Ms.Representation: The missing support for the female gaze
The writer talks about the women making movies in our cinema, and their body of work
I have thoroughly enjoyed watching the kind of attention Mahanati has received over the last weeks. It felt as if an interesting moment in Telugu-Tamil cinema was unfolding in front of my eyes. And it has been in the reckoning for a while now. Even as we have all watched and written about the kind of reception women on screen were receiving from audiences -- from Nayantara and Oviya to Jyotika in her 'second innings', as people like to call it, though she is really young and if you think about it (Amitabh Bachchan's second innings, for instance, came when he was much older).
In one of the making videos of Mahanati, I was happy to see an army of women working off-screen, but that only brought back the same old questions. Why aren't more women making movies in our cinema? Why aren't they even writing them? When I sat down to write about this, I found something very interesting. I was wrong in thinking that there aren't enough women.
There's Gayatri of the Pushkar-Gayatri (Vikram Vedha and Oram Po) duo. I also remembered the lovely Kanda Naal Mudhal by V Priya over a decade ago. And then there's Anita Udeep (Kulir), who after a long hiatus is back with a film starring Oviya. That's a film I want to see. There's Madhumitha Sundararaman, who has made three films (Vallamai Tharayo, Kola Kolaya Mundhirikka, Mooney Moonu Varthai), and of course, Lakshmy Ramakrishnan, who has made as many as well - Arohanam, Nerungi Vaa Muthamidathey, and Ammani. Sharada Ramanathan made Shringaram in 2007 and has a film coming up called Puthiya Thiruppangal, Wikipedia informs me. Some of the other women who have had a chance to make movies come from filmy families - Aishwarya (3) and Soundarya Rajinikanth (Kochadaiiyaan), Suhasini Mani Ratnam (Indira), Kiruthiga Udhayanidhi (Kaali, Vanakkam Chennai).
So there's clearly a handful of women who are working right now in cinema - both from the outside and those from within the industry circles. Yes, it's a low number, but they are there. But then why do women make so few films in their careers compared to men who make a new movie every other year, irrespective of their films bombing or not? Is access to producers and distributors, even for women of some privilege, tough to rustle up and maintain, say the way a male director can? Especially if their film doesn't do as well at the box office?
Even with newer platforms like YouTube, Prime, and Netflix, South Indian representation has been woefully all male. I can only hope that these women, who are working now, will keep at it until the purses of financiers loosen up for them, recognising their talents, labour and gaze.