Aparna Sen is a yesteryear actress who turned into a filmmaker and screenwriter and known particularly for her work in the Bengali cinema. She had made her acting debut in 1961 with Satyajit Ray’s ‘Teen Kanya’ and went on to become an acclaimed director. A winner of 3 national film awards and 9 international film festival awards for directing films, Aparna Sen recently hit out at female directors in Bollywood and targeted Farah Khan in particular.
Aparna Sen has said that there are several women in the arena of film direction now and some of them like Farah Khan have a distinct male gaze and follow “patriarchal rules” to become successful. She believes that women directors are “confident enough in their own skin to critique their woman characters”, however there are some who play by the rules.
The Times of India quoted Aparna Sen saying:
“…And then you have woman filmmakers who have a male gaze. They play according to the rules of the patriarchal system and make a success of it. For instance, Farah Khan, who makes predominantly mainstream films, has a distinct male gaze, except has a tongue firmly planted in her cheek while playing the macho game.”
She went on to say that the question is not of the gender as all true artistes are androgynous by nature.
“Male filmmakers only need to tap their female selves in order to develop their female gaze as many great filmmakers have done. But why is it important to do so? Because the world has been run by aggressive males and landed itself in a fine mess. It is time that the female gaze made its presence felt both in cinema and in a world that’s been driven by intolerance, greed, hate and lust.”
Aparna Sen asserted that there is a need for a gentler world to live in, “where multiple voices may speak up without fear”. She further said that sex is still a taboo and “patriarchy is so deeply entrenched” that even today audiences have a problem with a woman making her sexual choice or showing her sexual inclination. She also said:
“If we look at the depiction of sex, the male filmmakers will usually have the man in the role of an aggressor while the woman will remain passive. It will take an Alankrita Srivastava (‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’) to show up women’s sexual desires in a way every woman can identify with. A filmmaker can have a female gaze while having a male protagonist. That’s the thing about today’s female filmmakers. They are confident enough in their own skin to critique their woman characters. They are perfectly comfortable in empathizing with their male characters when need be.”
Talking about her own experience of becoming a director in 1981 with ’36 Chowringhee Lane’, her national award winning film, the 72-year-old director said that there were only a few women directors when she set out.
“I had little to go by when I embarked on my lonely journey in 1980, except for films made by some exceptionally talented men like Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen from my own native Bengal. G Arvindam and Adoor Gopalakrishnan from Kerala and Girish Kasaravalli in Karnataka to name a few.”
Without naming the director, she further said:
“Filmmakers that I had worked with as an actress during my stint in mainstream Bengali cinema were far from encouraging. One of them asked me, ‘I hear you’re planning to direct a film’? ‘Yes dada,’ I said. ‘Story by?’ ‘Me dada,’ I replied. ‘And screenplay?’ ‘Also by me,’ I said. ‘Very brave’, he said, which was meant to be sarcastic.”