Behind every successful hero is a woman with a pen
A motley group of women writers in Bollywood give their male counterparts a tip or two on the new rules of scriptwriting
What’s common between Agneepath, Vicky Donor and Shanghai? Other than the fact that they released this year and had strong male characters, all three were written by female screenwriters.
Given the longstanding tradition of employing male writers who took care of the story, dialogues and lyrics, it’s a pleasant shift from the usual track for Bollywood. Interestingly, however, none of the emerging ladies are prepared to point a finger at the industry. They’d rather welcome the change...
After coming up with a heralded script like Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!, Urmi Juvekar went a step ahead and created Shanghai (both directed by Dibakar Banerjee). While penning a story, Urmi reveals that she keeps reminding herself that she’s a screenwriter first — not a novelist. “The role of a screenwriter is peculiarly different from a fiction writer. We are writing for a picture and words tend to change the image in my head to some other image when it enters the director’s head.” On being asked whether writers are given due credit in Bollywood, Urmi poses, “As long as we are getting paid, there shouldn’t be any issue. Anyway, do you care to know who the editor or the cinematographer of the film is? Nahi na? Then why bother with credit for writers only?”
Ila Bedi Datta
Although Ila Bedi Datta has been actively involved in television for over a decade now, Agneepath marked her entry into Bollywood as a screenwriter. The film not only contributed to the growing trend of remakes but also proved that a female writer can effectively gauge the vibes of an action drama. Being the granddaughter of renowned writer Rajendra Singh Bedi and daughter of ace director Narendra Bedi, Ila feels at home in the industry. Understandably, she doesn’t attest the notion of gender bias when it comes to writing. “I’ve seen things at close quarters and people have
always been extremely supportive,” the television-writer-turned-screenwriter confirms before totting that creativity is supreme nowadays, “Content is king!”
For someone who has scripted varied films like Black and Guzaarish and is currently working on the Indian television adaptation of 24, Bhavani Iyer feels pure math is at play as far as creative census is concerned. She observes, “It’s a fact that the male-to-female ratio in the industry with respect to behind-the-scenes talent is rather lopsided. But it isn’t out of prejudice or design. It’s the simple arithmetic of the number of people interested in a particular field divided by those who are really good at it.” On what’s the most difficult aspect of screenwriting, Bhavani reveals, “It is when you hand over the script and cease to have ownership whatsoever on the characters that you have created.”
According to Rajshree Ojha who wrote-directed Chaurahen, having male writers in Bollywood has been pretty generic. Of course, that perspective is changing and more and more female writers are showing up. But she also calls to attention that this gender-specificity is hilariously obvious when female writers tend to create a romantic image of the male protagonist.
Screenwriters can come up with anything… and from anywhere! Debutant Juhi Chaturvedi is definitely one of them. With a background in advertising, she managed to create a stir with Vicky Donor. She challenged existing stereotypes by spinning a film around a touchy topic like sperm donation. But the B-Town newcomer thinks that a screenwriter’s gender shouldn’t restrict him or her from experimenting with ideas. “If anything is fresh and different, it is bound to succeed. Take Peepli [Live] for instance. The entire film was conceptualised by Anusha Rizvi,” she points out.
This FTII graduate who co-wrote Shaitan with director Bejoy Nambiar totally dismisses bias — if at all — in Bollywood. “It doesn’t make sense in this modern age! All one has to do is write a kick-ass story and try to push it towards the right folks. If your stuff is good enough, it will eventually make it,” the 30-year-old asserts. She also credits Sooni Taporewala for breaking the ice with Salaam Bombay back in 1988. Also, writers like Honey Irani (Darr, Krrish) and Kamna Chandra (Chandni, Kareeb) have been consistent at it too.
The last word
Ritu Bhatia, known for composing the dialogues in Aisha and London Paris New York, has a rather unique yet refreshing take on the topic at hand. She says, “It’s always nice to have a female writer and a male director or a female director and a male writer. Such pairings often lead to brilliant synergies.”