If You Are Stubborn Enough, You’ll Get There Someday: Priya Seth
One of the afternoon sessions at Women Writers’ Fest Ahmedabad was about how women are transforming Bollywood, breaking one stigma at a time. Gayatri Rangachari Shah moderated the session with panelists Amrita Pandey, Priya Seth and Anaita Shroff Adajania. It was inevitable for a panel with women from the film industry to talk about the #MeToo movement, but before that, they also shared their stories of struggle and the stigmas they had to battle as working women in an industry not known to favour women.
What has changed in 2018
Amrita Pandey, Regional Head- Media Distribution & OTT – South Asia said she was really happy about how the audience had accepted women in unconventional roles and films with solid content this year. She said, “Audience has actually rewarded movies like Andhadhun and Badhaai Ho, which are different and are not held by big actors. I am not even getting into gender here, but these are strong movies. However, in Andhadhun, Tabu’s role was phenomenal. She is not a young romantic lead, she is diabolical, and she is having so much fun in that role.
Even in Badhaai Ho, what Neena Gupta and Surekha Sikri have done with their roles is fantastic and you the audience have rewarded it. Secondly, writers are getting paid much better today in the movie business and making series, than they were a couple of years ago, and I think that is really encouraging. I am really happy to see that, though we have a long way to go of course. The third thing is that today there are women in different fields like technical and distribution fields.”
“What is not so good however, is that the pay gap in front and behind the camera is a lot.” – Amrita Pandey
On challenges faced by women in technical fields in the film industry
Cinematographer Priya Seth, who has earned accolades for her work in films like Airlift and Chef recounted her long struggle to get where she is today. “I wanted to be a cinematographer, so I went to a film school in New York in 1996. When I finished my course, I was ready to come back to India and start working. But one of my professors in New York said to me that women do not usually become cinematographers. He said that even in the US, at that time, there were barely any female cinematographers and he could even imagine the situation in India.
He just wanted me to be aware of what I was getting myself into. But I was thick-skinned, young and stupid, so I came back determined to change this, and it just went downhill from there. It took about 15 years for me, to get back on my feet, because every single day you get looked at separately because of your gender. Opportunities are discriminated. You are put in a separate category, which you don’t realise why it is happening. Now when I think in the hindsight, I can actually see where it started and how long it took me to get where I am. But I wouldn’t do it any other way. If you keep at it long enough and you are stubborn enough, you’ll get there someday.”
“I wouldn’t do it any other way. If you keep at it long enough and you are stubborn enough, you’ll get there someday.” – Priya Seth
Sometimes it is women who create roadblocks for other women
Anaita Shroff Adajania, stylist, costume designer spoke about how she felt that sometimes the resistance against working women came from within their gender. She said, “I started a career which didn’t exist before, so there weren’t predecessors. It was my footsteps that I was creating, however badly I walked. Also, it is not always the ‘sexist thing’ you have to struggle with. Now as a working mother, I feel that sometimes it is the other women who don’t let you go where you want to go.
My message to all the women and men here is that we must encourage others to follow their passion. It doesn’t mean that I am a bad mother, just because I work. Besides, how do you know how much time I am giving my child?”
“As a working mother, I feel that sometimes it is the other women who don’t let you go where you want to go.” – Anaita Shroff Adajania
The #MeToo movement
Soon the conversation veered towards #MeToo movement and its impact on the film industry. All three women agreed that it had changed the ways of Bollywood and attitude of those in power. Pandey said that whatever is happening in Bollywood today reflects on how we are brought up. She said, “This speaks a lot about how are we bringing up our children? When we were growing up, there used to be a sense of entitlement among boys. Girls, on the other hand, did grow up with a sense of being apologetic all the time. I feel that is changing now, and a lot of conversation now should be about how we are bringing up our kids and what they will grow up to become as adults, rather than just a sensational commentary.”
“The sense of entitlement among men and patriarchy is pandemic.”- Priya Seth
Seth added “We keep focusing on Bollywood because that is what makes news the most. But this is not something contained within the industry. I think the sense of entitlement and patriarchy is pandemic. We are just a symptom of what has been going on in not just our country but around the world. We cannot deal with it on the micro level, just asking how is Bollywood going to deal with it?”
Adjania summed up how women in the industry feel right now. “I think we are on the cusp of something big. People are now being held accountable for their actions and I am happy to be part of that generation. One should just support the movement and do whatever your bit is and make sure no one has to be in an uncomfortable situation. We are all equal.”