Creating interesting roles for women in pop culture important for change: Tannishtha Chatterjee

The actress, along with filmmaker Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury and actor-politician Vani Tripathi, discussed the changing discourse around women and commerce in cinema at IFFI 2016 in Goa.

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Suparna Thombare

Filmmaker Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury, actress Tannishtha Chatterjee and actor-politician Vani Tripathi, came together to discuss the changing discourse around women and commerce in cinema, with presenter Vandana Malik at the 47th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa.

Chowdhury, whose last film, Pink, a courtroom drama on the issue of female consent, made a huge impact with the audience and also became a huge success at the box-office, spoke about what inspired him to make a film on a female protagonist. Apart from being constantly surrounded by women since he was a child, Chowdhury recollected a particular incident that triggered the basic thought behind Pink.

“In all my films a woman plays an important character. Pink happened due to lot of reasons. I used to stay in Kolkata where a girl used to live next door. She used say ‘Tony [Chowdhury’s nickname] please come let's have a drink’, so I used to go to her place often. Lot of people used to come to my place — from doctors to filmmakers, we used to watch films, listen to music. After a month or so some people came to me and said ‘iss ghar me galat kaam chal raha hai’. I asked so what a lot of the men come to her place and leave at 2 am? I was like what does that mean? I was upset. I told them when I am not there same thing will happen to my wife when my friends come. My daughter will also do that. How can you judge or shame a person so easily? It’s not right,” said Chowdhury.

“After a rape incident, there was a discussion on television which I was a part of and woman told me ‘why was that girl molested, nobody has given the man the right to molest her or shame her. As a normal human being what can you do, tell your story through a painting, drama, film — whatever your field is,” he added.

Tripathi, on the other hand, spoke about how age is still the parameter the actresses in the industry are judged on. “The feudal mindset of men, who remain boys... they are 50 years old, but they are still boys. But girls don’t remain girls. They become women, become wives, mothers. And Vidya Balan has been speaking about it for so many months post her marriage now that ‘my films are not working because I am no longer a girl’,” said Tripathi. “So I think this narrative is dense. Let's scratch deeper. And let's become catalysts for change.”

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Chatterjee, who is known for choosing roles in off-beat films like Angry Indian Goddesses and Parched says that she never auditioned for Bollywood films because she didn’t quite fit the mainstream “heroine” image. But now she sees scope.

“When a script comes to me and I am doing nothing in it, it just doesn’t excite me. Sometimes you do films to pay your bills, but most of the times no... I live an artist's life. I have no dreams of buying a Mercedes or penthouse. What interests me is do exciting work. As long as I can just live I am ok making those choices which push the boundaries and challenge me, and take those risks. I don’t think about what is going to happen after but I have to enjoy the process.”

While a lot of the conversation focussed on how production houses make projects and speak only about business instead of on focussing on the content, the general consensus was that the commercial a.k.a. mainstream cinema was definitely changing when it comes to the portrayal of women on screen.
Many female stars are more conscious about the way they are portrayed in films and are hunting for roles that would give them scope to play the protagonist or at least be better fleshed out. Just last year we had some excellent roles for female stars in films like Tanu Weds Manu Returns, NH10, Dil Dhadakne Do, Bajirao Mastani, Piku and this year, Neerja.

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“Role of pop culture is important [for women] and the narrative there needs to change, without it being message-oriented because people don’t like being preached to. We just should create interesting roles for women in popular culture so when a child grows up in that narrative they think it's normal and accept who they are. In Tanu Weds Manu Returns, the characters are so wacky! It is so progressive in the way it portrays both these women. (I) absolutely think that it needs to change in the pop culture space,” said Chatterjee.

“It’s almost like we have regressed. Indian cinema was emancipating for women with Bandini, Sujata, Mother India and many other films — the literature and cinema then was talking about great women. We went down the staircase instead of going up somewhere along the way. Now, trying to stand on our feet again,” summed up Tripathi.