The year is 1913. Dadasaheb Phalke directs India’s first feature film Raja Harishchandra. The film has an all-male cast. In fact, Phalke cast a male actor Anna Salunke even for the female lead role. It is taboo for women to participate in theater or cinema. Cut to 2022. A documentary on women journalists co-directed by a young woman is nominated for an Oscar. Indian female filmmakers and screenwriters are finally having their moment in the sun.
Times have changed for the better. Women are at the helm in India’s historically male-dominated film industry. Women filmmakers and screenwriters are a growing voice in the country today. They shatter stereotypes, one brilliant script at a time.
There is a new breed of women in Indian cinema that is giving the film industry an imperative facelift. Whether bringing new narratives to the screen or transforming male characters, these incredible women are a breath of fresh air. Or rather a wind of change.
Indian filmmakers and screenwriters to follow
One of the first female directors in India, Nair paved the way for the future clique of female filmmakers with her realistic cinema. Before directing feature films, she was a documentary filmmaker. The Oscar-nominated filmmaker is known for developing multi-layered characters and engaging stories. Some of his best works include Salam Bombay, monsoon wedding, The namesake, Mississippi Masalaand Queen of Katwe. His most recent venture was the British miniseries A decent boyan adaptation of Vikram Seth’s magnum opus novel.
Zoya Akhtar must be credited for transforming the character development process in Indian cinema. His male characters don’t fit the mold of the quintessential Bollywood macho man. They are vulnerable. They are journalists and editors. They respect women and challenge patriarchy. Akhtar studied film at New York University. She started her career assisting directors like Mira Nair and Dev Benegal. Her debut as a director, luck by chance, describes the harsh realities of the film industry. She is best known for Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and Dil Dhadakne Do. Akhtar also co-wrote and co-directed the hit web series Made in heaven.
Through his production company, Sikhya Entertainment, Monga has brought main content films like The lunch box, Massaan, Wasseypur Gangs, Pagglait, Haramkhorand Soorarai Pottru. Monga was the executive producer of the Oscar-winning documentary short Period. End of sentence. She is co-founder of Indian Women Rising, a film collective. Monga was honored with the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, France’s second highest civilian honour, for her contribution to world cinema and her commendable work for the empowerment of women.
Juhi Chaturvedi is known for introducing uncomfortable subjects into mainstream Bollywood cinema. She made a foray into Bollywood as a screenwriter with the 2012 blockbuster Vicky Donor, which revolved around sperm donation. Chaturvedi also wrote Piku, which was based on an old Bengali man and his struggle with constipation. In the heart wrenching and extremely underrated October, Chaturvedi gave us a lesson or two about true unconditional love. It won the National Film Award for Best Original Screenplay and Best Dialogue. His most recent screenplay was Gulabo Sitabowhich starred Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurana.
Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari
A former advertising professional, Ashwini Iyer Tiwari launched herself into cinema in 2013 with her short film, What’s for breakfast. She received the prestigious Dada Saheb Phalke Award for Best Short Film and the Special Jury Prize for Best Director and Screenplay. She made her Bollywood directorial debut with the 2016 comedy-drama Nil Battey Sannata. She also directed her Tamil remake Amma Kanakku. But that was the romantic comedy of 2017 Bareilly Ki Barfi which established Tiwari as a face of change in Indian cinema. She won the Filmfare Award for Best Director for the film. His next film is said to be based on the life of businessman Narayan Murthy and his author-wife Sudha Murthy.
Born to legendary filmmaker and lyricist Gulzar and actress Rakhi Gulzar, Meghna Gulzar studied filmmaking in New York. She began her career as a freelance writer and poet. His adventure in the film industry came as a screenwriter in his father’s film in 1999 Hu Tu Tu. Her first film as a director was Filhaalwhich was released in 2002. She made a remarkable comeback with the moving crime drama Talvar in 2015. His patriotic thriller Raazi starred Alia Bhatt as an Indian spy. The film became one of the highest-grossing Indian films of all time. It also won him the Filmfare Award for Best Director. His last movie, Chhapak, was based on the life of acid attack survivor Laxmi Agarwal.
Alankrita Shrivastava has done a commendable job in a short time. She is now one of India’s most respected contemporary screenwriters and directors. Her notable works as a writer and director include Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare, Lipstick under my burkaby Netflix Bombay Begumsand Made in heaven. His films have won several awards at prestigious international film festivals, including Tokyo, Glasgow, MAMI Mumbai Film Festival and IFFLA.
