Sayani Gupta: Skewed representation of women in cinema

New Delhi, Oct 1 (IANSlife) 'Four More Shots Please' actress Sayani Gupta feels that portrayal of women in the Hindi mainstream cinema is moving in the right direction, thanks to more women storytellers coming to the forefront and bringing with them a "female gaze" that counters a "male gaze" prevalent for the longest time.

Sayani, 34, is known for the strong roles she plays. She made her feature film debut in 2012 in 'Second Marriage Dot Com' and has appeared in supporting roles in films such as 'Fan', 'Jolly LLB 2' and 'Article 15'. Her latest web series, which was a popular success, has recently been nominated at the International Emmy Awards.

Asked about the critique of how women are portrayed in the mainstream cinema, and if she finds it changing at all, Sayani tells IANSlife: "It is, and it should be critiqued, especially in Bollywood and in Hindi mainstream cinema. It's extremely problematic, you don't have representation of all kinds of woman. It's only a very skewed version of what a woman should be, and what she's doing."

She adds: "Often she doesn't have a valid agency of her own life, and often decisions are being made for her. Her only motto in life is to make the hero happy or romance the hero or wait for the hero to save her from the villain, and so on and so forth. Of course it's changing, it's moving in the right direction and that's only because there are many more women story tellers who are coming in the forefront -- the women directors, technicians, cinematographers. When you have women telling their own stories, then it makes a huge difference in terms of what woman gaze is. For the longest time, the gaze has been extremely male and that needs to change. Of course it's changing for better, but we have a long, long way to go. Until we change our society, how we think, how we look at the girls, how we bring up our children - the girl child and the boy child, it's not going to change much."

Sayani is hosting a virtual acting workshop on 'Getting into Character' in the series 'Femmes in Film' by Bumble and India Film Project, on Saturday, October 3. Developed exclusively for the Bumble Community, 'Femmes in Film' is a series of virtual workshops to be hosted by women artistes including Sayani, Aranya Johar, Kanika Dhillon and Anjali Menon. These weekly workshops will focus on acting, screenwriting, storytelling, and filmmaking.

Calling 'Femmes in Film' a great initiative, Sayani gives a sneak peak into her workshop. "It's a workshop that I'm taking on acting and approaching characters, building characters. It is something that we do as actors very regularly, everyday. It is something that I'm more than happy to be sharing with the Bumble community and whoever is attending the workshop. It's something I'm really passionate about and I hope that I'm able to impart something or at least share something of interest and value to whoever is attending the workshop, I would hope so. As a concept of what IFP and Bumble are doing, is really brilliant. You need more and more woman creators, filmmakers, storytellers, actors, writers, comedians to come at the forefront and share their story, share their process. It is also very interesting because we need to amplify the voices that need to be heard more, especially today."

Stories by women, or stories featuring strong women leads, are often put in the box. Does she agree? Sayani answers in an affirmative. "Of course, they are put in a box. We have to try to break those moulds and break those stereotypes. I don't think a movie written or directed by a women has to be essentially 'female centric'. That's a problem in itself, when you make movie with a male protagonist, it's not called 'male centric' but when there is a female protagonist it's called 'female centric'. Why? These are universal stories, these are stories about people. Why this gender demarcation and putting different genders in different boxes? That's not necessary, and that's extremely problematic. That I feel is something one needs to do away with but that's not going to happen overnight."

Asked what is the one thing she thinks is not taught enough in cinema education, but should be, Sayani, who is graduate from the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) - one of India's top film schools, points to the ability to monetize one's creative passions.

"One thing that FTII doesn't teach you is to go out there and look at commerce and project yourself as a commercial creator. How to make money, basically, and how to sell. Because there are lot of brilliant people who come out of FTII and they're often struggling with how to really marry the two -- creativity and commerce. That is something that I wish somebody taught us but nobody did. (Laughs) We are obviously left to ourselves to fend for ourselves, as it happens in most art schools. So, how to monetise because filmmaking is an extremely expensive medium - it's business, after all - one needs to understand all of that, so that needs a little more focus.

Coming back to the basics, she also feels the need to teach better writing. "I think the first is to write better, to write better characters, to write better women characters, to write with all kinds of representation - be it women, be it the marginalized of the population, be it the trans community, be it the LGBTQ+ community. There needs to be more unapologetic representation in our cinema, so I think writing is something that needs to be given more importance."

According to Samarpita Samaddar, Bumble India PR Director, Sayani is an incredible artiste whose session will be focused on acting and how to approach characters in cinema. "The weekly series, Femmes in Film, will focus on acting, screenwriting, storytelling, and filmmaking. We look forward to kicking off the series with Sayani Gupta on October 3," she shared.

Other discussions in the series are: 'Pitch perfect poetry' by Aranya Johar (October 10), 'The art of character development' by Kanika Dhillon (October 17), and 'Things they don't teach you at film school" by Anjali Menon (October 24). The workshops are free to attend. To attend the workshop, one can download Bumble, match with the India Film Project profile on the Date, Bizz or BFF modes and apply to book a spot.