12 Brilliant Films Made By Indian Women Filmmakers!

By Yash Thakur. Posted on January 15, 2016

Whether we should be having a discussion on 'films made by women filmmakers', is a bit of a controversial topic. Some would fiercely argue that there's nothing gender-specific when it comes to filmmaking, while others would want to point out to the glaring lack of women and their perspective in filmmaking. However, the fact that there’s always been an obvious pre-dominance of men in the field of cinema, cannot be wished away. And along with that the attendant patriarchy & sexism at work, which women filmmakers have to overcome.

This is especially true in India, where the issue of unequal female representation, is a society-wide plague. Yet that hasn't stopped women filmmakers from going ahead & leaving a mark on our cinematic history. It goes back to 1926, when Fatma Begum became the first woman director when she made the film, Bulbul-e-Paristan. 

One of the best Indian filmmakers, Deepa Mehta says, “I hate labels of any kind. Just because you are a woman you can’t do this or that? Twenty years ago women entering the work force was enough of a shock. People just like the predictable; they feel safe with it. You know, it’s such a bore”.

With an increasing number of women getting behind the camera, it seems the tide is turning. Hopefully we won't need to create listicles like this one, in a few years time. Last year itself we've saw an interesting range of films by women directors. This includes Ruchika Oberoi's satirical comedy Island City, Leena Yadav's grim desert drama Parched, Meghna Gulzar's gritty and thrilling Talvar, Zoya Akhtar's family drama Dil Dhadakne Do, the heartwarming Margarita, with a straw by Shonali Bose & Churni Ganguly's Nirbashito.

Here's a look at some of our best women filmmakers & the films they've made. Let us know what you think of the list.

'Elements' Trilogy: Water (2005) by Deepa Mehta

Deepa Mehta is best known for her Elements Trilogy, Fire (1996), Earth (1998), and Water (2005), which won her much critical acclaim. Some notable actors that have worked in this trilogy are Aamir Khan, Shabana Azmi, Kulbhushan Kharbanda and Nandita Das. These films are also notable for Mehta's collaborative work with author Bapsi Sidhwa. All three films have soundtracks composed by A. R. Rahman.

Water is the story of an eight-year-old child widow who is forced to enter a house of widows for the rest of her life. The film, meant to be shot in India, was attacked fiercely by Hindu fundamentalists. Riots broke out, sets were destroyed and death threats were issued to the actors and Mehta, forcing the film to stop production. Four years later, the movie was made in Sri Lanka. Water opened the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2006.

Salaam Bombay! (1988) by Mira Nair

Salaam Bombay! chronicles the day-to-day life of children living on the streets of Bombay (Mumbai). Taking her documentary film-making and acting experience into account, Nair sought out real 'street children' to properly portray the reality of children who survive on the streets and are being deprived of a real childhood.

Upon its' release, the film not only won worldwide critical acclaim but also picked up the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi, the Camera d'Or and Audience Awards at the Cannes Film Festival, and three awards at the Montréal World Film Festival. It was also India's submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Moreover, Salaam Bombay! was among the list of 'The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made' by the New York Times, making it one of the most important and iconic Indian films ever made.

Mira Nair went on to make more path breaking films such as The Namesake and Monsoon Wedding, for which she won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival; the first female director to win the honor.

36 Chowringhee Lane (1981) by Aparna Sen

Aparna Sen made her acting debut at the age of 15, when she played the role of Mrinmoyee in Satyajit Ray's Teen Kanya (Three Daughters) in 1961). After acting in films for years, Sen became a film director with 36 Chowringhee Lane. She also wrote its screenplay. The film about a lonely, aged Anglo-Indian teacher living in Calcutta, won positive reviews from critics & Sen won the Best Director award at the National Film Awards. 36 Chowringhee Lane also won the Grand Prix (the Golden Eagle) at the Manila International Film Festival. She would go on to direct other critically acclaimed films including Mr. & Mrs. Iyer and 15 Park Avenue.

