NEW DELHI: Female directors are a rare commodity in the Indian film industry despite the success of women artists in front of the camera. But a soul-stirring film by actor-cum-filmmaker Revathy — “Phir Milenge” — that released on Friday and follows an out-an-out commercial hit by choreographer-cum-filmmaker Farah Khan — “Main Hoon Na” — could well usher in a sea change in attitudes towards women filmmakers. “Phir Milenge”, starring Shilpa Shetty, Abhishek Bachchan and Salman Khan (in a cameo), is a film that not only deftly handles a sensitive issue like HIV/AIDS but also appraises the situation through a woman’s point of view. Glowing reviews for the film have adjudged Revathy’s craft to be at par with the best in Indian cinema.
The film’s protagonist Tamanna, essayed beautifully by Shilpa Shetty, is a well-sketched character of a regular Indian urban woman (not one who is playing out male fantasies) who contracts the AIDS virus. Her struggle against social stigmatisation with the help of a cynic-turned-supporter, lawyer Tarun (Abhishek Bachchan), makes this a story about the triumph of human spirit. Onscreen, women have been calling the shots with even newcomers managing better box-office initials than established male stars. But the failure of recent films by women directors, like Pooja Bhatt’s “Paap” and Aruna Raje’s “Tum”, had put a question mark on the feminine presence behind the camera.
In the world’s biggest film industry, the number of women filmmakers in mainstream cinema can be counted on the fingers of one hand. A case in point is when Pritish Nandy pulled out of producing Aparna Sen’s “Gulel” and Saif Ali Khan backed out of the project, despite the success of her earlier production “Mr and Mrs Iyer”.
With no finances at their disposal, women end up making small films usually based on women’s problems. Clearly, audiences do not want to see clich’d women’s empowerment films. In “Phir Milenge,” Revathy seems to have got the mix just right by not making it an overtly woman-centric film. If “Phir Milenge” manages to be a commercial success too, Revathy will join the very small clutch of women filmmakers who have stuck it out in mainstream cinema like filmmaker Tanuja Chandra who is ready with her latest movie “Film Star”, set within the industry and featuring Mahima Chowdhary in the title role. “I have continued to make films my way even if I’ve been accused of not being commercial enough. My films like ‘Sangharsh’ and ‘Dushman’ had big stars. But they were as commercial or non-commercial as my later films which didn’t feature a Sanjay Dutt, Kajol or Akshay Kumar,” says Chandra.
Revathy’s success in casting a leading star like Salman Khan is another rarity in Bollywood. Even Kalpana Lajmi, who worked with stars like Raveena Tandon, Shabana Azmi and Dimple Kapadia in the past, had to opt for newcomers in her film “Kyon”.
She has been struggling to cast her next two films, a film called “Postman” about the relationship between a prostitute and a postman, and a film on the ULFA terrorists in Assam for which Lajmi wants John Abraham.
Meghna Gulzar, whose directorial debut “Filhaal” was a dud, had to wait a long time before Pritish Nandy Communications agreed to fund her next.
A slew of promising female directors are ready to take a bow in the big bad world of Bollywood. Leading the pack will be Leena Bajaj who is working with Aishwarya Rai in her first feature “Shabd”.
Scriptwriters Javed Akhtar and Honey Irani’s daughter Zoya Akhtar is also toying with the idea of taking the plunge. Incidentally, Honey’s directorial debut was a box-office dud during the same year when Hema Malini lost a lot of money with her directorial venture.
Besides, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s sister — Bela Sehgal — who has already made a name for herself as a film editor will turn filmmaker soon.
A handful commercially successful female filmmakers like Sadhana Nayyar (“Geeta Mera Naam”) and Sai Paranjpye (“Chashme Budhoor”) provide the much-needed inspiration for these women who are looking to be heard in the patriarchal world of make-believe.
Already women are calling the shots on the small screen, giving credence to the belief that the female gaze is more perceptive, penetrating and sympathetic. Surely, the meteoritic rise of soap opera queen Ekta Kapoor is not a fluke. Now, more and more TV production houses are handing over the reigns to women. The latest being production house K. Sera Sera that appointed Kacon Sethi as CEO, promised to turn the Rs.250 million company into a Rs.2 billion one.
At the big screen, two leading women vied with each other for a piece of the box-office pie. While Aishwarya Rai was the chief attraction in “Kyun! Ho Gaya Na…”, Kareena Kapoor was projected as the crowd puller in last week’s release “Fida”.
The films, however, are doing moderate to poor business. While the Aishwarya-Vivek-Oberoi-Amitabh Bachchan-starrer that released two weeks ago suffered due to its puerile storyline, the more recently released Kareena-Shahid Kapur-Fardeen Khan’s “Fida” could not sustain its popularity over the week. The stylish thriller that marks Kareena’s first outing in an out-and-out negative role is doing well in the multiplexes of Mumbai, Delhi and Jaipur but not so in halls across the country.
No amount of onscreen frolicking by Aishwarya Rai and her real life beau Vivek Oberoi could dislodge former lover Salman Khan’s comic caper — “Mujhse Shaadi Karogi” — that is still going strong on the marquees.
Salman’s presence in Friday’s release “Phir Milenge” will definitely help in bringing in the crowds and from then on the film’s strong emotional appeal is likely to help it stay afloat at the turnstiles.
“Phir Milenge” is pitted against a diametrically opposite “Dhoom”, a macho film about men and their roaring superbikes. The only common factor is Abhishek Bachchan who has crucial roles in both films.”Dhoom” beefcakes also include John Abraham and Uday Chopra. Rimii Sen and Esha Deol are their arm candies but the real screen stealer is the zany Hayabusa 1600 bike.The visual glitz is the saving grace of the film, which has an old-fangled tale of a cop out to nab a gang of thieves.
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