"Women Can Direct Hard-hitting Films Without ‘Directing Like A Man’"- Anu Menon On Being A Woman Filmmaker!

By Aditi Patwardhan. Posted on April 01, 2016

Women have never been absent from cinema. It was only a matter of numbers and now with the turning tide of time we are seeing more & more women making their mark in filmmaking. Of course, a gap still remains, but the picture is quite promising when we see the works of women filmmakers.

The fact that there's a majority of men working in the field never really stopped women who had a voice of their own and wanted to be a part of the storytelling process. While the number of women filmmakers in the times gone by has been smaller, there have always been areas like film editing and casting that women have dominated.

While most women filmmakers cringe at the adjective, it is important to highlight & celebrate it. In India, last few years have seen a sudden increase in women making films - much in line with the breaking of glass ceilings in other areas - handling different subjects & addressing varied issues through their filmmaking. A simple look at the lineup of the prestigious Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA) this year and you can see what we are talking about.

There's Deepa Mehta’s gangster drama Beeba Boys; Leena Yadav’s Parched, a piercing examination of India’s patriarchal culture through the stories of four women; Ruchika Oberoi’s genre-bending triptych, Island City; Anu Menon's Waiting, a complex story of a relationship between two people who meet in a hospital and Rinku Kalsy’s documentary For the Love of a Man, which captures on camera the fierce devotion shared by South-Indian superstar Rajinikanth’s fans. In the shorts program, Payal Sethi’s Leeches, Megha Ramaswamy’s Bunny, Pritha Chakraborthy’s Ashrut (Silent Voices) and Sonejuhi Sinha’s Love Comes Later have been selected among others.

So we decided to catch up with some of these filmmakers & see what they think of this growing trend. It was also interesting to learn about their films, their journeys and their experience as filmmakers. Here we present the very first in the series of lovely interviews with these remarkable filmmakers.

Anu Menon's 3rd film Waiting, is winning acclaim across festivals. Bringing together, two of the finest actors of Hindi cinema today, the veteran Naseeruddin Shah & the young Kalki Koechlin, Waiting presents a complex story of a relationship between two people who meet in a hospital where their respective comatose spouses are admitted. In Waiting, Menon explores a terrain completely different from her earlier films, the light rom-com, London Paris New York and the thriller mystery, X: Past Is Present, which was a collaborative feature directed by 11 Indian directors.

In this interview, Menon talks about finding her voice as a filmmaker, what she enjoys about the process filmmaking and the kind of unique challenges a woman filmmaker faces.

How and when did you know that you wanted to become a filmmaker?

I was in advertising for almost ten years – when I had an epiphany as I was turning thirty. So I quit my job and joined a film school in London.

We’d like to know about your film. How did the idea germinate and evolve?

Waiting is about two strangers (Naseer and Kalki) who meet in a hospital while waiting for their spouses who are in a coma. The film is about how they help each other to find courage, faith, hope, and even humor in a situation like this.

How would you describe your voice as a filmmaker?

I like to explore genres – my last film was a rom-com and this one is a drama. But all my stories are laced with humor and generally there’s a distinct lack of melodrama. I do gravitate more towards an American indie style of filmmaking than say, European art-house. I like pace in storytelling and prefer quirk & a light handed touch even when  dealing with heavy subjects.

What do you like the least about being a filmmaker? And what do you like best?

Promoting the film and making sure the right people watch the film has got to be the toughest part of film making. I love everything else!

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Anu Menon with Kalki Koechlin on the sets of Waiting

How necessary according to you is the discourse about women making films in India?

We don’t need a discourse – we just need more women directing films and getting on with it.  That will happen when more decision makers are women (i.e people who green light projects) – so that there is appreciation and understanding of all kinds of voices. Else it’s a bit of boys' club right now catering to a particular taste.

What kind of challenges do today’s women filmmakers face? Do you feel that the nature of challenges has changed over the years?

There’s an overall perception that women filmmakers make a particular kind of cinema – cinema that is ‘soft and sensitive’ - in a rather patronizing way.  You’ll often hear statements like “She directs like a man!” - given as a compliment to some female filmmakers. I think the world can very well do with some  ‘soft and sensitive’ filmmaking – and enough women can direct hard hitting films without ‘directing it like a man’.

What’d be your advice to young girls out there who wants to become a filmmaker?

Just start telling stories in all kind of formats to find your voice. Short stories, poems, short films on iPhones etc. And read a lot, watch a lot of films – go out and live life and collect some valuable life experiences. It’s as important to find yourself as finding your own voice. And shrug off that sense of entitlement. The world doesn't owe you!


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