Can women leads deliver hits in Sandalwood?

On Women’s Day, we ask directors and female actors if women-centric films are truly so, and if they sell at box office
Can women leads deliver hits in Sandalwood?

In a male-dominated film industry, are women given equal time onscreen? Are their characters well scripted?

In the Kannada industry, there are only a few actors, such as Malashree and Sruthi, whom you can immediately think of as having been part of popular women-centric films. Producers are wary of backing such films -- the prevailing idea being that women are meant to stand by the hero and not by themselves. 

On Women’s Day, Cinema Express speaks to a couple of directors and actors who have been part of female-oriented films. We ask directors if their films were successful and ask actors if their roles were truly central to the story.

‘Women leads give more scope for drama’

Pawan Kumar-directed U-Turn, which featured Shraddha Srinath as the protagonist, was an instant success. The film has now been remade in Telugu and Tamil with Samantha in the lead. “When we write women characters, we get more room for drama especially in the showing of relationships. With a hero, portrayal of relationships is limited… but with a heroine, you can stretch out in many directions and still be convincing,” says Pawan. “In U-Turn, the protagonist had to be a strong person. There are moments of doubt and there intense emotions, in the character’s deep feeling for her boyfriend. She also has to show fear. I was not convinced that a man would be put through such a situation and emotions, but I could believe that a woman would be. With a woman in the lead, I could expand on the drama of this situation, which I could not have done if it was a man,” he adds. Pawan says that it is not difficult to come up with a female-oriented script. “For long while, films were mostly male-centric and a woman hovers around him. But when we put a women in the centre, we have scope for great drama while exploring her strengths and weaknesses. It is easy to write a story for a man but, for a woman, you need to pay close attention to the emotions. It is tricky to get that right.”

‘Women are better at writing about women’

Sruthi Hariharan, who has been doing different roles, is usually keen on female-oriented scripts and well-developed characters. She says, “A women-oriented film (by industry’s definition) is when the central character is a woman, this is then considered special kind of cinema. It is high time we get over this and make more films with women as the protagonist. It would be exciting, and it would be doubly exciting if the cinegoers are ready for it too.”  She says that the audience would easily relate to a female character, since there is a woman in everyone’s life -- be it a mother, a sister, a friend or a wife. “The challenge is scripting a well-rounded character for her. It should not be just another ‘her’, like the daughter of a temple priest or a pretty woman in the college. There should be more depth to the role, with multiple dimensions. That said, over the last few years, I have watched and been part of good films in Kannada, which had well-written female characters, such as in Shuddhi, Urvi, and U-Turn,” she says. 

Do men script women characters well? “A women knows another women better. I remember watching Lipstick Under My Burkha and Parched. Both are directed by women and were different. You are not portraying the women as victims, instead as liberated people, which is what many women aspire for. That can only come from a female perspective. But I have to say that Aruvi written by Arun Prabu Purushothaman nailed the character, and it was an amazing film. So it is possible for a man to write well-etched female characters, but it takes time and he has to find the woman within him, which is very important,” Sruthi says.

‘Good story matters, not gender’

Priyanka Upendra has been part of films such as Mummy-Save Me and now Howrah Bridge, which has her playing the lead. She says that these are indeed women-oriented scripts because the protagonist is female. But, she says, all that matters is a good script and a well-made film. “We should place more importance on the quality of filmmaking, the plot and characters. Gender does not matter anymore. It is about telling a story and how it is received by the audience. On the whole, it is a team effort and not just about the protagonist. It should be a convincing story that resonates with the audience,” she says. ”But it is nice to portray strong women and in a different light,” she says, adding, “We do hope to influence our audience positively with cinema, which is a powerful medium.”

‘Directors are not solely responsible for this’

Sindhu Loknath’s Heegondhu Dina, directed by Vikram Yoganand, is about a girl who gets one chance to chase her dream. It is an uncut, experimental film shot between 6 am and 8.30 am, as the story unfolds during that time frame. The film was slated for a March 9 release, as a Women’s Day special, but it has been postponed. “It is just the girl in the movie, and she is in every frame while others come and go,” she says. Has the director done justice to the character? “I don’t know if the director is solely responsible for that, even actors must be able to convince the audience,” she says. 

‘Number of heroine led movies has fallen’

National-award winning director Mansore, of Harivu fame is currently working on Nathicharami,  a female-centric film starring Sruthi Hariharan. The director says that it is a risky job to attempt in Kannada industry. “The first question you are asked is ‘who are the viewers?’ In Bollywood there is a culture of appreciating such films, in Kannada too there was a time when movies of Sruthi and Malashree ruled the box office. Even today, Malashree’s films run and returns are guaranteed in B & C centres. But again, in Malashree’s movies, she is portrayed with more masculine traits,” he says. Mansore says that, over the last 15 years, the number of women-centric films has fallen drastically. “Even women-centric films don’t do justice to today’s women. Unfortunately, our stories are still suited for the 70s and 80s. But that does not mean that there is no audience for this at all, Naayi Neralu, Hasina and Gulabi Talkies are movies that did well.. but they are parallel cinema and do not fall into the popular category,” he says.

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