Thought Box



by Vinta Nanda March 12 2023, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 5 mins, 4 secs

Priti Chandriani, Veena Bakshi and Lygia Mathew run the ‘only’ Cinema Collective, and they held a day-long event where panel discussions, a play reading and the documentary film, From the Shadows - #MissingGirls by Miriam Chandy Menacherry, and edited by Irene Dhar Malik was screened. Vinta Nanda reports.

A collaboration between the Cinema Collective and the Canadian Consulate General of Mumbai, the event hosted some of the most committed film, television and streaming channel’s creative communities – actors, writers, documentary filmmakers, fiction and non-fiction writers and filmmakers, and people from behind-the-scenes. Talent like George Mathew, Kireet Khurana, Rashmi Lamba, Joy Sengupta, Shanti Bhushan Roy, Anuradha Tandon and Aparajita Krishna filled the eclectic spaces and moved conversations ahead to the next level.

The first panel discussion, Women as characters in media and entertainment – Roles and Perceptions was missed by us and that felt sad. Moderated by the author, writer, journalist Deepa Gahlot with participants as esteemed as Alaka Sahani, Rahul Merchant, Mahabanoo Mody Kotwal, Atul Tiwari, Chhitra Subramaniam, Gayathiri Guliani and Rajshree Deshpande, we were told it was a power packed discussion.

However, we caught up with Miriam Chandy’s film and the Q&A that followed with the team, which included Irene, a friend, former colleague and one of the best film editors of our country. Reticent and shy she was, but the audience prodded her until she gave in and spoke about her process, about the six years that it took to make this disturbing but important film about human trafficking.

The program following the lunch break was a stellar line up starting with a performance by screenwriter, director and actor Atul Tiwari. Although it was meant to be a play reading, Tiwari turned it into a mono-act. He was in absolute form when delivering the riveting act to the audience, of a play by Franca Rame and Dario Fo, which was adapted by him years ago to Hindi. The play Ek Subha/Waking up is a short, humorous yet ultimately a sad study of a working woman who forgets that Sunday is her day off.

Then followed the next panel, ‘Women as creators of Entertainment and Media stories’. This was led by entertainment writer Alaka Sahani and the most powerful panellists included film editor Jabeen Merchant, the wonderful Deepti Gupta, founder of the Indian Women In Cinematographers Collective (IWCC), actors Deepak Tijori and Amruta Subhash, the incredible screenwriter Jyoti Kapur and Paula McGlynn – CEO and Co-founder of Gulbadan Talkies.

Alaka’s questions were pertinent and rounded and the participants were in their element. The ‘voice of women is finally being heard’, was the overarching truth that was sinking in as I listened to the speakers share their views on the good that the system delivers to women of the industry, and of course, also the bad and the ugly head of patriarchy, which seems almost impossible to wipe out because the way that the business of entertainment functions is so warped. Jyoti Kapur raised her voice, she always does, and addressed the elephant in the room.

She counter questioned the panel and the audience and asked everybody how we can deal with the ‘gatekeeping’ that is so insidiously carried out to control storytellers and stories? How is it that, often, when the first person that a story is submitted to at a network, studio or streaming channel, by a writer, it is appreciated and then when this first port of call goes to his/her internal system, multiple questions arise and a perfectly good storyteller becomes slave to a system that twists and turns characters, situations to suit the general narrative that has been mandated by ‘God alone knows who’. And, by the time the series, film is produced it is altogether something else.

I was quick to respond to her because what Jyoti had said had resonance with the thoughts of everybody in the room. Unfortunately there was no representation from studios, networks and streaming channels – there never is in spaces like these because the executives and producers that belong to the system, the decision makers who call the shots, have their safe havens where they talk on panels and hold discussions. Creative communities unfortunately belong to the lower caste in the existing hierarchies of the entertainment industry, and therefore, just like it is in society, even in the business they are forced to do as they are asked to. Or else, those who question the system, and its miserable practices, are ejected from it – they are most often called uncompromising, trouble-makers and such.

How does a person on this side of the fence, today, become the most knowledgeable about what audiences want to see when he/she is adopted by the other side, tomorrow, and given the job of sourcing content, was the question I, from the audience, posed to the panel and to all others in the room.

I understand that the studios, networks and streaming channels are privy to market research and insights, but my question is this: Why all the information, which the executives, creative directors and marketing teams in studios, networks and streaming channels have in their procession, is not made ‘open source’, and why is it not shared directly with the writers who are actually the ones telling the stories?

Isn’t this, holding on to information and knowledge as a means to control creative communities, patriarchy? We are discussing patriarchy and in its most raw form here, which is practiced brazenly in the film, television and entertainment industry. Obviously, there was nobody who had an answer to all the questions raised.

So I say, if we want change to happen, for women to be included and made equal, become ‘the force’ as all discussions on the International Women’s Day are proposing, then SMASH THE PATRIARCHY!

Kudos to Jyoti for bringing this up and hats off to the team at Cinema Collective for putting such a powerful discussion together.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The writers are solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.