Very few women in film sets, boardrooms of Indian movie industry: Report
India’s powerful movie industry, which produces nearly 1,500 films a year in over 20 languages, the highest in the world, seems to be giving women the short-shrift. A report, which analysed 150 theatrical and digital films and series last year, showed that there is just a mere 10 per cent representation of women in leadership roles behind the camera, in areas such as editing, cinematography, direction, production design, writing. This meagre presence of women is also seen in the boardrooms of entertainment corporate houses as well.
This low representation has a cascading effect on inclusivity through the production and execution chain, said O Womaniya Report 2022 on the state of representation of women in Indian films and digital series. Conducted by Ormax Media and an entertainment platform, the report had probed women’s representation in the boardrooms of the top 25 media and entertainment firms.
The report stated that even in media and entertainment corporate houses, which are the center of decision-making, only 10 per cent of senior leadership roles were held by women.
Further, the report looked at the marketing aspect of films such as promotional trailers. The trailer talk time test ( in which a film or series’ main trailer is analyzed and classified by the speaking time allotted to the male and female characters) found that women had only 25 per cent talk time with 48 titles even allocating 10 seconds or less to female characters. Clearly, the women were not playing significant roles to be even used in the trailer.
Underscoring the fact that women are not seen on the celluloid screen enough, only 55 per cent of the films and series passed the Bechdel Test. (This is an internationally-accepted yardstick on gender representation in content. A film is considered to have passed the Bechdel Test if it has at least one scene in which two named women are speaking, and the conversation is about something other than men/ a man. For streaming series, the criterion was modified to include three scenes, given their longer runtime.)
Interestingly, the percentage of female heads of departments in a film doubled when a woman greenlit a series or a film. Similarly, a higher percentage of films passed the Bechdel Test (68 per cent) and women had higher trailer talk time (35 per cent) if the title was commissioned by a woman. When a female was in-charge of commissioning the jobs there was a 9 per cent jump in females heading the different areas of filmmaking.
Streaming vs theatrical
Compared to streaming services, female HODs are fewer in theatrical film sets. There is just a three per cent representation of women in theatrical film projects, while streaming films have 13 per cent representation. A digital series has a 16 per cent representation. And, unlike Hindi, Tamil, Gujarati and Telugu films, there was not even one HOD position across 34 Malayalam, Kannada, Marathi, Punjabi and Bengali films.
The frustration is evident as a screenwriter like Kanika Dhillon said in a statement, “ I reached a point in my film journey where I thought to myself that I need to either change my gender or stop making films – that’s the point it can bring up to when you are constantly made to work twice as hard as any man in the room to put your opinion forward.”
Though actor Vidya Balan, who has done many films with strong female protagonists felt that “male actor lead films have unfortunately ruined the economics of our film industry”.
The actor, who was last seen in Jalsa and Sherni, said in a statement that there has to be a correction and people need to wake up to the fact that so many films are bombing at the box-office. “Why don’t we release more female actor lead films theatrically also and see how they perform?” she asked. (Kangana Ranaut’s flop film Dhaakad was helmed by a woman) However, Balan cited the example of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film Gangubhai Kathiawadi, an Alia Bhatt film which had made ₹130 crores at the box-office
Meanwhile, the O Womaniya report, which is also sponsored by Amazon Prime Video, said that streaming services have opened the doors for more inclusive storytelling by providing greater opportunities to women.