Mumbai is famous as the city where Bollywood reigns and where dreams come true! The narrative though, save the occasional Mother India, Kahaani and Raazi, has always been skewed to the men. Things are changing though, women are slowly and surely, coming to the forefront of new narratives, telling their stories in black, white and grey. To unravel this shift, a panel named ‘Bombaywaalis of Our Screens,’ discussed how the way women are being written is changing. The panellists actress Sandhya Mridul, director Nupur Asthana and screenwriter Suhani Kanwar were in conversation with Shruti Seth, actor and VJ, who had also curated this panel.

We need to take control of the narrative we have been living in someone else’s story for way too long. – Suhani Kanwar

Excerpts from a very engaging discussion:

Shift in content is real

 Starting the discussion Seth asked the panelists about the absolute shift that they have seen in terms of content, Asthana said, “It starts at the conceptual level itself. When a channel is commissioning say for 50 or 100 episodes then there is a story graph that is mapped out, things change in the middle as TRP ratings are very important. A lot of soaps want to do a lot in terms of women empowerment but somewhere it starts meandering. But when it comes to OTT platforms you are writing that entire season, maybe 10 episodes from A to Z, there nobody from the platform is telling you exactly what to do and they give a lot of creative freedom to write what we want to write and so you see now women characters can be grey instead of just being black or white. This is like a huge leap I feel because the woman was earlier either the other woman or the wife but here you can go beyond it and explore a woman’s mind, explore many kinds of characters and I think that is a huge leap forward. It’s not necessary to be a police officer or an engineer. The woman can be a stand-up comedian or anybody. We can delve into it and tear apart the character and I think that’s possible on an OTT platform, so let’s start to do this.”

A lot of soaps want to do a lot in terms of women empowerment but somewhere it starts meandering. – Nupur Asthana

When asked about what has been the change in terms of the creative process, Kanwar said, “Liberation really, one is totally liberated right now in a way that one wasn’t. I guess earlier, as Nupur said, you had 200 episodes to slowly Trojan Horse some slightly subversive idea where you couch your voice and pretend that you are pandering to the male gaze but you aren’t because that’s not who you are and you have to keep doing that anyway, and then little by little maybe you chip away by the 200th episode. Now, we have 8-19 episodes and because we do not have any formal censorship of any kind right now and also I guess when you have so much content then you have to start trying stories that are edgier because you can’t keep telling the same kind of stories over and over. Now, it’s just organically happened that people are happy to hear what we have to say. It’s not anything new that we are saying, we have been saying this since we were teenagers but it’s now that people are willing to listen because now it makes economic and logical sense to them. It’s a happy coincidence and I am not complaining.”

Also read: Meet the Women Disruptors in Mainstream Music in India

Taking about her roles and her journey as an actress Mridul said, “I remember being told that aap ki shakal toh vamp ki shakal haiaap ki negative shakal hai aap ka jaw kitna bada hai yeh haddiayan yahan pe, cheekbones ka problem hai aap ko Rekha jaise. So, I was told that you’ll always get the bad girl roles. So, I cried a lot about that felt very miserable and got bad girl role, like opposite Ashutosh Rana, then suddenly somebody decided she can be good girl and at that point it was either bad girl or good girl. So, when I was a bad girl, nobody wanted to take me as a good girl or when I was a good girl nobody wanted to take me as a bad girl. Because when somebody told Madhur Bhandarkar take Sandhya Mridul for Page 3, he said no because woh toh good girl hai. Somebody said woh toh bad girl bhi reh chuki hai, so he said nahin mujhe bad girl chahiye. Toh yeh good girl bad girl ka chakkar tha jo ab nahin haiab role haicharacter hai, clearly etched hai. As an actor I am happy I am still around and didn’t leave. It’s nice to be an actor in these times where a character matters, content matters. Thank God I can breathe now. I am glad that there’s a story, there’s middle and there’s an end, and am happy I am still around.”

Final words

 Asthana concluded by saying, “This is the time to be brave, write and direct whatever your creative expression or voice sort of asks you to do. I think we should be braver in telling the kind of stories we are telling right now. Now the opportunity is there and there are various platforms and there is a different audience for everything, today you can make a thriller with a woman, some people will watch that. This is the time to be brave, just go out there and tell the stories you want to tell.”

It’s nice to be an actor in these times where a character matters, content matters. Thank God I can breathe now. I am glad that there’s a story, there’s middle and there’s an end, and am happy I am still around. – Sandhya Mridul

Added Kanwar, “We need to take control of the narrative we have been living in someone else’s story for way too long. Filmmaking, budget and its traditional ways, etc have been in the hands of very few powerful men and their families. And perhaps we can widen that now and start telling our own stories.”

Mridul said, “I would like to say that not everybody’s face is a poster face but I think it’s time now to allow new faces on the posters without judgment, we give them chance, we nurture the talent, we start allowing new talent and good talent to be out there. The outcasts, the guys who don’t take selfies and keep posting them every few seconds. I think this is the time for new talent to come in without judgment and nurture them. Because I think nurturing talent has been one of our failures.”

Shruti’s take

Shruti Seth closed the discussion by saying, “One of the most important thing that needs to happen is for women to start promoting other women, it’s the only way to bring more and more women into the workforce, every time you think of a job that you think a man can do, find a woman who can do it. Even if she can’t do it as well as him, still get her on, she will learn, that’s the only way we can increase our numbers.”  Amen to that.

Also read: Bombay Infuses You With Creativity: Kalki Koechlin At Bombaywaali

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