16 female filmmakers who made India proud


Emmanuelle Bercot has become the second woman after Diane Kurys in 68 years of the Cannes Film Festival’s history. The film “La Tête Haute” is a comedy-drama and being hailed by the festival’s authorities as a “bold and moving” film—a departure from the big-banner Hollywood backed films that were becoming the gimmicky norm to open the festival.

Much though the choice of Bercot’s film becomes a benchmark of sorts in the recent history of Cannes, it has also opened up a worldwide can of worms on how women have been regularly side-tracked by bigger names and commercial machineries in the world of cinema.

The Indian film industry is a mammoth when it comes to the magnitude of production of films per year. In 2012, India had produced 1,602 feature films and leaving behind Nollywod (Nigerian film industry), Hollywood and the Chinese film industry. This makes the presence of women in Indian cinema—both in the mainstream and regional film industries—a vital requisite to reflect a democratic mindset.

Here are sixteen women in Indian cinema who cracked the glass ceiling to get noticed.

Fatima Begum

Fatima Begum – She was one of the earliest actresses in Indian cinema who acted in silent films like “Veer Abhimanyu” (1922). She set up Fatima Films in 1926 and became the first female Indian director with her debut feature “Bulbul-e-Paristan” in the same year.


Aparna Sen – She became a celebrated heroine of the Bengali film industry in the seventies. The daughter of a film critic Sen, who also acted in Satyajit Ray’s films, made her first feature film “36 Chowringhee Lane” in 1981. Since then there has been no looking back for this visionary voice of Indian cinema as evidence to which she has three National Film Awards.


Kalpana Lajmi – Lajmi, the niece of the legendary Guru Dutt, had been mentored under Shyam Benegal. These influences turned her towards socio-realism to which she has made films like “Rudaali (1993) and “Daman: A Victim of Marital Violence” (2001).


Sai Paranjpye – Born to a Russian artist and a Marathi actress, Paranjpye had the artistic genes in her. The maker of critically acclaimed and commercially recognized films like “Sparsh” (1980), “Chasme Buddoor” (1981) and “Katha” (1983), her films are still devoured for their universal concerns steeped in simple storytelling.


Bhavna Talwar – A journalist by profession Talwar had made waves with her first feature film “Dharm” in 2007. A socially incisive film “Dharm” was given a National Film Award but couldn’t make it past Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s “Eklavya: The Royal Guard” to become India’s official entry to the Academy Awards Best Foreign Film section.


Tanuja Chandra – Sibling to the famous film critic Anupama Chandra Chopra and writer Vikram Chandra she is best known as the screenplaywriter of the 1997 hit “Dil Toh Pagal Hai”. But Chandra has also had a good innings directing movies with interesting plots like “Dushmaan” (1998), “Sangharsh” (1999) and the more recent “Zindaggi Rocks” (2006).

Filmmaker Deepa Mehta brings "Heaven on Earth" to the Vancouver International Film Festival 2008

Deepa Mehta – Mehta is Indian by origin and though her work has attained the distinction of being international, her primary concerns have revolved around India. Famous for her “Elements” trilogy—with “Earth” (1998) being sent as India’s entry to the Academy Awards and “Water” (2005) being sent as Canada’s official entry—her recent film adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children” has garnered positive responses.


Mira Nair – Another Indian born woman who has made a name for herself catering to the Hollywood sensibilities is Mira Nair. Nair’s seminal work in 1988 “Salaam Bombay!” centred on the lives of marginal people in Mumbai. But since then, Nair has created a mixed bag of both Indianized films—“Monsoon Wedding” (2001), “The Namesake” (2006)—as well as Hollywood ventures—“Vanity Fair” (2004) “Amelia” (2009).


Revathy – Primarily an actress from the south Revathy has starred in films of five languages—Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada and Hindi. But few people know she has also proved her mettle as a director with thoughtful projects like “Phir Milenge” (2004) that had Shilpa Shetty playing a woman with AIDS due to which she loses her job but decides to legally sue the firm.


Anusha Rizvi – Another one-film wonder Rizvi was originally a journalist with NDTV. In 2010 Rizvi created ripples with her socio-politically charged film “Peepli Live” that went on to become India’s official entry to the 83rd Academy Awards and also a commercial success.


Reema Kagti – A girl from Assam Reema had her education in cinema being an assistant director in important projects like “Lagaan” (2000) and “Dil Chahta Hai” (2001). She proved her worth as a storyteller in 2007’s “Honeymoon Travels Private Ltd.” and roped in the mega-star Aamir Khan for her 2012 psychological thriller “Talaash”.


Kiran Rao – A Tamilian Brahmin who grew up in Kolkata, Rao attended film school in Jamia Milia and assisted filmmakers like Farhan Akhtar and Ashutosh Gowariker. Her film “Dhobi Ghat” released in 2011 to become the darling of film festivals.


Farah Khan – She started in the mainstream Hindi industry as a choreographer and rose to the top in her profession. Then she changed gears to try her hand in commercial Hindi cinema. She excelled at it delivering hits like “Main Hoon Na” (2004), “Om Shanti Om” (2007) and the recent blockbuster “Happy New Year” (2014) that went on to become one of the highest grossing films of Indian cinema.


Gauri Shinde – Famous for being married to the ad man-turned-filmmaker R. Balki, Shinde herself was an ad maker until an idea hit her. Making her debut film “English VInglish (2012) with the yesteryear star Sridevi, Shinde demonstrated how a light-hearted slice-of-life film can have a social truth as its spine.


Shonali Bose – Niece to the communist leader Brinda Karat, Bose always had the voice of a social activist. While studying in the UCLA (University of California) Bose decided to direct her voice towards making meaningful cinema. She made “Amu” (2004) a small-budget film in (2005), co-wrote and co-produced her husband Bedobroto Pain’s film “Chittagong” in (2012) and is all set to release her sensitive take on cerebral palsy in “Margerita, With a Straw” this weekend.


Zoya Akhtar – The daughter of the celebrated lyricist and screenwriter Javed Akhtar and twin to one of the most dynamic Bollywood directors, Farhan Akhtar, Zoya had to chart out her own path to make her debut film “Luck By Chance” in 2009. After the film released Zoya’s days of struggle were over as she followed it up with the road-trip film “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobaara” (2011) and did a small segment in “Bombay Talkies” (2013) to celebrate hundred years of Indian cinema. Akhtar is now gearing up to release her holiday film “Dil Dhadakne Do”—with a eclectic ensemble cast—that is being hailed as one of the Bolly biggies of the year.


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