The Reel Women

Written by Anushree Chandran | Anindita Sarkar | Updated: Feb 9 2014, 07:28am hrs
IN A remote, nondescript village called Bapabout 180 km from Jodhpur in Rajasthanco-producer Mansi Maroo of Shemaroo Entertainment is filming the climax of Dedh Ishqiya, the sequel of the hit 2010 film, Ishqiya. Her phone signal keeps dropping and her hotel is miles away from the production area. That she is amidst parched, desolate lands doesnt seem to bother her much; all that is palpable is her enthusiasm for the movie.

Being a woman, in what was traditionally regarded a mans job, is no more a hurdle for anyone wishing to carve out a niche in the film and television industry. Over the years, Bollywood has seen a rapid metamorphosisfrom a brazen boys club to a progressive, women-friendly frat party. Modern-day liberalisation and corporatisation of cinema have seen many women flying off as captains on leading film and television projects.

A producers job is to bring the whole project together within the stipulated time frame and within the specified budgets. Whether you are a man or a woman, the challenges are the same, says Maroo.

Dedh Ishqiya was released worldwide on January 10 this year and received rave reviews from film critics. The idea of Ishqiya first germinated on the sets of the film, Omkara. I was assistant director to Vishal Bhardwaj. Abhishek Chaubey was also involved with the project. Post-Omkara, we got talking as to how we could take Ishqiya forward. Chaubey wanted to direct. A lot of time was spent on the script for the sequel. The drafts went back and forth, and there were issues with the casting. But when it all came together, we managed a great script and cast. It was altogether a fantastic experience, reminisces Maroo.

Breaking the glass ceiling The fairer sex is no longer considered second among equals in the film and television business. Take another young woman, Ashi Dua, for instance. The 28-year-old producer founded a company called Flying Unicorn Entertainment and got filmmakers Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee and Karan Johar on board to direct a short film each, which was collectively presented in the film, Bombay Talkies. The film commemorated 100 years of Indian cinema.

The list goes on. Rhea Kapoor, who is just 26 years old, was the producer of the film Aisha, which was a remake of Jane Austens Emma. Manmohan Shettys daughters Pooja Shetty Deora and Aarti Shetty, who run the production company, Walkwater Media, made the 2010 hit film, Tere Bin Laden. The former programming head at Viacom 18 television network, Ashvini Yardi, is now co-producer with actor Akshay Kumar and has formed the production company, Grazing Goat Pictures. They had produced the film, Oh My God, starring Paresh Rawal.

Goldie Behls sister Shrishti Arya has partnered with him on the company, Rose Audio-Visuals, and co-produced many films such as Angaarey and London-Paris-New York. Meghna Ghai Puri, the daughter of producer Subhash Ghai, is the president of Asias largest film, animation, communications and media arts institute, Whistling Woods International. Even production houses owned by actors have women managing the logistics of the business such as Karuna Badwal, who is the business manager at Red Chillies Entertainment.

Prahlad Kakar, ad filmmaker and founder of Genesis Film Productions, says women were not taken seriously in Bollywood circles in the past. There was a lot of male swagger and bonding involved in the business of films. Over the years, theres been a slow and grudging acceptance of women in the film business. First, they swooped in as actors, then as writers, then as assistant directors and then directors and, now, they are manning the entire ship as producers. A producers job was always considered to be a mans job because it is physically tiring. The producer is responsible to the cast, crew and financers. In order to make a point, the first few women producers tried to be like the menloud and frequently dressing up in loose T-shirts and grubby jeans. But the new generation of women producers is comfortable being feminine. They dont want to be one of the boys, he adds.

Kakar says the advertising business has its role to play in cinema becoming gender-neutral. There are no such

glass ceilings in advertising companies. And a lot of

the women have learnt to deal in equipment and to handle production shoots, thanks to the advertising profession, he said.

After several years of muted growth, 2012 was an exciting year for the Indian film industry with audiences returning to theatres, says a 2013 media and entertainment report by The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) in association with KPMG Advisory Services. Indias domestic theatrical revenues grew by 23.8% year-on-year, contributing 76% to the R112.4-billion film industry.

The report also highlighted that Indias domestic theatrical revenues grew from R68.8 billion in 2011 to reach R85.1 billion in 2012. Projected figures indicate that domestic revenues will reach R92.4 billion by 2013-end and R115.3 billion by 2015. Digital distribution played a significant role in increasing the reach of the industry. The industry has begun penetrating tier II and III markets, and entertaining the unserved population, which resides at the bottom of the pyramid. The Indian cinema industry will continue to be on its growth trajectory and will reach R193.3 billion by 2017, adds the report. Domestic theatricals will continue to be the major growth drivers for the industry.

Over the last decade, Bollywood has changed. Unconventional stories are being made into films such as Fukrey, Kai Po Che! and Ship of Theseus. There are different kinds of protagonists, stories, ideas and locales. Bollywood is hungry for stories. It is this need and greed for good entertainment that makes it overlook barriers. It doesnt care which quarter the work flows from, says Maroo.

The struggle for good cinema There are many models present in the business of film production. Some producers have a script and fund the movie themselves. Others have an idea and get a nod in principle from a director and actors, and then go about arranging the financing. Then, there are those who have a script and produce the film at their cost, and sell it at an even higher price to studios once the film is made.

There are all sorts of permutations and combinations, says trade analyst Komal Nahta. But its a good time to be in cinema. The multiplex business is growing and cinema halls are packed. A lot of female producers have emerged and are doing extremely well for themselves. In fact, the gender divide has almost been mitigated. Farah Khan makes the kind of cinema any man would, he adds.

