Why are women-centric films thought to be ‘offbeat’? Why does having a female director/technician/producer always become an extra-talking point? Women directors and producers have been in existence since 1930s, but what about the status quo still makes it so novel? Netflix has become an interesting player in this space, in looking to level the gender field. More than 50 percent of its Indian original films have had female protagonists (Choked: Paisa Bolta Hai, Bulbbul, Guilty, Chopsticks, Soni, Lust Stories, Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl), and have been backed by several women filmmakers and technicians, debutantes and seasoned. What about the digital space makes it conducive for women?
Last night, I visited Manderley again… because Netflix decided to remake the classic, Rebecca. The story originally written by Daphne du Maurier is one of a young woman dazzled by a rich, broody widower, Maxim De Winter, she meets in Monte Carlo. She rushes into a marriage with him only to realise that he is still living in the past, haunted by the memory of ex-wife Rebecca. My first experience with Rebecca was Alfred Hitchcock’s Oscar-winning 1940 film adaptation of the same name. Swooped into Manderley, the new wife finds it hard to shake off the evocative presence of Rebecca; she struggles to bear the weight of Rebecca’s legacy which lives on, thanks to the efforts of Mrs. Danvers, the faithful housekeeper.
To adapt a novel to the screen is no easy task. It’s more so when the novel is one of the longest in English literature, spanning more than 1,400 pages. Set in 1950, the era of the new India, director Mira Nair attempts to distill the sprawling universe that is A Suitable Boy into a six-episode mini-series for the BBC. The adaptation is BBC’s first series with no major white characters (Mira Nair once remarked it was The Crown in brown.) But it’s also the most expensive BBC series yet. This opulence translates to the screen: the aesthetics brim with the beauty of the rich… but where is the soul?
On Episode 1 of The Good Place, I wondered how the creators managed to stretch a seemingly flimsy premise to three full seasons. But with each passing episode, the series consistently metamorphosed into something bigger, grander and yet, increasingly rooted in its humane values. The best thing about The Good Place is that it is relatable and has normal, flawed people at the centre, just trying to be better. The new season is no different. Humanity is at stake, and it is up to four normal human beings, one demon and a ‘not-a-girl’ Janet to save it.
Sitting at a beauty parlour, one day, I saw a young girl, barely 12-13 years old, walk in to get her perfectly natural eyebrows threaded. The beautician asked if she had come alone, and she showed that she had the money for the service. The beautician refused and asked the girl to return with her mother. This incident, though overtly harmless, disturbed me. I kept seeing variations of this incident everywhere: on social media, where tweens and teens pretend to be an adult and pose in grown-up clothes and make-up; on reality shows where children trudge through grown-up routines; and in life itself.
It is easy to get lost in the Internet. It is no new revelation that the Internet, especially social media, can act like a sponge that absorbs your time. It starts with one notification, but you end up scrolling for hours, staring at a screen, addicted, even if you’re not excited by what you’re seeing. For a while, I have been wary of the time I spend online. I had timers on my social media apps, to ensure I don’t while away all my time on it. And suddenly, my day opened up and I didn’t know what to do with it. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t keep from reaching for my phone. How had I spent all those years without the Internet, or a phone?
The director of Netflix’s International Original Film department, Srishti Behl Arya, talks to us about building the Indian slate for the streaming giant
Authenticity and Diversity. These two words often pop up in conversation with Srishti Behl Arya, the mind behind Netflix’s original slate in India. “We look for passionate creators. If we are enjoying what we make, we hope our audiences will enjoy them too,” says Shristi. “Storytelling barriers are being broken every day. People don’t want to get stuck with one kind of content.”
When I heard a show about Masaba Gupta was coming up on Netflix, I was immediately intrigued. I find Masaba’s prints fascinating and her palette vibrant; her aesthetics fuse the modern with the traditional. Not to mention, she is the daughter of Neena Gupta, who is a rockstar in her own right. So, I was interested in the premise of this partly-fictionalised series based on the lives of these two unconventional achievers. But Masaba Masaba isn’t quite the heady mix of fashion and drama you would expect.
If the phrase ‘It is easier said than done’ applies to anyone, it is the modern woman who faces a very unique battle. The modern-day woman might be armed with liberal thoughts and progressive ideas, the zest to be independent, but she also comes bearing years of social conditioning. After lifetimes of being told how to sit, how to walk, how to think, what to speak, what to aspire for, what to wear etc, suddenly we realise the unfairness of it all. Thus begins the journey of rebellion, one baby step at a time. Your brain knows that you have got this right, but there are moments when doubts creep in. After all, the most painful accusations come from close quarters. This later builds into anger and frustration which gives way to a space of indifferent peace.
Soni begins with the eponymous lead (Geetika Vidya Ohylan) furiously pedalling a cycle. She has a ‘gentleman’ in close pursuit — one who finds whistles and catcalls appropriate ways to communicate with women. If you are an Indian woman, you know how this scene unravels. Soni maintains a stony silence while the gentleman continues his advances. After a point, she loses it and he retaliates with a version of ‘chalti kya’. Now, Soni absolutely loses it and beats him black and blue. A horde of policemen storm the scene out of nowhere and break the scuffle. One cop hands Soni her police jacket, while the man is taken to a hospital. (It is a decoy operation) However, Soni is reprimanded by Kalpana (Saloni Batra) for not following protocol. The scene effectively sets the stage for what follows — an exhaustive, level-headed, and rounded look into the lives of two policewomen and the gender issues they face.