What had made you write this book?
I was working as a film journalist in Bombay. I just became curious looking at the numbers - out of the 200 to 250 films made in Bollywood every year, a maximum of six to eight films are directed by women.
It was a basic curiosity about why are there so few women filmmakers and why isn't anybody talking about it. Even during film-related interviews, a journalist would ask a woman director about her experience, and she would also respond saying it was no different than that of a male director.
There has always been an air of dismissiveness around the topic. Nobody was getting into the depth of it, investigating it. I think that was my motivation.
Most directors in this book seem to be 'progressive'. Was this a conscious choice to show that women directors were fighting a feminist battle? I would like to ask you what do you think is progressive?
Most of the time I was fighting a battle with the filmmakers to get them to acknowledge that their realities are different. Most of the time I dealt with resistance to my questioning on the lines of gender and then I had them telling me what is this 'woman filmmaker' thing?
But they do seem progressive The filmmakers in this book are the reigning directors in Bollywood, barring two, you will be struck by the absence of Zoya Akhtar and Gauri Shinde.
In fact, the sample [of women directors] is not so big that I can go about choosing conveniently, right? So, I chose whoever was there in Bollywood.
Were these women directors intimidated when posed a question about feminism?
I don't think 'intimidation' is the right word, because ultimately it is a woman talking to a woman. Though initially, they were resistant, after we met a few times, they would come back to me saying that they didn't agree with me initially. But then they thought about their experience and this is what they had to add. Often, we would end up being on the same page.
In your book, you compare Farah Khan [Happy New Year] with Kathryn Bigelow [The Hurt Locker]. Could you talk about why you made that comparison?
After multiple conversations with Farah Khan I wanted to point out that no matter what type of movie a woman makes, there will always be people pointing fingers at her.
That is the context in which I make that comparison because Bigelow was criticised for making 'masculine films'. So, women are always trapped in this double bind that if they make a small-budget, socially conscious film they are straitjacketed into that role. And then if they make a big-budget potboiler, then the criticism will be 'oh but she makes these kinds of films.'
Any interesting experience that you had during these interviews?
I want to mention, trying to interview Gauri Shinde [Dear Zindagi] was very tough. She was not receptive to any criticism. That led to fallout and she withdrew from the book. Most of the other interviews were very dialogic and fruitful.
Did any director challenge your reading of their work and your use of the term 'women filmmakers'?
Reema Kagti [Gold, Talaash] would be one such example. With her I always felt there was a certain resistance to the whole category of women filmmakers. She would say things like basically 'directors are androgynous. They are neither male nor female. I don't think there's a female way of working or a female way of writing.'
Is this how you imagined your first book would be? Have you always been a movie buff? Or was it the beat you were covering as a journalist?
I imagined my first book will be about gender issues. As a journalist, I wrote on films. So, I wanted to write something at the intersection of films and gender.