Tannishtha, Onir and Mitu on women empowerment in the Indian cinema

Ganesh Chandrasekkar, general manager Westpac making some deep and meaningful conversation with Tannishtha, Onir and Mitu Bhowmick-Lange

By Neena Badhwar

Melbourne after being awash with the glamour and glitter of Bollywood with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan hoisting the flag at Fed Square with crowds gathered in thousands just to get a glimpse of the most beautiful woman in the world, a proud mother as well of young Aradhaya, Sydney got its own little glitter with Tannishtha Chatterjee, director Onir and the good looking Ashish Bisht who has debuted in the movie Onir’s ”˜Shab’ to be premiered tonight along with Tannishtha’s ”˜Rakhmabai’ at Cinema Paris, Hoyts at Fox studio.

WIFFS ”“ Westpac Indian Film Festival Sydney organised by Mind Blowing Films is happening from today onwards until the 20th of August. They have this year to the convenience of the community held it at both Fox Studios Hoyts as well as Blacktown Hoyts.

Westpac organised a master class ”“ a Q & A session with Tannishtha, Onir and Mitu Bhowmick-Lange. The session conducted by Westpac’s general manager Ganesh Chandrasekkar was informative and looked at representation of women and women empowerment in South Asian cinema. Bollywood, of course though quite popular world-wide, has a case to answer.

Onir said his films are different from the mainstream Bollywood which covers mostly populist subject matter that may also include an item number and based on gender, sex, colour where women are in supporting roles. “Though every year it is changing yet the films are made mainly by males so the vision is male of a woman. Either she is cast as mother, wife or girlfriend, but movies such as ”˜Parched’, ”˜Lipstick under my burqa’, ”˜Rakhmabai’ are also being made,” he added.

Said Tannishtha, “Rakhmabai is the movie of first Indian lady doctor who was born in 1864 and went to England to study medicine in 1891, came back at the age of 25 and practiced till the age of 90 years.”

Mitu Bhowmick said, “I’ve always chosen films that are focussed on weird and the wonderful, diverse characters, even disability.”

“”˜Lipstick under my burqa’ was banned because it was made on four women and their sexual desires.”

“We do have powerful women producers but not women directors only because it is considered that they can tend to be emotional and the emotional part is left for them to give to their family and not the cinema they may direct.”

“The second generation is more integrated while appreciating and liking popular Bollywood films they also go for Indie films and art house films which offer different styles and different genre.”

Tannishtha said she likes the song and dance in Bollywood movies yet one should not put all in the Bollywood basket.

Onir talked about his film ”˜My brother, Nikhil’ which touches the topic of homosexuality, “In 2006 when I made this film I was able to get the U certificate in about six months because Supreme court had decriminalised Homosexuality then but now it is very difficult as Supreme Court made it criminal again in 2011. “We are talking in 2016 that it has become difficult for me to get from the film board a clearance certificate. And now with the current government which is quite conservative in its outlook it has become even more difficult.”

Ganesh asked Tannishtha about her walking out of a TV show, answered Tannishtha, “Yes it was a very popular comedy show where they commented on my dark skin tone also made some racist joke. I had never ever been made conscious of my colour in my family and friends. And here it was on a show with so many Indians watching the program, I found it very funny. They even made rape jokes when I couldn’t take it any more. They said it’s only a joke but to me it felt not good at all. So I walked out and posted my comments on Facebook when it all went viral.”

Onir and Ashish Bisht with Sanjeev and Sheeba Nandkeolyar

“Imagine the impression it would leave on young people who are still not literate about life.”

“It is a pity that even highly qualified women in India can’t get a job if they are not fair.”

Mitu Bhowmick’s opinion was that Bollywood should not be dismissed as just song and dance and that, “now some movies are there which include diverse characters, be it one in a wheelchair or women as such. A lot of social change can happen through such cinema. We need more women to make women centric films, not just Indian, but all films.”

Onir was little disappointed with distributors who price small budget films same as big budget films, “Indie cinema needs more theatres at lower prices or tickets at reasonable cost.”

Tannishtha said that Bollywood was not the only cinema and that there is more to cinema. “I love song and dance and music such as that of A R Rahman I respect a lot, is integral to our cinema, in my this movie Rakhmabai, there is a male character, the step father, who is father to two kids and refuses to marry a 12-year old and goes ahead and marries a widow with two kids. It happened in the 1800s, we need movies like this to portray women, not just the women characters but also the male characters supporting roles that support women.”

Tannishtha and Mitu both dismissed today’s TV channels and said that they do not like what is being produced and shown on Indian TV. Said Tannishtha, “I don’t even own a TV and thus do not watch it at home. If ever I get a chance to see something like ‘Revenge of a snake woman’ on a channel it is just atrocious. Moreover these kind of serials are being made by women.”

It was an interesting casual, up close interaction with three very intelligent cinema personalities, mingle and talk to them in an intimate get together organised by Westpac bank. Onir did mention his next venture ‘Kuchh Bheege Alfaaz’ a romantic film with a twist will release in January next year.


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