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The rise of Indian woman directors

By Subhash K. Jha, IANS

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Gurinder ChadhaWoman directors may be nearly extinct in Hollywood, but their counterparts from India are making waves the world over.

Topping the charts is Gurinder Chadha. After making a big success of "Bend It Like Beckham", she has again gone to the top of the British charts with her new film "Bride & Prejudice".

Chadha is delighted, but is also a little disillusioned by the Indian media's haste to write off her film.

"There have been impromptu standing ovations in London cinemas. The Jane Austen fan clubs had great screenings. Jane-ites dressed in regency gear apparently came out of the film singing 'No life without wife'," she said triumphantly from London.

"The success of 'Bride & Prejudice' has sent ripples all round the world to other distributors who are all set to release the film in a much bigger way in their respective territories... Hope some of your colleagues are squirming... I refuse to talk to journalists in India who wrote off the film before it was properly released."

Chadha's moment of glory almost coincides with Mira Nair's own portion of the sky. After "Monsoon Wedding", she has gone in the opposite direction to Chadha by making a full-fledged Hollywood film.

Though Nair's "Vanity Fair" has been lukewarmly received by critics and the masses, it will no doubt consolidate her claims as a movie moghul.

And Nair and Chadha are only getting bigger.

Deepa Mehta is the third Indian director all set to create a splash globally with "Water", which stars Lisa Ray as a Hindu widow and John Abraham as a reformist at the turn of the 20th century.

Though purists are aghast at the rather queer casting, Mehta is confident of pulling it off.

"What's wonderful is the celebration of woman power," says Kalpana Lajmi who's all set to launch her new experimental film with Sushmita Sen in the lead.

"Directors like Gurinder and Mira Nair are showing the world what Indian women are capable of. More power to them."

Farah KhanBack home, women power is celebrated through the feast of films that female directors have created in 2004. Farah Khan got the ball rolling with "Main Hoon Na", which was as Indian and dishy as pao bhaji on Juhu beach.

Cynics said it ran because of Shah Rukh Khan. Well he was in "Asoka" too, and the film certainly wasn't a success.

Then came the ravishing Revathi with a completely different kind of cinema, "Phir Milenge", with another Khan in the lead.

And now there's Pamela Rooks with the enchanting "Dancing Like A Man". Before the year is done, there will be Tanuja Chandra with her "Film Star", a hard-hitting unblinking look at a fading actress's life.

This year will be recorded in the annals of Indian cinema for the maximum impact by female directors.

Now we have two of the biggest moviemakers in Mumbai whose sisters are ready to take the directorial plunge. Farhan Akhtar's sister Zoya and Sanjay Leela Bhansali's sister Bela Sehgal are ready with scripts to launch out as feature film directors.

TV director Leena Bajaj who's just wrapped up "Shabd" for producers Pritish Nandy Communications with Aishwarya Rai is gung-ho about the future of women directors.

"Whether it's Gurinder Chadha, Aparna Sen or Farah Khan, women directors from this country have proved they have it in them to take on the men in their domain and emerge trumps."

There was a time in the distant past when women directors were as inconceivable as female pilots.

When in the early 1970s, actress Sadhana was credited with the direction of the hit film "Geeta Mera Naam", everyone said her husband R.K. Nayyar had ghost-directed the film.

Aparna Sen redefined the position of the woman director not just in India but abroad too.

From Sen's "36 Chowringhee Lane" in 1981 to Chadha's "Bride & Prejudice" in 2004, women directors have come a long way!.


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