Check Out the Girl Power Behind Saif Ali Khan’s ‘Chef’

‘Chef’ had an unusually large number of women in the crew cooking up things behind the camera.

4 min read
Saif Ali Khan’s <i>Chef </i>has many women working behind-the-scenes.

It’s not unusual for a Bollywood set to be overpopulated by men. From directors to cinematographers to producers and art directors - most film crews have men heading individual teams. Which is why it was a little out of the ordinary for actor Padmapriya to step on to the set of Raja Krishna Menon’s Chef in which she stars opposite Saif Ali Khan.

"It was a revealing experience for me personally. Across the 45-odd films I've done across five regional film industries, you'd usually see 2-3 women at any given point of time amongst a set of 100 people, who are men. What made Chef a really different and unique experience was seeing so many women around, and in different hierarchies, not just as ADs,” says Padmapriya.

Across the world and especially at films festivals like TIFF and Busan - cinema led by women is getting special focus and encouragement. In this regard, Chef with a crew of around 20 women in important roles across departments, holds a special place.

Working on <i>Chef </i>was an eye-opener for Padmapriya.
Working on Chef was an eye-opener for Padmapriya.
Personally, for me, to see so many boisterous women out there, removed my notion that jobs as tough as production design, which requires a lot of scrubbing on the floor and running around, cannot be done by women. These regular excuses we get to hear, that “Oh, we can’t go back home at this hour, or we can’t do these kind of jobs.” These regular excuses of women not being taken in these so-called unconventional spaces was something the film set completely broke out of.
Padmapriya, Actor

Some of Chef’s major female crew members including the producer, the cinematographer, the production designer, line producer, the associate director and the food stylist.

Janani Ravichandran talks about responsibilities that come with empowerment.
Janani Ravichandran talks about responsibilities that come with empowerment.

One of the producers on Chef, Janani has this to say:

The last two decades have seen a sea change in the roles that women have played in behind the scenes of cinema. They are no longer token participants and are assuming key positions across the industry. With this comes a two fold responsibility, to make the industry more friendly for female participation at all levels and more​ importantly the responsibility towards the stories that we choose to tell.
Janani Ravichandran
Priya Seth stresses that the stories told need to change too.
Priya Seth stresses that the stories told need to change too.

Cinematographer Priya Seth, who was also part of Menon’s earlier hit Airlift, believes the change in the gender profile one sees on the set of a film also will also eventually translate into the kind of stories that are told. “Equality and empowerment on a set is a great thing, but it can't stop there. It is more importantly about equality in the power corridors. More projects need to be green lit which are helmed by women. Because only when the voices change will the stories change,” she says.

Anuradha Shetty, the production designer on the film, shares an interesting anecdote that she had on while shooting Chef.

Anuradha Shetty’s insightful anecdote while shooting on location in Kerala.
Anuradha Shetty’s insightful anecdote while shooting on location in Kerala.
Looking back, I’m amazed and pleased that we had so many women on the set. It is clearly an indication of the talent out there in the industry. However, while on the set you could say we were almost gender blind. For example, on the sets in Kerala, my local art crew kept calling me “sir”. I initially thought it was a mistake, but then I was told if you’re the boss you are “sir” irrespective of your gender. Yes, a bit odd language wise, but it was really a great example of ‘gender blindness’.
Anuradha Shetty, Production Designer, Chef

The director of Chef, Raja Krishna Menon says the film industry can’t remain a boys club and it’s time that women are given their due as technicians and artists, “The question of gender had never entered my mind while crewing up. Every one of them is here because they are best at what they do. Gender has never been a factor. So, when Padmapriya spoke about working on a gender equal set for the first time on Chef, I felt a mix of emotions. I was happy we had created an environment where women felt equal while at the same time I felt awful that this didn't seem to be the norm,” he adds.

Finally, Padmapriya, who has always been on male-dominated film sets, has this to end the topic, “For me also small things like wardrobe malfunctions, something that constantly affects actresses, after a point it just stops mattering. You just feel more comfortable and less conscious about the fact that i'm a woman."

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