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Home » Bollywood » Latest News

Female directors find new respect in Bollywood

Director Zoya Akhtar laughs as she tells the story of the Steadicam operator who worked on her first film, " Luck by Chance." He had earlier worked with her younger brother, Farhan, a director-actor who was playing the lead in Zoya Akhtar's film. Brother and sister sat behind the monitor as the operator set up the shots. After each shot he turned to Farhan instead of Zoya to check if it was all right.

The third time it happened, Zoya Akhtar could no longer stay silent. "I took him aside," she recalled in an interview, "and very politely told him: 'I am the director of the film. If you can adjust to that, it's great. If not, we can't work together.' He got extremely flustered and said, 'No, no, you are like my sister.' And I cut him off right there. I said: 'I'm not your sister, I'm your director. Can you handle it?' He said he could, and we work together all the time now."

Akhtar, 38, is among an emerging breed of female directors altering the contours of Bollywood, the Mumbai-based Hindi film industry. It has largely been a boys club behind the scenes. Though women have made inroads into editing, art direction, writing and production in the past decade, there are no studio-head equivalents of Sony Pictures Entertainment's co-chairman, Amy Pascal, or DreamWorks' chief executive, Stacey Snider.

Actresses draw the press' attention, but actors are the bigger power centers, specifically the three unrelated Khans: Aamir, Shah Rukh and Salman, who have been stars for two decades. In the past female filmmakers were largely relegated to art-house films and smaller budgets. But now Akhtar and a handful of other women have cracked Bollywood's glass ceiling by succeeding where it counts the most: the box office.

The current toast of Bollywood is Akhtar's second film, "Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara" ("You Only Live Once"). Audiences and critics have embraced the film, about three male friends who rediscover themselves on a road trip in Spain. It opened in July at No. 1 on the Bollywood box office charts, No. 7 in Britain and No. 15 in the United States. According to boxofficeindia.com, which tracks grosses of Hindi movies, "Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara" has amassed about $19 million in five weeks, making it the third-biggest hit of the year here; it's still running in Indian theaters. Critics swooned over the crackling dialogue, the slow-paced but clever script and the stunning cinematography.

And at least a few remarked that a woman directed the best Bollywood bromance of the past 10 years. "Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara" was also written by women: The story and screenplay were by Akhtar and Reema Kagti, a director who is wrapping up her second film, a police procedural starring Aamir Khan.

The first contemporary female filmmaker to break the all-male stranglehold at the box office was Akhtar's first cousin Farah Khan. She started out as a choreographer in 1992 and made her mark on Hindi cinema through her distinctive, fast-paced songs. "You can spot a Farah Khan song, no matter who the director is," said the Hindi film historian Nasreen Munni Kabir, "which indicates that she is the boss on the dance set and also confirms her directing talent."

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