The entertainment business is tough. If you’re a woman, it’s even tougher. If you’re too young, people don’t take you seriously. And if you’re an actress, the moment you age, you run out of work. While producing Gangs of Wasseypur, producer Guneet Monga remembers being made aware of both her gender and age. “I would have men say things like ‘we’ll close the deal (without you)’ or that ‘she’s too young to handle such a big film’. I would constantly be dismissed while I was the decision maker in that scenario,” she shared during the recent ‘Women in Film and OTT panel discussion as a part of Levi’s I Shape My World campaign. In the years since, Guneet has gone on to produce films like The Lunchbox and Masaan. In 2018, she was a part of producing team of Period. End of the Sentence that won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject.
“Just last week, someone said to me ‘you aren’t the main producer, right’. I smiled and said ‘I am the main producer’,” Guneet added, with an exasperation that resonated with the audience of young women and men.
An annual initiative, Levi’s I Shape My World is dedicated to telling the stories of women who are changing the world in big or small, but significant ways. In a run up to Women’s Day 2020, Levi’s India has been organising a monthly series that shines the light on extraordinary women from different professions. The Women in Music series featured Raja Kumari, Shalmali Kholgade, Mali and Emmanuelle de Decker while the Women in Comedy included Kaneez Surka, Sumukhi Suresh, Prashasti Singh, Ramya Ramapriya, Neeti Palta and Sumaira Shaikh.
The theme for this month’s series held on November 15th, at the Levi’s Lounge, in Lower Parel, Mumbai was ‘Women in Film and OTT’ that showcases female storytellers who are making an impact in the content space. Moderated by Smriti Kiran, journalist and Artistic Director of The Mumbai Film Festival, the panel also included actress Shefali Shah, who is fresh off of the success of Netflix’s Delhi Crime and actress and filmmaker Shriya Pilgaonkar. Shriya, while talking about being made aware of her gender identity, shared an interesting anecdote. “A few years ago, when I set up my Instagram account, I wrote ‘Actor-Filmmaker’ in my bio. But I was told that it might confuse people so I should only say Actor. I wonder if they would have said the same thing to a man”.
The hour-long discussion and the Q&A that followed touched upon everything from equal pay to the fallout of the #MeToo movement, inclusivity, creating a professional environment on set and the hyper sexualisation of women. Hollywood actress Scarlet Johansson recently spoke about her hyper-sexualised image that was created when she was younger and how she’s spent her whole career trying to shatter that. Shriya shared her own experience where a casting director told her ‘you are talented but… you have to be more desirable; the rickshaw-walla should want you’. “My first thought was ‘but I am desirable.’ It made me more aware of my sexuality and suddenly I felt lesser. Thankfully, I have the kind of background where I don’t question myself, but imagine if this is what’s actually being told to all women.”
Shefali Shah, whose two decade-long career has gems like Satya, Monsoon Wedding, Gandhi, My Father and The Last Lear, said playing older characters early in her career aged her in the eyes of the industry. “I aged (on screen) very young in life because as an actor you want to play something you are not. But that worked against me. If you play a mother, that’s the end of your life (as an actress). You can wrap up and go home. Until recently, female characters were treated like that extra chair in your house that you dump all your clothes on. Thankfully things are changing now and not just on OTT platforms but also with films like Lipstick Under My Burkha, Parched and Tumhari Sulu that are led by women,” she explained.
The event was bookended by other talented women in the business. The very funny Sonali Thakkar, who had the crowd in splits through her set and hosted the evening. The evening ended with an electrifying performance by Mumbai producer-singer, Noni-Mouse aka Radhapriya Gupta. It was a celebration of game-changers, rule-breakers and risk-takers. More power to them!