On the eve of the 75th Independence Day of India, Jyoti Madnani Singh, the costume designer behind several popular films like Rahasya, Mumbaikar and Barroz, highlights the importance of gender equality in the Indian film industry so that women professionals can feel independent, free and liberated.
Q. How much is gender inequality in the Indian film industry?
Jyoti: Let me give you a figure. As per a study on the representation of women in Bollywood, women held a meagre 8% of the head of department roles in films released in 2019 and 2020. In south Indian films, it was just 1%. This means 92% of the job of writer, director, cinematographer, editor and production designer was helmed by men. This is gender inequality, and it is not hidden from anyone working in Bollywood.
Q. How is this gender inequality affecting women professionals?
Jyoti: If you see the larger picture, gender inequality is not only affecting women professionals, but it is also affecting Bollywood vis-à-vis audiences. Let me explain this to you, one by one. Because of gender inequality, women professionals are getting limited opportunities. Limited opportunities give rise to discrimination in payment. Also, since the opportunities are limited, it increases the chances of emotional, financial and even physical exploitation. The lack of opportunities and exploitations discourage a larger number of women from picking a career in Bollywood. Henceforth audiences get to see majorly gender insensitive stories full of stereotypes laced with elements of patriarchy. These stories ultimately reflect on the thinking and workings of society because we all know that cinema is a major influence in India. It's a vicious circle. The gender inequality in Bollywood may end up encouraging gender equality in India. Now it's for the people to believe it or deny it.
Q. What can be done to fix these issues?
Jyoti: Well, with the success of producers like Ekta Kapoor and Guneet Monga, an initiative has already been taken towards fixing these issues. Further, many mainstream actresses like Vidya Balan, Kangana Ranaut, Deepika Padukone, Alia Bhatt have started opting for female-centric scripts. Most of them are backing the script as producers too. These are good signs. It will break the stereotypes, and women will be trusted more with the jobs of HOD. It will break the gender pay disparity too. Not only our female actors but also female technicians will be paid at par with male technicians. These all will ultimately result in cutting down behavioural discrimination of women in Bollywood, too, because what matters at the end of the day is a success.
Q. How can a female technician who doesn't hold much power bring a change?
Jyoti: If she is witness to any biases, she can address the issue. If she is equipped, she can certainly provide more opportunities to equipped females suitable for the job. She can strengthen the voice of like-minded females. She can talk about the matter outside the professional world because gender equality is not limited to Bollywood. It's an issue of the entire humankind.
Q. What can male counterparts in Bollywood do to cut down on gender inequality?
Jyoti: They need to be sensitized towards gender equality. I know of a lot of men who don't want to work with women. They need to trust their female counterparts. Men should insist on equal pay for fellow female workers. A lot of times, people tell me why do you demand so much money when my husband earns enough. This should stop. Behavioural discrimination for female HODs should stop. If a female is in power, don't take her for granted. Respect her as much as you would respect a man in the same position.
Q. Any final words?
Jyoti: Gender equality is a fundamental human right, and it should matter to all in Bollywood. According to me the real freedom or Aazadi for women professionals in Bollywood would be the day there's gender equality in the Indian film industry. And that day is not far off.