Berlinale 2019 hosts impressive line-up of Indian female talent, from Rima Das, Zoya Akhtar to Udita Bhargava

Prathap Nair

Feb 12, 2019 15:16:18 IST

Over the weekend, Berlinale’s Festival Director Dieter Kosslick signed a pledge, straightforwardly titled “5050x2020” to actively increase gender equality by 2020 in selecting film submissions, in addition to also ensuring better gender representation at the festival. This shouldn’t have been news in 2019 but since gender equality is dismal at its best even in other major festivals like Cannes and Venice, Berlinale’s baby steps come as a ray of hope in the right direction.

Coincidentally perhaps, the Indian side boasts of at least five female talents, taking part in various sections at the Berlinale.

First off, the Bollywood powerhouse Zoya Akthar had the world premiere of Gully Boy, the realistic hip-hop street musical which was received kindly by the critics with fans giving it a welcoming reception at its premiere.

Zoya Akhtar at the premiere of Gully Boy at Berlinale 2019. AFP Image.

Rima Das’s equally well received melancholic tale of childhood and growing up in rural Assam Bulbul Can Sing is having its European premiere at Generation 14Plus. In addition, Udita Bhargava’s first full length feature film called Dust is competing in the Perspektive Deutsches Kino programme with a chance to win €5,000 in prize money.

At the film festival’s talent development programme that grooms emerging filmmakers with insights on the trade, delivered in the form of talks and workshops from major creators from around the world, are two Indian female talents. One of them is Mumbai based filmmaker Payal Kapadia, an award-winning festival regular whose short film “And what was the Summer Saying,” premiered last year at the Berlinale. The second one, Shalini Agarwal, a Production Sound Mixer & Sound Designer, represents one of the few women in her profession.

The career trajectories of these women offer insights into what it means to be a woman director in India today. Speaking on the topic, Das admits her journey into films has been different since she didn’t have a film background, nor did she work as an assistant director to make her way to the director’s chair. She claims it wasn’t an easy passage.

“Personally, my upbringing has made me believe that gender doesn’t have to be a restriction for anything. I don’t look at it like that. Even then, I have to admit that I have gone through difficulties with my first film,” she says.  She remembers having met with questionable glances and raised eyebrows when she was working on her first film The Man with the Binoculars.

Filmmaker Rima Das

Filmmaker Rima Das. Image from Facebook.

Das says she found the claustrophobia-inducing patriarchy impossible to deal with and decided to take a different approach in her subsequent work. “I decided to do it alone with Village Rockstars and Bulbul Can Sing,” she says. Over and above directing, she took care of cinematography, editing, and screenwriting in both the films.

Things changed for her quickly but her success had a part in it. “I have to say that when Village Rockstars became a success, those hurdles simply went away. I think I made a statement with my movie that I’m capable of handling a movie on my own. After that, the gender barriers simply stopped mattering,” she shrugs.

Things were different for Udita Bhargava whose Dust is a brooding and quiet meditation of a multitude of issues centered around central India. “The percentage of women directors sustaining in the industry drastically drops down after they pass out of film schools. So I think the challenge is to sustain. It’s your personal challenge to find the right people to support you but if you are resilient, you will find yourself in a good network,” she says.

Bhargava believes the industry in India is still not yet ready to talk about gender equality. “In India where only now the #Metoo movement is catching on, we are still some way to go before we reach awareness on gender equality and start debating about it.”

Payal Kapadia. Image from Facebook.

Payal Kapadia witnessed the reluctance to discuss gender equality in India even as she was a student at Film & Television Institute of India in Pune. “In my class of 46 of my course, I was the only woman to pass out,” she remembers. Kapadia also says women candidates were actively asked discouraging questions when they apply for physically demanding courses like Cinematography that were long considered part of a male domain to ensure they don’t quit after marriage.

For now, Berlinale’s gender representation has come as a shot in the arm for these women. “I’m really honored to be included in the company of Zoya Akhtar and Rima Das,” says Bhargava. Kapadia is busy networking at the Berlinale’s market section for her next full-length feature film project whose script she is busy working on now. Das is hopeful things are changing for women in the right direction. “There’s still hope for all of us,” she adds with a grin.

Updated Date: Feb 12, 2019 15:34:08 IST