Until 36 Chowringhee Lane, the depiction of pre-marital sex in films was never shown. About the intimate scenes in the film, Sen said, "I feel scenes of sexual intimacy are ruined if the director is embarrassed. I wasn't embarrassed. There was nothing in it that I thought was obscene."

Sparsh (1980) by Sai Paranjpye

This Padma Bhushan Awardee has given us some of the most memorable movies of the 80's. The most well known of them is Sparsh, which went on to win 3 National Awards & 3 Filmfare Awards. The film stars Naseeruddin Shah and Shabana Azmi, who play the roles of the principal and teacher in a school for the blind who fall in love. The film goes on to explore the complexities of their relationship and their struggle to overcome them to reconnect with the 'sparsh' (touch) of love.

Sai Paranjpye also made other brilliant films like Chashme Baddoor, which is one of the most beautiful comedies to have come out of the Hindi film industry. Katha was a satire based on the folk tale of a tortoise and a rabbit, while Saaz, which also starred internationally acclaimed tabla artist Zakir Hussain, was about the life of two playback singers.

Amu (2005) by Shonali Bose

Amu, played by Konkana Sen Sharma, is the story of a young Indian American women, who returns to India to find out her true origins and the true shades of her motherland. A feature film debut which she wrote, produced and directed, Amu received popular and critical acclaim upon the its release. It then went on to screen at the Berlin and Toronto Film Festivals and had a great run in the festival circuit. Bose won 7 national and international awards for Amu including the FIPRESCI Critics Award, National Film Award for Best Feature Film in English and Gollapudi Srinivas Award for best first-time director.

Shonali Bose recently made the critically acclaimed Margarita, with a straw starring Kalki Koechlin as a girl with cerebral palsy.

Peepli Live (2010) by Anusha Rizvi

Peepli Live was a satirical comedy film that explored the topic of farmer suicides, by following the story of a farmer who wants to commit suicide & the ensuing media & political circus it leads to. Peepli Live, written and directed by Anusha Rizvi, was her directorial debut & was produced by Aamir Khan Productions. The film starred an unknown theatre actor Omkar Das Manikpuri in the lead role, along side veteran actors like Naseeruddin Shah & Raghubir Yadav.

Peepli Live was also the 1st Indian film to compete at the Sundance Film Festival. Dubbed as "a scathing satire on the country's apathy towards the rural class, and specifically towards farmers, Peepli Live employs a comic tone to tell a serious story."

English Vinglish (2012) by Gauri Shinde

Gauri Shinde's transition from ad films to silver screen came with English Vinglishwhich revolves around a housewife who enrolls in an English-speaking course to stop her husband and daughter from mocking her lack of English skills, and gains self-respect in the process. Shinde’s perceptive storytelling not only achieves that but also appreciates the voice and efforts of a woman juggling between the roles of a wife, a mother and more importantly, a woman. The film saw veteran actress Sridevi back in films after a 15-years gap.

English Vinglish premiered at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival where it received critical acclaim. It swept all the Best Debut Director awards of that year for Gauri Shinde, including being shortlisted as India's official entry for the Academy Awards in Best Foreign Language Film category.

Rudaali (1993) by Kalpana Lajmi

Daughter of painter Lalita Lajmi and niece of filmmaker Guru Dutt, Kalpana Lajmi has brought some of the most thoughtful female stories to screen. The most famous of which, is Rudaali starring Dimple Kapadia. Rudaali, which literally translates to 'weeping woman', tells the story of a woman named Shanichari, who was abandoned by her mother shortly after her father's death. She goes on to marry an alcoholic, who leaves her with little hope of a bright future for herself and her mentally challenged son, until one day she is summoned to become a rudaali. The catch is, she cannot weep. Dimple Kapadia won a National Film Award for her role of Shanichari in the film, while Samir Chanda won National Film Award for Best Art Direction. Simple Kapadia won the National Film Award for Best Costume Design. The film is dedicated to Amjad Khan, whose last acting performance was in this film.