In 2012, the film exhibition industry added 152 new screens with major growth coming from the expansion of multiplexes. Gujarat and Bihar saw maximum supply additions.

Gujarat added 21 new multiplex screens and a single screen, while Bihar added 18 new multiplex screens and two new single screens, says the Ficci-KPMG report.

For Ashi Dua, there was no script at hand; it was just an idea. An idea that there could be four films with four exceptional directors that could follow one underlying theme. I am not the youngest female producer. My friend Rhea Kapoor is. Shes 26 (years old), says Dua nonchalantly. It took her three years to make a montage of human emotions in the shape of the film, Bombay Talkies. Her rendition of modern Indian pathos and its obsession with Bollywood was aptly rendered with a film that blended the cinematic talents of Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee, Karan Johar and Zoya Akhtar. The actual filming did not take much time, but getting the right directors and cast was the challenge.

I heard 2013 was going to be the 100th year of Indian cinema. And we were thinking, what should we do around it A lot of people were planning television shows, award shows and events around it, and we thought, why dont we do a film to celebrate the magic of films And then, there were three years of looking for directors, scheduling, marketing, promotions and bringing it all together. The challenge was getting four directors who are dramatically different to make this film a success, Dua says. Finding the right funding is a problem in this industry, she concedes. Especially when its a new concept and an experimental project, she adds.

I had watched films like Quentin Tarantinos Four Rooms (1995) and New York Stories (1989), and felt a thematic film could be put together for India. We were not expecting Bombay Talkies to be a commercial blockbuster. I am grateful to Viacom 18 for believing in the project from the beginning to the end. Getting big studios to back an experimental project is difficult. About 80% of them bat for known directors or actors. The trick is to take a script and get someone to believe in it first. Once you rope in a known director or actors, its easier for the financing to come through. But if you dont have a known star cast or directors, it is difficult to crack this, says Dua.

A close associate of Dua says the young producer had knocked on many locked doors before the project took off. Luckily, there was a person in the form of Vikram Malhotra at Viacom Motion Pictures who was willing to take risks. Her perseverance paid off, the associate adds.

Meghna Ghai Puri, president at Whistling Woods International, says a producer is the conduit between all departments of filmmaking. The ability to coordinate between people of varied backgrounds and outlook is a skill that one acquires on the job. Again, an ability to perform with a smile, while under extreme pressure, is a skill-set that one requires on the job, she says.

Puri joined Mukta Arts early on in life and was exposed to various film projects. My father, Subhash Ghai, was a constant source of inspiration for me since I was a child. I grew up watching him project meaningful cinema to audiences across the world. Working on films like Pardes, Taal and Yaadein gave me hands-on script-to-screen exposure, she says. As founder of the finishing school for film wizards, Whistling Woods International, she encourages student filmmakers and alumni to create short films that come with a strong social message. We have entered into projects that are content-led and gives us national and international acclaim, she says.

The game-changer

Soap queen Ekta Kapoor set up Balaji Telefilms in 1994 and went on to bring a series of successful shows such as Hum Paanch, Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki and Kasautii Zindagi Ki. Many of these shows scored a 10-plus television rating in their heydays. Most soaps today score in single digits and a majority of them score below five in ratings. Taran Adarsh, movie critic and trade analyst, says Ekta Kapoor and her mother Shobha Kapoor were game-changers,

who touched the pulse of an entire nation and spurred more women to turn into producers.

Its interesting that Star brought in Amitabh Bachchan-hosted Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC) as a tent-pole programme in order to drive audiences to other shows placed around it such as Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi. In time, the latter became as important as Kaun Banega Crorepati and sometimes even superceded the popular game show in ratings. Star Indias former chief executive Sameer Nair says from what he remembers of Ekta Kapoor, she was driven, passionate about her work and knew what she wanted. Her show, Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, ran for eight long years and, in time, we put in other Balaji shows such as Kasautii Zindagi Ki and Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki, which were just as successful. While I was at the network, I gave her a free hand and she delivered the goods, he says.

But it is Nairs contention that the television industry never had a male-female divide, the way cinema did. Off hand, he can think of many gifted and visionary women producers besides Ekta Kapoor, such as Neena Gupta (Saans), Asha Parekh (Kora Kaagaz) and Simi Garewal (Rendezvous with Simi Garewal). If you look at it, television channels have always employed women in their programming departments. A significant part of the workforce is women, he says.

Producer Shrishti Arya at Rose Movies says Ekta Kapoor has had the distinction of making this profession look much more glamorous and has raised the bar not just for female producers, but also males. Arya says women have a natural talent when it comes to production because it involves keeping people together and working as a team. Her job gives her a real adrenaline rush, she says. The fact is that everybody else can do their job only if I do it efficiently. You have to get everybody together, from the actors to the set, dress designers, to the scriptwriter and the director and a pre-decided topic into a beautiful story on screen, she says.

Rose Movies currently has a show called Jee Le Zara on Sony and is developing shows for other general entertainment channels. They have also produced a show called Lipstick for Zee. I was the daughter of a producer, yes, but my entry into production is not intentional. When my father passed away in 1990, we had an incomplete film on our hands called Indrajeet. My brother Goldie Behl and I took on that film. But once I got into it, I realised that this was the only thing I ever wanted to do. I was born to do this, says Arya. In her view, there are very few vocations in the world that are creative and also involve logistics. The results are rewarding, she adds.