Women in Indian Filmmaking: Shattering Stereotypes and Breaking Barriers

AAFT India
6 min readSep 20, 2023

A significant shift is taking place in the colourful fabric of Indian cinema, a shift that is being driven by the inventiveness and unwavering passion of women. Like many other film industries across the world, the Indian film business was mostly shaped by male voices for many years. Nevertheless, despite all the disadvantages, women have emerged — not just as diversity symbols, but as change agents. They have disrupted conventional narratives, dispelled preconceptions, and given voice to the voiceless through their ground-breaking work.

Their accomplishments are part of a larger story about inclusivity and innovation rather than being stand-alone occurrences. Their efforts serve as a tribute to the changing face of Indian cinema, encouraging us to celebrate the strength of talent, tenacity, and breaking down obstacles. This blog post, “Women in Indian Filmmaking: Shattering Stereotypes and Breaking Barriers,” honors this remarkable path of fortitude, creativity, and self-determination.

Indian cinema, a realm of storytelling renowned for its vivid narratives and cultural significance, has witnessed a remarkable evolution in recent years. Amidst the glitz and glamour of Bollywood and regional film industries, a silent revolution has been taking place, one that has redefined the very essence of filmmaking in the subcontinent. This revolution bears the name and indomitable spirit of women, who, against long-established odds, have become formidable pillars of the Indian film industry.

Women have embarked on a journey that unveils the stories, experiences, and accomplishments of these exceptional women who have left an indelible mark on Indian cinema. In an industry where gender bias and stereotypes have often relegated women to the shadows, these creative visionaries have emerged as formidable forces, both in front of and behind the camera.

From directing and producing groundbreaking films to portraying strong, multifaceted female characters, women in Indian cinema have not only challenged traditional norms but have also expanded the horizons of storytelling.

The Ascent of Female Filmmakers:

Indian filmmaking has historically been dominated by men. Now many female directors have created gripping stories that audiences can relate to, demonstrating that gender is not a barrier to artistic brilliance. Below are some examples of exceptional filmmaking:

1. Zoya Akhtar — “Luck by Chance”:

This film explores the aspirations and hardships of struggling Bollywood artists and marks Zoya Akhtar’s directorial debut. Akhtar showed her deep comprehension of the internal processes of the film industry with this perceptive story. The inevitability of Vikram’s complacency, Zaffar’s delicate coolness, and Tanveer’s compassionate candor.

2. Gauri Shinde-”English Vinglish”:

“English Vinglish” by Gauri Shinde tells the touching and realistic story of a middle-aged woman’s quest for self-awareness. Featuring the renowned Sridevi, the movie questioned social norms and praised women’s tenacity. The delicate narrative and examination of one’s growth by Gauri Shinde struck a chord with viewers of all ages.

3. “Raazi” and “Chhapaak” by Meghna Gulzar:

Meghna Gulzar is renowned for crafting compelling stories that frequently take cues from actual occurrences. In “Chhapaak,” she shared the narrative of an acid assault victim and brought attention to a critical societal issue. “Raazi” emphasized the nuanced dynamics of sacrifice and patriotism while showcasing the bravery of an Indian spy. Gulzar has a devoted following and has received critical recognition for her ability to delicately address difficult issues.

4. Juhi Chaturvedi — “Piku”:

Starring the legendary Amitabh Bachchan and the extremely adaptable Deepika Padukone, “Piku” is a beautiful examination of the bond between a father and daughter. The characters were given new life by Juhi Chaturvedi’s writing, which made for an amiable and realistic tale that appealed to viewers of all ages.

To learn more about the art of filmmaking and create your own, we encourage you to join a film direction course.

Portraying Strong Female Characters

The way women are portrayed in Indian cinema has always been controversial, with many decrying the way it reduces female characters to mere clichés or decorative elements. Nonetheless, a welcome transformation in the way women are portrayed has been brought about by the winds of change that have swept through the business.

Below are some examples of exceptional actors nailing their roles in film:

1. Vidya Balan in Kahaani

The portrayal of Vidya Bagchi by Vidya Balan in “Kahaani” was a revelation. In a culture where men predominate, Balan’s character sets out on a tenacious quest to learn the truth about her husband’s absence. Her resolute will, ingenuity, and profundity of feeling subverted the conventional “damsel in distress” cliché.

2. Kangna Ranaut in Queen

Starring in “Queen” as Rani Mehra, Kangana Ranaut brought a refreshing new perspective to the role. The movie tells the story of a young woman’s life-changing travel through Europe that she takes on her own when her wedding is called off. Rani’s personality changed with time, going from a shy, protected youngster to a confident, strong lady.

3. Tapsee Pannu in Thappad

The character of Taapsee Pannu in “Thappad” represents a woman’s fight for justice and self-respect when confronted with domestic abuse. Critical discussions regarding consent and agency were prompted by her character’s choice to challenge accepted social norms and stand up to violence in relationships.

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Bringing Diverse Stories to the Forefront

Women filmmakers are committed to elevating diverse, frequently underrepresented stories. These directors have demonstrated a dedication to delving into topics that were either taboo or unexplored in mainstream Indian cinema. They have explored subjects including social inequalities, mental health, and LGBTQ+ concerns, bringing awareness to important subjects that call for compassion and consideration. When you are part of an institution that provides filmmaking courses in India, they will make you understand what story is more important to tell. Here, we examine the outstanding motion pictures that have spearheaded the movement for inclusivity and diversity:

1. Fire (1996)

Directed by Deepa Mehta, “Fire” (1996) is a part of the critically acclaimed “Elements Trilogy” and is renowned for its audacious examination of same-sex relationships in the context of traditional Indian families. For its risk-taking subject matter, “Fire” drew both praise and criticism, but it surely broke through and opened the door for more inclusive storytelling in Indian cinema.

2. Margarita with Straw (2014)

This film, which was directed by Shonali Bose and starred Kalki Koechlin, follows Laila, a young person with cerebral palsy, as she sets out on a quest to explore her gender identity and self-discovery. It dives fearlessly into the intricacies of pursuing happiness, being LGBTQ+, and living with a disability.

3. Tumhari Sulu (2017)

This Suresh Triveni-directed film, which stars Vidya Balan in the title role, tells the story of Sulochana (Sulu), a middle-class housewife who finds her passion as a late-night radio host. In addition to celebrating the goals and aspirations of a regular woman, the film questions conventional wisdom surrounding the professional and personal goals of women.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the journey of women in Indian filmmaking is nothing short of inspiring. These talented individuals have shattered stereotypes, and broken barriers, and ushered in a new era of storytelling that is diverse, inclusive, and socially impactful. From crafting strong female characters to bringing marginalized stories to the forefront, their contributions have transformed the landscape of Indian cinema.

As we celebrate the achievements of women in film, we invite you to consider a path in this dynamic industry. AAFT offers premier film-making courses in India, including a comprehensive film direction course, acting course, cinematography, and post-production. AAFT, a film school in India provides the knowledge, skills, and mentorship needed to embark on a successful journey in filmmaking.

To stay updated on the latest trends, stories, and opportunities in the world of Indian cinema, we encourage you to subscribe to our blog channel.

Embrace the world of film and become a part of the ever-evolving narrative of Indian cinema.

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AAFT India

With over 30+ years of experience in the field of media and arts education, AAFT has established itself as a leader in the industry.