Dreaming of a More Equal Cinematic Universe

Women and men should have equal representation in films, writes Alankrita Shrivastava 

3 min read
Filmmaker Alankrita Shrivastava.

When I’m asked as to how I see the future of cinema, I feel that cinema does not have a real future unless we start moving towards a 50-50 situation. This means that fifty per cent of films should be made by women. Right now, the percentage is probably around six per cent.

Until women become equal participants in shaping the cinematic narrative, the growth of cinema will be stunted.

Till date, by and large, cinema has been shaped predominantly by men. We have become accustomed to a certain cinematic language, characterization, form and structure that has been created from a largely male gaze. With more women behind the camera a huge shift is bound to take place.

The shift has already begun perhaps, slowly and steadily, one step at a time. But women will bring their multiple perspectives and lived experiences into how they tell their stories, and the choice of stories they tell.

And of course women, just like men, are free to make whatever films they like, and they often may make films that perpetuate the male gaze. But when there is a critical mass, that is a certain number of women behind the camera, one will be able to feel the paradigm shift. Because then both women and men will feel free to tell all kinds of stories, with different points of view. And the predominant gaze in cinema will no longer be male. It will be diverse, inclusive of multiple female and male points of view. And cinema will perhaps be able to push off the patriarchal heteronormative dynamic it is deeply entrenched in. Maybe then, finally, we will see a weakening of the male saviour hero.

What cinema needs most is shedding its patriarchal lineage. In a patriarchal society, it is perhaps impossible to expect such a thing. But did any change ever come without dreaming? Art and culture will flourish by breaking the shackles of patriarchy. And the only way to change the narrative on screen is to drastically alter the representation of women behind the camera.

Changing representation behind the camera means we are talking about shifting the power structure of who is creating cinema culture, and therefore what cinema culture is being created.

Including more women is an exercise required in every aspect of the film chain – studios, producers, writers, directors, cinematographers, editors, music composers, distributors, exhibitors, film critics and the audience.

We need female audiences also to be more pro-active, and go to the theatres to watch the films they would like to watch. In many parts of India, cinema-going is a male bastion, where men decide which films to watch and more men go to the theatres by themselves. A changing audience is the need of the hour.

I believe the commerce of cinema will change too, as we move towards a fifty-fifty situation. The audience will start getting used to different kinds of films. And hopefully as the palette of the audience changes, many more varieties of films will become commercially successful. And that will further reduce the reliance on the male-hero to drive the films.

Of course, a huge shift in the number of women behind the camera will result in many more complex parts being written for and played by women. Sexual harassment, exploitation and assault while working in films will definitely be checked. Women joining the industry will feel more safe.

More women working behind the camera will mean the working environment in the film industry becomes less toxic, far safer and more secure.

Also, the kind of impunity and protection that sexual offenders enjoy in the current times, as a result of the commercial power that they wield, will perhaps no longer be taken for granted. Today, powerful men can get away with many things, and are forgiven many things, because rocking that boat will supposedly have huge financial repercussions.

But in the times of fifty-fifty, the power will have shifted such that it is equally shared between men and women. And women as equal participants in the creation of films and popular culture will definitely create a more sensitive cinema culture on and off screen. I will not live to see that time, but I know that time will come. Apna time ayega.

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