The year – 2016 – that’s closing soon, is significant for a feminist reason. Of the commercial films that India produced this year, over 12 were made by women directors. Among them, at least two films, Baar Baar Dekho and Dear Zindagi, are multi-starrers.
Here is a look at some notable commercial films in 2016 by women directors:
Sudha Kongara – Iruddhi Suttru
It took Sudha, a former assistant of Mani Ratnam, three years to research the subject and write this sports drama. A real life boxer, Ritika Singh, was chosen to portray the film’s protagonist, Madhie, a young fisherwoman from Chennai’s slum area. Madhavan played Prabhu, a boxing coach who arrives in Chennai on job transfer. The film was a bilingual, released in Hindi as Saala Khadoos, and produced by Rajkumar Hirani who was impressed with Sudha’s script. The actors delivered stellar performances, especially Singh who proved that she was a natural performer in front of the camera. “I had this athlete’s story [in my mind] ten years ago, when I was with Mani sir. I have a collection of newspaper clippings of human-interest stories. I came across a story about a family of farmers in a village, who send their daughters to the city for more sporting opportunists. It drew me in,” Sudha told Silverscreen.in. Sudha’s first film Drohi (2012) was a box-office failure. “When Drohi flopped, for a day or two, it hit me hard. But then, I decided to keep moving,” she said. Iruddhi Suttru too had a rather slow opening at the theatres, and gradually, it gathered momentum and finished as one of the most commercially successful films in 2016.
Ashwini Iyer Tiwari – Nil Battey Sannata
Ashwini comes from an advertising background. The former executive creative director at Leo Burnett stepped into film making through Nil Battey Sannata, an inspiring tale of a young domestic help and her daughter who come out of poverty with the help of education. The film, produced by Aanand L Rai, was remade in Tamil as Amma Kanakku, featuring Amala Paul in the lead role. The film was screened at a number of prestigious international film festivals like the BFI London Film Festival (LFF) and the Silk Road International Film Festival in China, where it received tremendous response. Ashwini, wife of Dangal director Nitesh Tiwari, told Indiewire, “In India, we hardly have woman directors. It’s just now that the direction and cinematography space has changed, where we are seeing quite a few women, and I am proud and happy to be a part of this ‘India Bollywood Cinema’ space.”
Anu Menon – Waiting
Anu Menon’s Waiting is a simple story that unfolds in a span of three days inside a hospital in Kochi. The film, starring Kalki Koechlin and Naseeruddin Shah, was one of the most critically acclaimed films in 2016, making it to the favourite list of every film critic in the country. Anu, an NRI living in London, began her film career with London, Paris, New York, a romantic-comedy starring Ali Zafar and Aditi Rao Hydari in 2013. Waiting won her the award for best director at the London Asian Film Festival, and it was screened at a number of international film festivals. The film was an average grosser at the Indian box office, but it received overwhelmingly positive reviews from the critics all over the world. “The women in my films will be always be strong, complex characters. I will never objectify women. They will never be just a foil to the hero. That commitment will always be there. And the same holds true for the guys. Right now, there are content-driven films that are not gender-specific. In that specific genre, you will see a lot of women,” said Anu in an interview to DNA. “I do think that studios should get more female filmmakers to make mainstream cinema. Because we are not changing the narrative of how women are presented in cinema.”
Leena Yadav – Parched
Leena Yadav started off her career as an editor of ad films and TV shows. Later, she started directing TV shows, and made her debut feature film, Shabd, in 2005. Parched, her third film, which features Radhika Apte, Tannishthaa Chatterjee and Riddhi Sen, is a power-packed story about three women from rural India finding their voice and identity in a society where patriarchy and misogyny are part of daily life. The film premiered at Toronto Film Festival where it received highly positive reviews. Yadav collaborated with the Academy Award winning Titanic cinematographer, Russell Carpenter, and Academy Award nominated editor of The Descendants – Kevin Tent, in this project. The best part of Parched was the camaraderie between three lead women characters which was portrayed utmost organically.
“I really wanted to have and see, lots of frank conversations between women, which we rarely (and I can’t even say rarely); but very, very rarely get to see between women on screen,” Yadav told Firstpost in an interview. “These films don’t fit into a particular formula structure. Also why should these films be bracketed as ‘women-centric films’. Do you call any of the normal Bollywood films ‘male-oriented films’? That’s never a tag, so why use it here?” she adds, “It’s a film, a story, you either connect to it or you don’t.”
Gauri Shinde – Dear Zindagi
Filmmaker Gauri Shinde too comes from an advertising background, to which she owes a lot of her success. Her second directorial Dear Zindagi is a light-hearted take on mental health. A young cinematographer from Mumbai (Alia Bhatt) decides to consult a shrink (Shah Rukh Khan) when she can’t handle a string of professional and personal crises. The movie’s portrayal of the doctor-patient relationship is heartwarming, and the way she presented mental illness in the film is something Bollywood has not seen before. Shinde, whose first film English Vinglish too featured a woman in the lead role, repeated her box-office success with Dear Zindagi, which also earned Alia Bhatt accolades for her performance. “Filmmaking is a very hard profession – even for a man and more so for women. You really have to love it too much and enjoy the process to endure those hardships. Most places are tougher for women because there are mostly men in the professions. But we are getting there,” Shinde told Scroll in an interview.
Nandini Reddy – Kalyana Vaibhogame
Unlike others listed above, Nandini Reddy is a seasoned commercial filmmaker. Her first film, Ala Modalaindi, a romantic-comedy, was one of the biggest blockbuster hits in Tollywoood in 2011. Her second film, Jabardasth, came out in 2013, and Kalyana Vaibhogame, her third, in 2016. Reddy is an unabashed lover of light-hearted commercial cinema. In Tollywood, an industry where big-budget action films and masala entertainers abound, her films stand out for their sheer lifelike quality. They feature independent, fun-loving female leads. Naga Shaurya and Malavika Nair play the protagonists in Kalyana Vaibhogame, a romantic-drama which revolves around a married couple.