Another great film by Kalpana is Daman, a woman-centric film starring Raveena Tandon (who won a National Award for her role) which was highly appreciated by critics and audiences for the realistic portrayal of marital abuse.

Firaaq (2008) by Nandita Das

Actress Nandita Das’s body of work reflects a socially conscious sensibility. Her debut film as director, Firaaq is a work of fiction, and is set a month after the Gujarat riots in 2002. The ensemble film interweaves multiple stories over a 24-hour period, as the characters from different strata's of society grapple with the lingering effects of violence. The film traces the emotional journeys of ordinary people – some who were victims, some perpetrators and some who chose to watch silently. The film's stellar cast includes Naseeruddin Shah, Raghubir Yadav, Paresh Rawal, Deepti Naval and Nawazuddin Siddiqui.

Through the hard-hitting Firaaq, Nandita Das chronicles the aftermath of the Gujarat 2002 carnage and its impact on different sections of society through her unrelenting, uncompromised probing of human emotions. Firaaq premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2008, and traveled to over 50 festivals, winning much appreciation from critics and audiences, winning over 10 international awards and 10 within the country. The film won top honours at the Asian Festival of First Films in Singapore, picking up awards for Best Film, Best Screenplay and Foreign Correspondents Association Purple Orchid Award for Best Film.

Manjadikuru (2008) by Anjali Menon

Manjadikuru is the story of a homecoming of a 10-year-old Vicky who arrives at his grandparents home in rural Kerala to attend his grandfather's funeral. During this period, Vicky discovers more about himself, his family and culture than he had expected to. The journey is narrated through the memories of an adult Vicky who returns to the same house to recount the experience.  A shorter video version of the film was premiered at the 2008 International Film Festival of Kerala, and won the FIPRESCI Award for best Malayalam film and Hassankutty award for Best Debutant Indian director. In 2009, it swept the awards at South Asian International Film Festival (SAIFF) at New York, winning five Grand Jury Awards - Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematographer and Best Emerging Talent.

The film released commercially in 2012, establishing Anjali Menon as a director to watch out for. Her next feature, Ustad Hotel, about a young man named Faizal (known as Feyzee), who studies in Switzerland as a chef against his rich father's wishes, was named as one of the Top 10 Malayalam Films of 2012.

Doghi (1995) by Sumitra Bhave

Doghi is the story of two sisters in a poor rural family in India as their family struggles to come to terms with the compromises that they have to make in order to survive. Their father's illness forces one sister to go to the big city to work as a prostitute, allowing her to send money home so the rest of the family can live in relative ease. A heartwarming tale of family and sibling relationships, the film won three National Film Awards: Special Jury Award, Best Film on other Social Issues and Best Playback Singer.

Sumitra Bhave (along with her longtime filmmaking partner Sunil Sukhthankar) is a critically acclaimed Marathi filmmaker who has also given films like Astu, Vaastupurush, Dahavi Fa, Nital and Devrai. Her films explore the social status of women in Marathi culture and often probe the angst and issues that they face.

Luck by Chance (2009) by Zoya Akhtar

Starring her actor-director brother Farhan Akhtar in the lead role, Zoya Akhtar's Luck by Chance is about the journey of an actor who arrives in Mumbai to become a movie star. How he finds himself riding his fortune to becoming one, while struggling to sustain his relationships, forms the story. With dialogues from her veteran father Javed Akhtar and a stellar cast including Konkana Sen Sharma, Dimple Kapadia and Hrithik Roshan, the film was an original take on the not-so-bright side of the Bollywood film industry.

The debut film was critically acclaimed and launched the career of Akhtar, who has since gone on to make films like Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and Dil Dhadakne Do & established herself as one of the finest filmmakers in mainstream Bollywood.


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