Despite their immense popularity among the masses, actresses rarely get a chance to call the shots while making a film. We find out more about the status quo
There’s no denying that film industries across the world are dominated by men and it’s all the more evident in our country. Despite its 90 year history, the Telugu film industry has rarely wrested the power to call the shots in the hands of the actresses. In the 50s and 60s, actresses like Bhanumati and Savitri, two of the biggest stars of the era, went on direct a few films, apart from producing a handful of films. Later, Vijaya Nirmala rose to prominence and went on to direct 47 films. Such instances are far and few between. Truth is, actresses almost always end up being at the end of the value chain and don’t have a major say in the creative process.
Take a sample of some of the biggest films like Businessman, Racha, Dhammu, Gabbar Singh or Dookudu, the focus is always on the hero. Right from remuneration to characterisation in films, the differences between actors and actresses are obvious. The remuneration of top league actresses in Tollywood ranges from Rs.1 to 1.5 crore whereas four of the biggest actors charge north of `10 crore. Most of the big budget films are written keeping the star in view, although this doesn’t apply to actresses. Except for a handful of films like Arundhati, Ammoru, Anukokunda Oka Roju and Anasuya, women-centric films hardly sell at the box office. “Most of the times, it doesn’t matter who the heroine is. Producers and directors prefer whoever is good. Sometimes, there’s no character sketch either before deciding who will play the female lead,” says Taapsee. The selection of a heroine is usually done after finalising the script and cinematographers and other technicians. “As a result, they are on a low budget when it comes to selecting a heroine. If an established actress doesn’t sign the film, the producers opt for a new face. What really surprises me is that their biggest worry is whether an actress looks glamorous rather than her performance,” Taapsee adds.
Apart from the producer and the director, actors are also involved in scripting, suggesting who should be on-board a project and even post-production. What happens when an actress wants to add her perspective in this process? “There’s a notion that heroines don’t know anything about cinema. We aren’t even shown films before the release. It’s true that filmmakers don’t take actresses seriously in most cases,” Taapsee replies.
Lakshmi Manchu, who took the mantle to produce two films apart from acting in them, adds a new perspective to this debate. “You can’t generalise such things. If an actress doesn’t like the role then she has the choice of not doing it. One must realise that the producer is paying the actors to do what he wants them to do. How a film shapes up also depends on who makes the final call,” she says adding, “Actors are hired to act and they should stick to that. It’s better when everyone lets the director or the writer do his job because it’s ultimately his vision which is more important.” So will the situation ever change? “I believe that a lot of women want to be in the film industry especially as writers, producers and directors. People should follow their dreams,” she says.
It’s a long road ahead for actresses to break the glass ceiling and the problem boils down to how much market one has. Neelima Tirumalasetty, producer of Panjaa, says, “I think the reasons for actresses not having a say in creative process are manifold such as the larger than life image of the heroes which attracts the audience and the huge costs of making a movie with big stars. Filmmakers want to keep their risk exposure to the minimum. At the end of the day it’s all about making the movie commercially viable. All said and done, it is time that small budget movies take the first step towards reversing the trend. I would personally love to see a Kahaani in Telugu.” Will the audience patronise such films? Your guess is as good as ours.
About the Author (Author Profile)
Hemanth writes primarily about Telugu cinema, although he finds inspiration from the works of filmmakers like Woody Allen. Apart from writing, he spends most of his time on Twitter discussing about cinema, travel and life in Hyderabad.