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Women breaking into Bollywood backstage

Women in Indian cinema were traditionally only ever seen as sari-clad beauties who would sing and dance their way into the hero's heart or in supporting roles as mothers or daughters.

While that formula still exists to an extent in commercial films, women are coming to prominence behind the scenes, breaking through in production jobs that were once exclusively male preserves.

"When I joined the industry 10 years ago there were hardly any female film technicians," said film editor Deepa Bhatia. "Now many of the newcomers in different technical fields are women."

Bhatia is one of many women making their mark backstage in Bollywood in areas like editing, photography, music, camera work, producing and directing, mirroring strides towards greater equality, at least in India's biggest cities.

She worked on one of Bollywood's biggest hits of 2008, "Rock On," and on actor-director Aamir Khan's "Taare Zameen Par" (Stars on Earth), which was entered for this year's Oscars.

She is currently working on "My Name is Khan," a romantic drama about a Muslim man with Asperger's Syndrome starring Bollywood megastar Shah Rukh Khan that is due for release later this year.

The most famous female Bollywood director has been Faraha Khan. She turned her hand to directing after a successful career as a choreographer on films like "Monsoon Wedding" and "Bombay Dreams" which won her global recognition.

Her first film "Main Hoon Na" (I Am There For You) in 2004, also starring Shah Rukh Khan, was a hit and saw her become the first female nominee for best director at the prestigious Indian Filmfare Awards.

The pair collaborated again in 2007 on "Om Shanti Om," which was until recently the highest-grossing Hindi-language film.

The success of Bhatia and her female colleagues has come about in part because of developments in society, technology and the prolific world of Indian cinema, which churns out more than 1,000 movies every year, mainly from Mumbai.

"Firstly there are opportunities and secondly there are many easy, film-based courses that encourage women to join different fields," she said.

"Moreover there are many more films that are being made and people don't find it odd that women are taking up these kind of jobs."

She added: "The technology of film-making, too, has undergone a change and it is easier to be in this profession as it is less tedious thanks to computerisation of work.

"Earlier we used to work on a Steenbeck (flatbed film-editing machine) but now we use non-linear (digital) technology, which is much easier to learn in terms of craft. It's not complicated."

Director Zoya Akhtar's latest film "Luck By Chance" hit screens last month, around the same time as the Oscar-nominated "Slumdog Millionaire," co-directed by India's Loveleen Tandon.

"I never felt that I am a woman while working on my films. I have worked with forward-thinking men," Akhtar said.

"The audiences in India have changed, too. They just like a good script and a good story. They don't care whether the story has come from a woman or a man. They just want to be entertained."

"I never think of myself as a female music director," added Sneha Khanvilkar, who worked on another recent release, "Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!"

"The gender does not come into effect if you are good at your job," Khanvilkar said.

"You just come and do a good job and people will accept you, irrespective of whether you are a woman or a man."

Bhatia agreed.

"I feel when you are a professional, you are either good or bad. There is no in between. If you are good you will go places and Bollywood is very supportive of women," the film editor told AFP.

Copyright 2009 AFP South Asian Edition
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Publication:AFP South Asian Edition
Date:Feb 10, 2009
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