai Po Che, based on a novel by Chetan Bhagat. Being from Jadavpur Univ and FTIi, I was definitely a ‘wannabe intellectual’ and it was a challenge for me accept CB as an author. It took 18 drafts of that script to clear. It was difficult, so I am prouder of KPC than Rock On. Arguments, disagreements are always there. But finally you want to make the same film!
Talking of difficult moments as a woman, Ashwiny talked about the shoot in Agra. ‘People were just not used to having a woman director, they wouldn’t know how to address me. I was called Sir in the beginning. Things cannot be calm and peaceful on the set with hundreds of people, so I would get angry often. People couldn’t take that from me, whereas a male director screaming abuses would have been totally normal. Men can share a smoke, a drink and things are alright soon. Not so with a woman director.
One experience she shared was heartening. There was a young teenager girl as AD, on the shoot where a real marriage procession was happening. People wouldn't even notice her, forget about obeying her. But she did a good job. The line director told Ashwiny in the evening, that it was the first time he had seen a girl AD and, he had this to add – “Ab jaake meri beti ko sikhavuga ki kya banna hai .”
Juhi is from Lucknow. ‘I wanted to take admission in the College of Art, do a BFA. But my father was like, what should I tell people, they don’t know what is a BFA? Do BA instead. How will you get married? However, my mother who was keen to support me mainly because she had never had her way. Finally, father said, he won’t pay my fees. I was the topper in the entrance exam, so my first year fees were paid for from the scholarship. Then I started freelancing for the TOI, so I never had to take money from him after that. But he realized later what I was doing and what BFA meant. He started taking pride in me and my work that was published.’ Juhi has this to tell the young women, ‘you have to constantly prove yourself. The family has to feel confident about you, that you will survive, that you will not go astray. So not misusing the freedom is a great responsibility.’
Jabeen, the film editor, wanted to become a writer, a journalist. But while studying at Sophia, she realized that films were closer to her heart. Thus she came to the films.
Swara, all made up and in stilettos, joined the discussion and was a hit immediately with her bright smile and confident speech. ‘People think Amir Khan is a perfectionist, but they don’t know Ashwiny. In the middle of a shot, she would stop everything and tell a guy a kilometer away to change his gamchha!’ Swara said, she took the script of NBW from Ashwiny only to be able to say no after reading it. However, once she read it, she was totally into it. ‘The film was a big learning for me. I realized that it’s okay to grow up, it’s okay to have kids, actors can also be normal!’
For Pubali, the toughest moment for any writer is in solitude. As it is writers are not given much importance, so when you are a woman, things are more difficult. And when you are alone, you think if it is going okay. Nobody sees that struggle you have with yourself. ‘Writers are just told to write on the given lines, a woman writer is all the more lower on the hierarchy. I smoke, I abuse too. But it doesn’t help. Juhi added to this, men can sit together in a bar at the end of the day and crack ideas. But with a woman, achieving this comfort level is difficult, but without which you can’t work. So I tried to be as non-feminine as I could be in the meetings. As it is the topic was sensitive, so I didn’t want my gender to play a role as well.
Being a journalist, I could totally understand this thing with ‘men sitting at a bar in the evening and sharing a drink and ideas.’ So many women journalists feel left out for the very reason. Cracking that code is very difficult, though not impossible.
Thus ended a cool session, revolving around gender but not in a preachy, bitter, complaining way. Thank you Popoulation First for organizing it, with the help of Avid Learning. Congratulations for 11th birthday of the Laadli campaign. Here’s to many more to come.
This blog post originally appeared on Mrinmayee Ranade ( Editor , Madhurima) blog. Click here to read the original blogpost
Click here to read the blog in Marathi : http://mrinmayeeranade.blogspot.in/2016/06/blog-post_10.html