At the recently held FC Actors Adda 2021, six of the year’s best performers came together to talk about their performances and the film industry today. One of the major topics discussed was how much work the industry still needs to do to give women the kind of roles they deserve – on and off camera. Gender equality has long been a topic of debate, not only in Bollywood but the Indian film industry in general. Things are improving, especially with the onset of OTT, but as the actors rightfully note, the work has just begun.
Samantha Ruth Prabhu, Taapsee Pannu and Sanya Malhotra – three women at the forefront of this gradual change, talk about the kind of roles they want to get featured in and why the lens through which women are seen must change now, not only at an audience-level, but also at a filmmaker’s level.
Anupama Chopra: It is so satisfying to see women coming at the forefront, that they are working in every field of the film. We are discussing fairly contentious issues like sexual harassment, pay parity or just very casual sexism that is ingrained in the film industry. What’s the area regarding the gender equation where you think we need to do the most work?
Sanya Malhotra: I think if we want more accurate representation of females, we need more women not only in front of the camera but behind the camera too. More technicians, more scriptwriters, because when a woman is telling a woman’s story, there is more empathy rather than sympathy. So that lens changes. So we can empathize with each other and write better characters for women. So that needs to be changed, more women behind the camera too.
Samantha Ruth Prabhu: I agree, we need more empathy than sympathy. Also, I think with OTT, a lot has changed. In mainstream films, you had a hero and a heroine, and everybody aspired to be the hero, and fall in love with the heroines. You had to be this non-threatening, cute, lovable persona and you were stuck with that. With multiplexes, things changed a little bit, and you had films with female protagonists. Some of us were shouldering films. But even the best of women actors are children of a lesser God in mainstream cinema. You don’t see a film on a warrior princess on a Baahubali budget.
But with OTT, I am really glad that the playing field is getting equal. You don’t have time for the buildup shots and you get right into the story. So, we are all just actors playing these real and flawed characters, which is very liberating for women. It’s the beginning of a great time for women and we are finally exploring different dimensions of women’s personalities. And now that it has begun, there is no stopping.
Taapsee Pannu: I have always been clear that our entire film budget is equal to the man’s salary. But I think we have played vulnerable underdogs enough. I don’t mind being a strong woman in all my films. I want to be the hero from the first frame. Nobody questions a male actor [counting] that he was playing a strong man in that film or this film where he fights and wins in the end. But when a woman, with her grit and determination, fights for something and wins in the end, she is [told that she is] playing a strong woman in every film. What’s the problem in that? I am the hero of my film. I will play the hero of my film. I want a 48 frames entry when I deserve it. I’ve seen men do that since ages. Finally, women are getting a chance to be that. I don’t want to be a bechari in the beginning and then come up; I’ve done those kind of films, but when I want to be the hero from the first frame, I want to be the hero from the first frame. Why is that a problem? We’re still struggling to write these kinds of roles for women. I’ll get lots of films which say that I will be a bechari in the beginning and then later fight all the atrocities she faces. No, I will not do that. I want to be a superhero from the first frame. That is what needs to be changed. Only then will the lens of the audience change. We have been doing this very nicely with men for years and decades. So what’s the problem with women taking the centerstage?
SM: Growing up, it was so difficult to find a female character you could relate to. Sabki haalat kharaab thi yaar, koi apne aap ko bacha hi nahi paa raha hai. Sometimes, I used to put myself into their position and think, “Would I be able to handle it?” And I would think, “No, I would need a man to save me”. But I’m glad things are changing. People are writing such nice and relatable characters. You see them and you say, “I’ve seen a woman like that in real life! I would really like to play it on-screen.”