The role of women in filmmaking has increased, but we still have a long way to go: Konkona Sen Sharma

Ritu Jha–

The role of women has increased in filmmaking but still a long way to go, said Konkona Sen Sharma, writer-director-producer and award-winning actor at the South Asian Literature and Arts Festival (SALA) 2023, held on October 7 and 8 at Menlo College in Atherton, California.

In a session moderated by Dr Sanchita Saxena, Sen touched on subjects from women in the Indian film industry to free speech in India.

“A nice change is that I see many more women in a film set compared to 10-15 years ago. I see better infrastructure, which is so important because if you don’t have that, you can’t really work. Those things have been improved to a certain extent. For example, women were not allowed to be makeup artists even five or seven years ago. And then the guild changed that rule,” she said.

She said there are many departments such as production design where there are more women than earlier. But we “still don’t see women in a lot of technical roles like the director of photography is often male and women directors are very few.”

Talking about her childhood, Sen said: “It was amazing growing up with our mom because, I didn’t realize it then, but I saw a successful woman living life on her own terms. I didn’t realize how empowering that is. Today, if I have to do anything, and the things that I do are similar to my mum, that’s useful. When I have to imagine anything, I
have an image of her already doing it. So that’s my template, it’s my normal. Before my first film, there were times when I was so nervous and apprehensive. I haven’t been to film school and I don’t know, but I always have an image of my mom already doing it, so I know that it’s
possible. She used to take me everywhere and it was often boring. But that was important. And she also let me watch everything. She let me watch anything and everything except for Bollywood films.”

During her talk at the SALA Festival, she said she feels strongly about the usual portrayal of characters in films and shows. “While making a film with a male protagonist, I don’t know why he would constantly want to tell women what to do.”

Referring to ‘A Death In The Gunj’ a film she directed in 2016, Sen-Sharma said: “I wanted to show that it’s not like what is thought about these issues, it reveals itself to you later. I did feel at that time I actually had to start talking about toxic masculinity, which is what Shutu (a character in her film) faces, but also how often men are the victims of patriarchy themselves. It’s no advantage to anybody, really.”

“After directing A Death In The Gunj I thought, I’m fine if I never direct anything again. And then I got this offer. I’m open to directing, but just once in a while. I have taken on a web series, writing, and directing, which is a half-hour comedy. I don’t know why I thought I could do it. I’m struggling at the moment, and I don’t know what I’m going to direct next. In terms of directors, I admire my mother Aparna Sen, she is first on the list, and there are many others who I admire a lot. Personally, I’m so grateful to my mom because films that are global classics were at home and I used to watch them again and again,” she added.

Aparna Sen is an Indian film director, screenwriter and actress who is known for her work in Bengali cinema.

The interviewer then asked about her stint as a director in the OTT series — Mumbai Diaries (season two) — which was released earlier this month. She spoke about her forthcoming films and OTT shows.

“Mumbai Diaries is the first show where I’ve ever done a sequel. It was quite fun and a homecoming of sorts on Amazon Prime. Then I acted in a web series called Killer Soup, directed by Abhishek Chaubey. I’m playing a grey character and I’m very excited about it.” Other than that, there is my mother Aparna Sen’s film, The Rapist, which is being screened at the Mumbai Film Festival in October. I’m also doing Anurag Basu’s Metro In Dino.”

When she was asked about the ethics and social responsibility of actors and directors, she said: “I don’t want to speak on behalf of everyone. I think people should be free to explore how they want. I can speak for myself. I’m okay with playing a character that is gray, and not aligned with my values. But I would not resonate with a film that is very regressive or prejudiced towards a certain community, I wouldn’t want to work in it. It’s not like I look for socially relevant films and it’s not like all my films have been socially relevant. But I think that often when it is, then you can find another layer and find some more depth to it. I like watching stuff like that and I would like to make stuff like that as well. One can perhaps just stay away from the really bad stuff because what you make is just a reflection of who you are.”

However, when she was asked a question from an audience whether the Bollywood movie Mr. and Mrs. Iyer “would have been made today in India’s current climate”, Konkona gave a matter-of-fact reply: “I think it would be very hard to make Mr. And Mrs. Iyer today because it’s difficult to show Hindus in a bad light nowadays. When I was growing up, our national pastime was bashing the Congress. We all used to constantly berate the government. We felt it’s our government and we can criticize it. But, today you can’t because you’ll be called an
anti-national. Nowadays there is a lot of self-censorship in India and you can’t really speak so freely.”

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