Earlier this year, CNN’s Diksha Madhok reported that services like Netflix and Amazon have offered women filmmakers in India a platform they’re often denied within the country’s own film industry. Madhok stressed that India’s increasingly autocratic government has begun threatening many filmmakers on these services with imprisonment and fines.
Much of this is due to Indian women filmmakers focusing on films that criticize rape culture. Many are based on rapes and murders of women that have become high-profile news stories, and depict the failure of government and police to respond properly or with accountability.
Other criticisms that have resulted in women filmmakers being threatened include presentations of Hindu-Muslim romances. Political firestorms have also resulted from how religious imagery is used, or the inclusion of nudity. Madhok’s article discusses both women and men filmmakers, but highlights the particular plight and threat involved in topics that women filmmakers have very actively pursued.
India is hardly the only country where women filmmakers face issues like these, but right now it presents a huge number of potential viewers for streaming services. Those streaming services often decide that it’s in their immediate financial interests to simply adhere to what a government requires in order to have access to those viewers. Streaming services will very often choose market access over equality.
I’ve been meaning to compile this article for a while, so I want to take a break from what I normally write about to feature this. It’s a slow week for new projects overall, and that makes a great opportunity to go back and look at new Indian series and movies directed by women. The more interest there is in other countries for Indian films made by women, the more streaming services will continue to support their projects despite the Indian government’s interference.
These are several that I’ve featured in the last year. Find one that sparks your love for stories, and please give it a try:
INDIAN SERIES BY WOMEN
Bhaag Beanie Bhaag (Netflix)
directed by Debbie Rao
An aspiring stand-up comic pursues her dream job despite the disapproval of her parents. Reviews from India have been pretty favorable.
Beware heavy user brigading on review sites. There’s early upset that the show shares broad similarities to “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”. Apparently only one woman in the entire world has a story to tell about double-standards in the stand-up comedy industry, and having a second woman tell one that takes place 60 years later from the complete other side of the world is too frequent. I’m not sure what the logic is – that women could only possibly face bigotry in the stand-up industry once every 70 years globally? Point is: review brigading would be silly if it wasn’t so damaging, and if you’re interested in this, do what you like, watch it, and be careful about how much credence you lend user reviews on places like IMDB and Metacritic.
“Bhaag Beanie Bhaag” is directed by Debbie Rao. She’s directed on a few Indian series, including the very well received “Better Life Foundation”, “Pushpavalli”, and India’s version of “The Office”.
You can watch “Bhaag Beanie Bhaag” on Netflix.
Masaba Masaba (Netflix)
showrunner Sonam Nair
Masaba Gupta is an Indian fashion designer. Her mother is prolific Indian actress Neena Gupta. “Masaba Masaba” stars the two of them in a comedy where they portray…themselves. It’s entirely scripted and framed as a narrative comedy, so there’s no reality TV element here. The characters the two portray are simply fictionalized versions of themselves.
Showrunner Sonam Nair has written and directed on a few different Indian TV series.
You can watch “Masaba Masaba” on Netflix.
INDIAN FILMS BY WOMEN
Kaali Khuhi (Netflix)
directed by Terrie Samundra
Shivangi’s family moves to a rural village to look after her grandmother. Soon enough, she spies strange occurrences, even as residents of the village wind up dead. What’s a little girl to do but unravel a supernatural mystery?
This is Terrie Samundra’s first feature film.
You can watch “Kaali Khuhi” on Netflix.
Bombay Rose (Netflix)
directed by Gitanjali Rao
A deaf, orphan boy loses his job. A group of workers whisper about unionizing. An English teacher sets the table for her late husband every night. A Muslim man falls for a Hindu woman, each struggling to make ends meet. A single rose connects a city full of characters in a hand-painted animation that took 60 artists a year-and-a-half to make.
The absolutely awe-inspiring feat was helmed by writer, director, and editor Gitanjali Rao. This is her first feature animation, but her previous shorts “Printed Rainbow” and “TrueLoveStory” have earned praise and awards at Cannes and other festivals.
