The International Women’s Day saw the emergence of IWCC — Indian Women Cinematographers Collective and the total number of women DOPs (director of photography) registered there will make you go ‘Wow’! There’s Fowzia Fathima who shot Mitr My Friend (2002), who mooted the idea of IWCC among her peers and Preetha Jayaraman who filmed Kannamoochi Yenada (2007), Abhiyum Naanum (2008) and Unn Samayal Araiayil (2014) among others. There is Priya Seth who shot Akshay Kumar’s Airlift (2016) and is now filming Chef with Saif Ali Khan. Many moons ago there was only one B R Vijayalakshmi who became Asia’s first ‘cameraman madam’.
The IWCC aims to break this isolation and is meant to create awareness on the number of women DOPs in India, so directors/producers can call them on pure merit for their films. But are they even in the radar of consideration when a film project is discussed? Are actors willing to work with women DOPs
Women technicians, in general, have been on the upswing only in the last five years. Prior to that, there was only Priya V who assisted Mani Ratnam and Suhasini, who made two films on her own merit thereafter. Then there is Nandini who made two films in Telugu and Sudha Kongara, another Mani Ratnam associate, who made Irudhi Suttru last year. Zoya Akhtar and Farah Khan have successfully broken the commercial pressure on women directors to deliver mainstream cinema in Hindi but the same cannot be said of women filmmakers in the south and this is not their fault.
When you experience a bit of the ‘industry mindset’ as an executive producer (of which there are so many women in the Hindi industry but so few here, including yours truly) my take on how women technicians are viewed by the producer/director/hero male-triumvirate is this: women are primarily considered good enough only to work in the costumes department! Anything more becomes intimidating and then subjected to a plethora of judgements. Direction, writing, camera, production design, art direction, editing, sound engineering etc are other areas in which I can name at least three women who’ve made a mark. God bless the men and women who gave them their due but the ratio of work which women technicians get vs their male counterparts is abysmal.
Every director has that one female assistant, who will be in charge of costumes and of course, teaching the heroine Tamil lines! To rise beyond this LOC and gain entry into script discussions, oversee post-production etc is an ‘even battle’ between male and female associates. And then comes the day when you have your own script with which you knock on every possible door, seek that elusive producer or actor who deigns to give you the time of their day! Despite this uphill task, the women technicians I’ve worked with have no rancour and are still raring to go. Kudos to IWCC and hope there are more such organised forums where women with celluloid dreams can achieve what they set out to do.