F-Rated filmmakers, anyone?

Lights, Camera, Action!” instructions more often belongs to the booming voice of male filmmakers in the country. Nonetheless, things are changing significantly and the “invisibilisation” of woman in the Indian film industry, an entrenched feature, is gradually eroding.

F-Rated by Nandita Dutta deals with this very subject. The book profiles eleven illustrious and accomplished Indian woman filmmakers in the contemporary scenario. For the uninitiated, F-rating is a term applicable to those films which are directed, written by women or features a female lead.

The book is a great resource for the Indian film buffs. Probably, a first of its kind that brings together a diverse and vibrant set of acclaimed woman filmmakers such as Aparna Sen, Mira Nair, Farah Khan, Meghna Gulzar, Nandita Das, Shonali Bose, Tanuja Chandra, Anjali Menon, Reema Kagti, Kiran Rao, Alankrita Srivastava, all in just 256 pages.

The book spotlights their unique experiences and journey in the industry, the structural realities of the ecosystem, the all-encompassing process of film making versus juggling household lives, personal and professional obstacles and sexism faced and how they overcome them. The book does not pretend to speak for the entire Indian film industry including regional cinema. Its focus is on woman filmmakers in Bollywood. The author has done meticulous research and manages to bring rich personal details, hitherto unknown.

Each chapter enlivens and etches out the woman filmmaker’s persona in a candid manner. It is revelation how “motherhood” single-handedly turns out to be such an enormous factor in shaping the lives, narrative of these filmmakers and also in a way subsuming their careers.

In a cinema obsessed country like ours, the scarcity of women’s stories and the poor representation of women in the industry needs attention. The book reflects on these uncomfortable questions. It also unravels how women shape the female characters in their films as well as the “gaze” they employ to look at them. A lens on the filmmakers’ and lens within the lens on their intimacy with the eye of the camera, as it were, is delightfully narrated.

Bollywood cinema is unabashedly practical, realistic, commercial and male-oriented. It is quite revealing to read few woman filmmakers having no qualms of sticking to formulas and some even discomfortedly shunning the label of “woman filmmaker”. This book captures riveting journey of these bold Indian woman filmmakers and their invaluable contribution to the Indian cinema. Undoubtedly, more women filmmakers are only welcome, as it will only enrich the oeuvre.

Perhaps, the question we should ask is, can we not have more gender sensitive filmmaker’s rather than pushing filmmakers into specific boxes of gender politics. Does one have to belong to the same gender to be qualified to respond and represent the gender narrative in a responsible way? ‘If I have nail paint on, can’t I be a good director’ and ‘a female director with a male gaze’ chapters perfectly sum up these paradoxes.

Book: F-Rated: Being a woman filmmaker in India

Author: Nandita Dutta

Publisher: HarperCollins

Pages: 256; Price: Rs 499