Tanuja Chandra is a senior director who never ceases to amaze her audience with her brilliant films. His latest movie Qarib Qarib Single, a quirky romantic comedy that has resonated with singles of all age groups. Chandra co-wrote the screenplay for the hit 1997 film Dil to Pagal Hai. Some of her first films as a director were sangharsh and Dushman. Both films were female-centric and received critical acclaim as well as box office success. Chandra’s career as a director began with the 1995 television series Zameen Aasman. She is also the author of a short story book titled Women’s swimwear.
Before working at top advertising agencies like IBW, Bates Clarion and Lowe Lintas, Gauri Shinde made a foray into film by assisting documentary filmmaker Siddharth Kak. A graduate of the Symbiosis Institute of Mass Communication, Shinde shot to popularity with her directorial debut English vinglish, inspired by the life of his own mother. His next movie Dear Zindagi featured megastar Shah Rukh Khan and Alia Bhatt and revolved around mental health. Shinde has made over 100 commercials. His short film Oh man! was screened at the Berlin Film Festival. She is married to filmmaker R. Balki, her former colleague from the advertising era.
Kagti has been associated with Excel Entertainment, led by Farhan Aktar and Ritesh Sidwani. She has worked as a screenwriter and producer on films like Ravine Boy and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. Kagti made her directorial debut with the 2007 film Honeymoon Travel Pvt. ltd. She then directed the neo-noir Talaash: the answer lies within, which starred Aamir Khan and Rani Mukherji. Kagti recently co-founded Tiger Baby Films with Zoya Akhtar. She also co-wrote and co-directed the critically acclaimed Amazon series Made in heavena story about the lives of two wedding planners.
Actor-turned-director Nandita Das is one of the most famous names in contemporary Indian cinema. After working as an actress in over 40 feature films in ten different languages, Das ventured into film with her 2008 film Firaq. His 2018 movie Manto starred the talented Nawazuddin Siddiqui as writer and playwright Saadat Hasan Manto. The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. Das has also served on the Cannes jury twice. She is the first Indian woman to be inducted into the International Women’s Forum International Hall of Fame. His next film will star comedian Kapil Sharma, where he will be seen in the role of a food delivery manager.
Rima Das made headlines around the world after her film Village Rockstars was appointed to the 90and Oscars in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Das wrote, directed, edited and produced Village Rockstars. She received the National Film Award for Best Picture and Best Editor. His film career began with his 2009 short film Prata. His first feature film Antardrishti was shot with a DSLR. His films have screened at some of the most prestigious film festivals in India and across the world. Das is known for being a multi-tasker and wears many hats as a writer, director, producer, editor, cameraman and art designer.
best known for Daisy with a straw and The sky is pink, Shonali Bose has traveled the world with her critically acclaimed films. His first feature film amu was an adaptation of his own novel of the same name and chronicled the 1984 Sikh riots in Delhi. amu won the National Film Award for Best English Language Feature. She also co-wrote and worked as an assistant director for the 2012 war film Chittagong. Bose has been the jury of several international film festivals. Bose also won the Sundance Mahindra Global Filmmaker Award and a NETPAC Award for Daisy with a straw.
A graduate of Sophia College for Women and the AJK Mass Communication Research Center at Jamia Millia Islamia, Kiran Rao is a force to be reckoned with. She began her career as assistant director to Ashutosh Gowariker on Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India. She also assisted him on Swades: We the People. Rao was also seen in a small appearance in Farhan Akhtar Dil Chahta Hai. She assisted Mira Nair on the independent hit monsoon wedding. Rao made her directorial debut in 2010 with Dhobi Ghat, a critically acclaimed film about the life of the Mumbaikars. She is also the proud producer of movies like Dangal, belly of delhiand secret superstar.
Leena Yadav is best known for writing and directing the internationally acclaimed film Dried. The female-centric film was based on the lives of four women in rural Rajasthan. The film depicts the difficulties faced by women in the tyrannical society dominated by men. Dried premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2015. Yadav started her career as a screenwriter and director in the Indian television industry with her show This week this year. She also directed the 2018 film Rishi Kapoor-starrer Rajma Chawal. His less famous films include Teen Patti and Shabd.