fc lead women's day roundtable

When seven talented artists came together for a special Women’s Day roundtable, one question stood out as a wake-up call to the film industry today. When asked about revealing the one change they would want to make in the film industry, if given a magical wand – Kusha Kapila, Shefali Shah, Swastika Mukherjee, Prajakta Koli, Neelam Kothari, Mrunal Thakur and Masaba Gupta opened up, and how. Edited excerpt:

Masaba Gupta:

Audition more people. Ask for people who have mastered the craft of acting; and don’t just take a star because the studio is paying you more money.

Swastika Mukherjee:

Giving offs for periods. We should have the confidence to ask for it. A lot of changes are happening in the corporate world, but we still think whether or not to [ask for leaves]. If there are scenes where we have to get drenched in the rain, or scenes inside a pool, we then go and ask them to shift it to some other date because there are ‘technical problems.’ We are still in the process of being very upfront about it and say that I cannot work on this date because of my period. That needs to be normalized.

Mrunal Thakur:

I started my career with television and every time I auditioned, I got a response like: “Oh, she’s a TV actor, let me not have her.” An actor is an actor. You do the same acting. I don’t do a different kind of acting because it’s for TV. It’s the editor, guys, it’s not us. So, people, especially the ones in the filmmaking business, should stop saying that. Even journalists or the media sometimes is like, “Oh, she’s a TV actor.” Although I started with TV, I made my film debut, I did an indie film, I did Marathi films, and working on Hindi and Telugu films.

Secondly, I don’t think many actresses are comfortable speaking about it. But the kind of briefing I used to get is – “You’re young. You need to look ‘young,’ ‘fresh’ and ‘vibrant.’ You don’t need to play a mother of two kids or you don’t need to be a sister.” Why not? My mother had her first kid when she was 19-20 years old, why can’t I be a young mother? Every time I like a script and really want to do it, I’m told, ‘But she’s a mother; but she’s a sister…’ This is one thing I’d really want to change. I will be glad if we stop with the bracketing.

Kusha Kapila:

More diverse writer rooms, more female storytellers. We can count the number of female writers that we have in film industry, and I think it should be way more than that. And more storytellers from the LGBTQ community for sure. We should have a Shondaland in India.

Shefali Shah:

The ability for people, particularly in the cinema fraternity, to stick to their word. They’ll say that you’re very good but it translates to nothing. Don’t just tell me I’m good. [They say,] “We really want to work with you!” But then, nothing happens. The preference given to a star is very annoying now, because I think we have finally woken up and understood that finally, you need to be an actor. I’m glad we had the OTT breaking that for us. I’m glad it broke it for me, and yet, there is this thing of, “But star hona chahiye.” What happens to talent then? Otherwise, you’re just repeating the same people over and over and over again, and just appreciating new talent. You don’t give credit for where it is due. I really wish that changes. I don’t see that drastic a shift yet in cinema on that level.

Neelam Kothari:

I’m coming back to the industry after 23 years, and it has changed a lot. So, if I have to change something, it would definitely be the number of hours.

Earlier, when I was doing films, a shift used to go from nine to six, seven to two, two to ten, and so on. It was never 12 hours. So, when I got my first call time, it said: ‘You have to be on set at 4 am.’ I had never done that in my life. Also, I think for a woman, the call time is usually two hours before [the actual time]. So, cut down the number of hours. It does get grueling.

Prajakta Koli:

Honestly, I’m very new to this. I haven’t done so much work. But there was an experience that changed a lot for me as an actor. In post-production, during the edit work of any content, scars, pimples pores and discoloration are removed. I’d like to change that. After Mismatched released, I met a lot of people in-person, where they said, “Thank you. We finally saw a girl who looked like us. We could see your pimples; we could see that your eyebrows were not matching and there was hair on your hands.” I thought that was very empowering for me, as Dimple, to do something like that. Everybody who has great flawless skin, well done! But [I’d also like to see] the scars and acnes that we do have. The fact is, we [need more of] realer, normalized women characters.

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