Zoya, Reema, Alankrita and Nitya discuss if Bollywood is inclusive of women today (You Tube)
There is a surge in women-led stories in Bollywood but while the female gaze has started to get a space, equal representation is still a distant dream, believe filmmakers Zoya Akhtar, Reema Kagti, Alankrita Shrivastava and Nitya Mehra.
The filmmakers, who worked on Amazon Prime Video's India original "Made in Heaven", a show created, written and even directed by a team of women with the exception of Prashant Nair, who directed two episodes, believe the there is change but the odds are still stacked against women in the industry.
"There may have been a time when women weren't taken seriously but I haven't experienced that," Zoya, who has been receiving rave reviews for "Gully Boy", told PTI.
She believes more than the gender of the maker, it's the kind of film one wants to make that matters.
"Notionally, as many people are not buying the tickets for a film with a female protagonist, making that is difficult. But every decade has had films which have been women-led and have broken the ceiling. Right now, every year women filmmakers are coming in, the game is changing," she says.
"Lipstick Under My Burkha" director Alankrita, however, says there is a system which isn't "inclusive of women" and statistically, they have only directed about six per cent of the films in the industry.
"Which is why I feel over the decades if you look at the history of popular culture, it is created by men, the point of view is male and even how the audience views it. They have been normalised into watching in a certain way," she says.
This systemic exclusion of women, Reema points out, can be seen even in the armed forces.
"It is a societal thing and it is across the world. It's a major problem but I think we are definitely changing."
Zoya, who has co-written her films with Reema, says the kind of absorption of "women storytellers that's happening in our industry is not happening in America."
"We are better off. I don't think producers today are saying 'Oh, she is a woman', I don't think that's happening," Zoya says.
Alankrita, however, believes it isn't largely true.
"I come from a much smaller cinema space and I think it is really tough. It is obvious that with a lot of women filmmakers, they might want to tell stories which are coming from their lived experiences. Often, women want to make films which are about women."
Alankrita says things change dramatically for a woman when she's directing a film.
"I feel where there is a lot of money involved, between a man and a woman, the traditional patriarchal set up tends to trust the guy more.
"When you have screening for exhibitors when you are trying to get shows for your film, there is not a single woman there. They don't understand what you are trying to make. I feel when there are fifty per cent filmmakers who are women, the content is going to change dramatically."
What irks Alankrita is the feeling of being constantly judged by a system that is created by men, for men.
"It is a very macho-hero driven industry. The exhibition system is geared towards that, the star system, marketing of a film is driven by that. You are constantly fighting the odds and it is at every level."
Nitya, who assisted Ang Lee and Mira Nair before helming her debut "Baar Baar Dekho", says a film set today has more women than before.
"When I was an AD and first came to Mumbai, I remember the number of women on a set, that was only for hair, makeup, wardrobe. That's it. Now when I go on a set, it gives me so much pleasure to see so many women working in various departments."
Reema says the times today reflect more inclusion and diversity for women and it isn't as gloomy as before.
"Today, of course, there are so many more choices. It's a positive sign."