6 Women On Their First Break In Films

Ahead of International Women's Day we asked women across the industry about their first jobs in film and how that shaped their journey
6 Women On Their First Break In Films

Known for: Manto, Mirzapur

I was a student at FTII, a month away from graduation when I came to Bombay to spend a weekend with some friends. One of them was assisting on a film (Anwar) and they were holding auditions for some of the smaller parts. I wanted to see what an audition would be like just for the experience of it. Just like that I went with her to her office and tested for the part and I got it! Most people advised me not to take smaller parts but the only way I knew how to connect with people was through working with them and it also to put to test what I had learnt at the institute. I did the part, despite people telling me it would be difficult to transition to bigger roles. Yes, the transition was difficult but I was so much more sure about myself as an actor by the time I got my first lead role because of that experience.

Priya Seth – Cinematographer

Known for: Airlift, Chef

It was the year 1997 and I didn't know anyone in the industry. I had been working as an assistant for barely a year up until then and I read somewhere that Deepa Mehta was starting a film shoot in the coming year. I desperately wanted to be on a feature film set. I did some digging and found out where Deepa lives in New Delhi. I took a train and reached her house. I introduced myself and told her I wanted to work in the camera department in any capacity. I didn't want money and I had a place to stay. I just wanted to work. And then what she did stayed with me forever. She treated me with dignity… She handed me a script of the film. Even as a lowly apprentice she thought it important that I read the script. I clutched onto that script like it was my lifeline. It was my entry into the magical world of storytelling. I knew then as I know it now. It was the start of a long glorious love affair.

Gazal Dhaliwal – Screenwriter

Known for: Qarib Qarib Singlle, Ek Ladki Toh Dekha Toh Aisa Laga 

After 2 years of writing software code for Infosys, I quit my job. I wanted to do a different kind of writing. I moved to Bombay in 2009 not knowing anybody, not knowing anything except that I was going to write films. After a period of confusion, fear and lack of direction, I locked myself in my one-room accommodation for 27 days straight and just wrote. I would step out twice a day – each time to have a vada pao. Not really sure of when and how much I slept, at the end of the 27 days, I had my first script – a 124-page feature film.

I went around dropping copies of the script all across town – to any and every production house I could find the address of. Finally, I'm not sure how, an ad film director happened to read it. To my luck, he was good friends with Tanuja Chandra, who was looking for a new dialogue writer at that time, and he suggested that she meet me. Tanuja and I connected instantly and I landed my first paid gig writing Qarib Qarib Singlle – although the film ended up being my third release, after Wazir and Lipstick Under My Burkha. It has been almost 8 years since I first met Tanuja at an unremarkable cafe in Bandra. However, that day and that cafe are and will always be unforgettable for me.

Sanyukta Chawla Shaikh – Screenwriter

Known for: Parmanu, Neerja

I was living as a paying guest, sharing a room with a girl I seldom saw as she travelled a lot. I'd make a list of directors I wanted to meet, score their numbers and text for a meeting. Those were the days of regular SMS, no WhatsApp. The responses were sparse and the meetings even more so but one-day Tigmanshu Dhulia responded. I went to his office to meet him. When I told him I had no prior writing experience he seemed disappointed but yet we talked for about an hour, and quite abruptly he turned to his producer sitting in on the meeting and said, 'iss ladki ko token signing de do, yeh likhegi, acha likhegi.'

That day I received a cheque of Rs. 21,000, my first ever earning as a writer. What followed were two wonderfully enriching months of collaboration with the very bright and funny Tigmanshu Dhulia developing a film, that unfortunately never got made. He was struggling with the release of Paan Singh Tomar and I continued to struggle to find my next gig. Nevertheless, I consider it quite a blessing that I spent time writing with him.

Jonita Gandhi – Playback Singer

Known for: The Breakup Song, Sau Tarah Ke

My first Bollywood playback song was a mixture of being in the right place at the right time and being willing to hold fear by the collar and try something new. A friend of mine, Abhishek Ghatak, was the sound engineer at Vishal Shekar's studio at the time. I had plans to meet him that night and the meeting point was the studio. It just so happened that Vishal was there at the same time and Abhishek introduced us. He was working on the title track of Chennai Express and asked me if I wanted to give it a shot. I couldn't let fear win and let go of that opportunity. I had no idea whether my voice would be kept on the track but I gave it a shot anyway and I am grateful to Vishal for having introduced me to playback singing in Bollywood!

Deepa Bhatia – Editor

Known for: Raees, Fitoor

I was an assistant director to Govind Nihalani when he was directing Sanshodhan. His editor was extremely busy, so there was all this material on the system, sorted, synced and untouched. I just took a chance. I would arrive early to the studio, try tinkering around, then attempt to cut scenes, simpler ones at first, then ones with more coverage. Never having formally learnt editing, I cut on intuition. After having a go at nearly twenty scenes, I mustered up the courage to show him what I had worked on and he was very appreciative.

The next film he made was Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa and he just told me to edit it. Getting the opportunity is one thing and delivering is another. I think what stood me in good stead was my ability to work really, really hard and to have the courage to admit when I didn't know how to do something, ask and learn from my peers. I recall Thelma Schoonmaker's words, "you have to keep banging away at something until you get it to work." So to all the girls who dream of being editors, it's meditative and rewarding for those who are patient, tenacious and artistic. Just remember to bang away at it.

Related Stories

No stories found.