Tanuja Chandra, an Indian filmmaker and writer, feels the role of female directors, and technicians in the Indian film industry is far from satisfactory. Chandra was in California recently to take part in the South Asian Literature and Arts (SALA) Festival. In an exclusive chat with indica, she said her dream is when Bollywood will have an equal number of women film directors who would be able to break the industry’s patriarchal outlook.
Chandra’s (pictured above; photo by indica) passion for storytelling, screenwriting, and film directing began at home. Her mother and writer, Kamna Chandra is her inspiration and her brother is author Vikram Chandra and her sister is film critic Anupama Chopra (who is married to filmmaker Vidhu Vinod Chopra).
Chandra co-wrote the screenplay of the Bollywood hit Dil To Pagal Hai in 1997 and is known for directing women-oriented films such as Dushman (1998) and Sangharsh (1999). She began her career in 1995 and made her directorial debut with the TV series Zameen Aasmaan. She made her directorial debut with Dushman in 1998. Chandra wrote and directed Sur-The Melody of Life (2002) and Film Star (2005) which found favor with critics. Her book titled “Bijnis Women” a collection of short stories was published in 2017 by Penguin Random House.
Her first film, Dushman completed 25 years this year. “The original writer in my family is my mother, Kamna Chandra, she’s written very few but very good films like Prem Rog, and Chandni. I guess it all started from there for me, my brother, and my sister. We all very naturally went into the creative field. And our parents were very supportive,” Chandra told indica.
While she was working on Dushman, she was also channeling her creative energies for television. But even then, the issue that concerned her most was female directors — or the lack of them — in the industry. “At that time, I could count female directors on one hand. Now there are
more, but there aren’t enough. We need many more. Until there are half of the total number in the film industry, it’s not enough.”
Chandra completed her Masters of Fine Arts program in Film and Media Arts at Temple University, Philadelphia and returned to India to build her dream career. Before that, however, she had to relearn everything about filmmaking.
“I wanted to make Hindi movies. I had to relearn a lot of things because the education system here is geared towards a certain kind of cinema. American cinema does not have the same aesthetic as Indian cinema. But what I did learn from here, the technical part of it was useful. I also think that as a filmmaker, you have to experience life,” Chandra said.
Is the Indian film industry transforming for the better? “Not as much as I would have loved for it to transform. Half the movies should be about women. Half the directors should be female, our technicians should be female. Till that is achieved it is not a level playing field. I’m not that hopeful, honestly, because 30 years ago, when I started out, there must have been five or six female directors, now there are maybe 30 or 40. It should have been 150.” There is change happening, she admits, but it is too slow.
While the entry of OTT in showbiz has shaken up a lot of things, according to Chandra, it has not done enough and in India, it is going the Bollywood way. “I wish OTT were more disruptive. OTT was supposed to make it different, to allow content that is not for the big screen. But it is going the Bollywood way. Having said, my next project is for OTT – it’s a documentary series for Amazon releasing in December.”
Making an OTT series is also a different ballgame, she said, and it requires more time and work. “It’s actually two to three years of work for one season on OTT. It’s not easy for producers. I’ve only made one series so far, and we worked on it two and a half years. It’s still a nascent industry in India and we have to learn the craft of making long-format series. But it’s an exciting space, I like it,” Chandra said.
She is also an advocate of movies with messages. “What is the point of making a movie if you’re not trying to say something about how to make our living situation better, equal, just, and truthful? But, a lot of people say that it’s only for entertainment. According to me, it should entertain and at the same time, it should genuinely say something about our living conditions.”
An advocate of making women-oriented films with a point to make, Chandra is also dead against censorship in cinema. “I don’t believe in censorship at all. People are old enough to know which movie to watch. If there’s too much blood in a movie and you don’t enjoy it, you won’t go for it. Movies can’t, in that sense, influence people to become bad or good. What movies can do is be a mirror of what we are. In life, there’s much more ugliness than movies can ever show.”
About what she foresees for her future course of action: “I’ve come a long way, but I feel I have a longer way to go. Even though my earlier films were very distinct kinds of films, I feel I found my voice more recently, or maybe my flavor and the kind of stuff I want to do. I would say the next ten years I’m going to be telling as many stories as I can.”