MUMBAI: Hindi film industry continues to be dominated by commerce and star system, something which has led to sidelining of independent cinema, believes writer-director Alankrita Shrivastava.
According to the “Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare” director, if a potential film doesn’t have a famous actor on board, the creator has to “negotiate” to make the project a reality rather than deny the prevalence of such power structures.”
Whoever gets the maximum eyeballs needs to be somehow planted in the film, narrative needs to be skewed around it for business to make sense.
“We can cry, force over it that this shouldn’t happen but if I want access and reach for my story this is the business model and one will have to find skillful ways of negotiating this instead of saying it doesn’t exist,” Shrivastava said.
The filmmaker, also known for “Lipstick Under My Burkha”, was speaking at a panel discussion titled ‘The representation conversation: Who gets to tell what stories?’ at the ongoing India Film Project on Saturday.
Also part of the panel were screenwriter-editor Apurva Asrani and writer-director Hitesh Kewalya.
Shrivastava said that the economic structure of the industry has placed the heterosexual hero at the centre, with all systems from financing, marketing, distribution to exhibition revolving around him.
She also said the system is skewed against independent cinema and it is unfair to have the same ticket prices for a mainstream film like “Bajrangi Bhaijaan” as compared to an indie movie such as “Masaan”.
“This needs correction till then we will not see diversity in stories. There are many independent films, beautiful scripts that are not getting attention,” she added.
Another major hurdle for the film industry is the archaic censorship rules, Shrivastava said.
Citing the example of her show “Made in Heaven”, the director said had the Amazon Prime Video web series been a feature film, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) would have never cleared it.
“I know how much struggle I faced with ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ and my first film ‘Turning 30’ had got an adult certificate for no reason. I feel the way the economic system of the film industry is and censorship is very visible. One is grateful to OTT space and hopes it can actually bring about a change,” she added.
Echoing similar sentiments, Asrani said as there is no uniformity in audience, the content often gets compromised.
“We create song and dance, put good looking guys, etc for that. I have been part of this industry for 23 years and I have seen this (happening). Producer Bharat Shah had asked Ram Gopal Varma to add songs in ‘Satya’ and he did but he made the film he wanted to eventually,” the “Aligarh” writer said.
Talking about the casting process on his directorial debut ‘Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan’, which revolved around a gay couple, Kewalya said they scouted for an actor from the LGBTQ community but they weren’t as lucky.
The film eventually starred Ayushmann Khurrana and Jitendra Kumar.
An actor does want to do every kind of role and how Ayushmann has performed is for the audience to decide. Also, one shouldn’t shy away from it because then it is a dead end, if you step into then you come to know, someone has to kick the door.
“Each actor has pushed the door for the other one right from ‘Fire’,” he said in reference to the 1996 film directed by Deepa Mehta which explored a lesbian relationship through characters played by Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das.
However, Shrivastava is of the opinion that a trans person should be given an opportunity to play a character belonging to the community.
“We are lazy, we are not at an evolved stage in India. We often take the easier route. If there is a Dalit character, we should have a Dalit actor. There will be hits and misses but the intent should be there. I feel the intent is not there fully,” she said.
Asrani, who wrote “Aligarh” which followed the true story of professor Ramchandra Siras who faced discrimination because of sexuality in the Hansal Mehta directorial, said an actor should be cast in such roles as the message needs to reach to a wider audience to make an impact.