You can watch “Bombay Rose” on Netflix.
directed by Arati Kadav
People who pass away appear on a spaceship, where a man named Prahastha takes care of them. He prepares them to move to the next life. He’s been doing this alone for a long time when an assistant arrives. It’s Yuvishka’s job to learn everything he knows.
This is director Arati Kadav’s first feature. In interviews, she’s described the film as fusing Indian mythology to Eastern sci-fi. She’s cited her influences as science-fiction writers Jorge Luis Borges and Ted Chiang, writers who have fused the abstracted edge of the genre to some of its most human moments.
You can watch “Cargo” on Netflix.
Dolly Kitty and Those Twinkling Stars (Netflix)
directed by Alankrita Shrivastava
Dolly is a wife and mother who is trying to hide a secret. Her cousin Kajal has just moved to the city. Kajal ends up working at a phone sex parlor under the name Kitty. The two alternately grow close and clash in their off-hours, winding a tricky path of trust and wariness of the other’s place in their lives.
Writer-director Alankrita Shrivastava has hit the ground running in recent years. Her “Lipstick Under My Burkha” won award after award on a major festival circuit, and she wrote nine episodes and directed two for Amazon original series “Made in Heaven”.
You can watch “Dolly Kitty and Those Twinkling Stars” on Netflix.
directed by Anvita Dutt
Set in India during the 1880s, a 5 year old girl named Bulbbul is married off to a man decades her elder. After several years, the man’s younger brother Satya, whom she initially assumed to be her intended husband, is sent to London. Satya returns to find his family missing, and Bulbbul the only remaining survivor. He’s told his family was taken by a witch, just as some villagers have been.
I watched and reviewed this last year. It’s a deeply gothic inversion of horror with a message and aesthetic I loved, and a superb performances by Tripti Dimri and Paoli Dam. The truth is that there’s no horror that can match the ones people enact on each other, and the film makes its horror a hero. To paraphrase writer-director Anvita Dutt, “Bulbbul” is less about what happens, which you can infer pretty early on in the film. It’s more about how it happens, and why it’s cathartic.
Dutt has primarily worked as a screenwriter and songwriter on Indian films. “Bulbbul” is her directorial debut.
You can watch “Bulbull” on Netflix.
Shakuntala Devi (Amazon)
directed by Anu Menon
Shakuntala Devi was someone who could calculate just about anything in her head. She became known as a human computer, and demonstrated her ability for crowds. She later became a writer in India. This included what’s considered the first study of homosexuality in India, one that argued for its decriminalization. She passed away in 2013. The film is an energetic biographical take on her life.
Writer-director Anu Menon has come to prominence more recently in the Indian film industry.
You can watch “Shakuntala Devi” on Amazon.
directed by Renuka Shahane
“Tribhanga” follows women of three different generations in India, and tells the stories of how each raised the next. The title is derived from the name of a dance pose that’s often described as simultaneously beautiful and imperfect.
The film was originally envisioned as a smaller production, but gained momentum (and a Netflix deal) as major producers joined.
Director Renuka Shahane is a popular Indian actress. This is only her second film listed as director after 2009’s well-received “Rita”.
You can watch “Tribhanga” on Netflix.
directed by Ruchi Narain
A songwriter’s boyfriend is accused of rape. What follows plays out both on a personal level and in the media. It’s a bit difficult to get as much information about the film as I’d like, but it’s supposed to look into aspects of victim-blaming.
It’s advertised along the lines of a thriller over whether the accusation is real or not. That gives me some pause. I don’t know how it intends to handle an accusation like this. I’m wary of the potential of a twist that might undermine belief in the victim, though this worry could be unfounded just because of the “thriller” nature of how it’s being advertised.
You can watch “Guilty” on Netflix.
Take a look at new shows + movies by women from past weeks.
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