Ekta Kapoor, Tahira Kashyap Khurrana, Guneet Monga on how their new collective aims to boost women-led cinema
'Happy to shine the light upon young independent women filmmakers whose voices and choices need to be heard,' say Ekta Kapoor, Tahira Kashyap Khurrana, Guneet Monga on Indian Women Rising.
Ekta Kapoor knows a thing or two about how difficult it is to navigate the business side of the entertainment industry as a woman. When she launched Balaji Telefilms in 1994 with her mother Shobha Kapoor, she would often have to take her father and actor Jeetendra along for meetings. “It was the only way people would take me seriously. His presence made a lot of difference because back then, it was a very new concept for people to see a mother-daughter duo run the business,” Kapoor remembers.
Almost three decades later, when she got a call from author-director Tahira Kashyap Khurrana and producer Guneet Monga about joining Indian Women Rising – a collective that aims to boost "Happy to shine the light upon young independent women filmmakers whose voices and choices need to be heard," say Ekta Kapoor, Tahira Kashyap Khurrana, Guneet Monga on Indian Women Rising. in India and ‘discover and empower ground-breaking narratives that disrupt the status quo’, Kapoor signed on immediately. “She (Ekta) told us her office would support everything we needed. She’s a marketing genius. What we're trying to do with IWR, she's somewhere already done that with a film like Lipstick Under My Burkha. And it was an independent film that she picked up to distribute and she made sure that the film was heard, seen and loudly applauded. That's exactly what we plan to do with multiple women filmmakers,” says Monga.
The idea of using their positions of power for the greater benefit of other women came from Monga, the 37-year-old who has had stellar films like Gangs of Wasseypur, Masaan and The Lunchbox to her credit. “This is something that’s been brewing in my mind for a while. And, then I came across the data that less than 5 percent of directors in India are women. Tahira and I had been working together for some time and we spoke about this and thought that we should do something.” It was finally watching Bittu, a 17-minute long film by Karishma Dev Dube that won the Student Academy Award last year, that made Monga put her plans into action. “Karishma reached out to me saying she needed support for her Oscar journey (the film is eligible for the Oscars to compete in the Best Live Action Short Film category). The film was picking up steam but she needed PR support and outreach. It's very overwhelming for a young filmmaker and I remember sending a text to Tahira at midnight telling her to watch the film,” shares Monga.
Kashyap Khurrana, who has directed two short films – Toffee (Eros Now) and Pinni (a part of the anthology Zindagi inShort on Flipkart Original) was ‘bowled over ‘not just by the characters and the performances, but the craft’ of Bittu. “It’s such a heart-wrenching film. You can see the purity of the filmmaker’s intention and that really attracted us. Had this film not come our way, IWR would have probably taken another year or two to happen. But it was Bittu that made it happen right here, right now,” she says.
With Bittu’s Oscar campaign already underway, IWR has hit the ground running and the division of labour among the three partners has been very organic. Having brought Bittu to the table, Monga is responsible for discovering future talent while the marketing push is coming from Ekta. And Tahira, who has been a public relations professional in the past, is overseeing the film’s publicity across the work. “The three of us have plunged in all our resources, capabilities, abilities, intention, intellect, creativity - all of it together rolled into one and trying to make it happen for Bittu. But I'm sure once this takes off, we'll have definite roles and people in the office to take care of IWR. As of now, if someone's busy, the other one does it. We haven't drawn any margins yet - it's just about making things happen. We're all just cheerleaders for Bittu and Karishma right now,” says Kashyap Khurrana.
These are still early days for the collective and Monga describes IWR’s role as ‘a mentorship for the other half of the journey which we have very little idea about, which is positioning, marketing, sales, distribution, outreach, festivals and awards’. “Very often films get made and that’s when exhaustion and confusion set in. There’s an overwhelming lack of information and clarity about the next steps, so we're trying to build an ecosystem. We've done this for our own features. And, now we’ll use all our might to amplify other women’s voices,” she explains. While Kapoor doesn’t shut down the idea of films being produced under the IWR banner, she maintains, “More than anything, IWR is less about us and more about the young talent. We are just happy that we can come together and provide that platform and shine the light upon these young independent women filmmakers whose voices and choices need to be heard.”
While Monga is happy to take baby steps towards supporting other women filmmakers in the near future, Kashyap Khurrana is hoping to ‘disrupt the status quo’ by taking the ratio of women directors up to fifty percent. “There’s no harm in having aspirations. IWR coming together as a collective is a very big deal in itself. It should have happened years back, but I want to look at the positive picture and not get frustrated. Perhaps, the next generation may not even need to have this conversation,” the latter adds with a laugh.
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