Women have today rattled the glass ceiling in fields that were generally perceived to be male-dominated. You name it, and there’s a woman or several women leading. Cinematography is one such field, an integral part of the film industry, where the presence of women is getting noticed. Being a ‘Director of Photography’ is generally considered to be more of a man’s job, regardless of the fact that women DOPs have been in the field for decades. Though initially few in numbers, the strength is growing by the minute and celebrating this growth is the Indian Women Cinematographers’ Collective, (IWCC). An initiative started by noted Cinematographer Fowzia Fathima is now growing in numbers and strength. The core ideology of the collective being – celebrating, encouraging and supporting the work and vision of women cinematographers.
“The notion that women cinematographers are a rarity was widespread in the industry. Whenever a new project was launched or a film was released, the question asked was ‘Oh, you are the only woman cinematographer,’ regardless of who the woman was. Till 2010 it was the same case and it was something that I thought wasn’t true and this question wasn’t giving the correct picture. Through this Collective, we will know that woman cinematographers are not in small numbers. As of date, we are 73 cinematographers across the country and it is imperative that we project that out and let people know that it is acceptable to come across more women behind the camera. This is the whole idea behind the Collective, to change the perception of the people and that is why the initiative took place,” says Fowzia.
The need to connect with like-minded professionals was another aspect that drove Fowzia to form the IWCC. “I felt we had to connect with women who are experiencing the same kind of situations in the field of cinematography, otherwise everybody is working in isolation and doing their own bit.”
A simple Facebook page started by Fowzia was responsible in the formation of the IWCC. On the occasion of International Women’s Day (March 8, 2017) they formally announced the formation of the Indian Women Cinematographers’ Collective. Their website (www.iwcc.in), which is currently underway, will act as a database for women cinematographers to share their work.
Giving more insights on the collective is Cinematographer Savita Singh who has shot spectacular films like Hawaizaada and Ventilator. “The Collective’s prime objective is to encourage excellence in the art of cinematography, to inspire and encourage future female cinematographers and to affect change in the industry in the numbers, status and working practices for women professionals in the future.”
The whole idea behind the collective is to change the perception of the people
Along with Savita, some of the most prolific women cinematographers have come together to support the IWCC, one such member being Ms. B. R. Vijayalakshmi, who is not only the first Indian woman cinematographer but also the first Asian woman cinematographer. Having entered the industry back in 1980s, she shares her experience, “In the 80s, women on the sets were restricted to actors, choreographers, hair stylists etc. There were no women cinematographers then. But the industry has changed so much over these years.”
Those were also challenging times for a woman cinematographer. “There were a few people who felt that a woman could not shoot an entire film alone. The same people have also been free with their praises after I shot about ten films.” Further talking about facing limitations based on her gender, Vijayalakshmi adds, “There were some limitations based on gender, for example, standing chest deep in a river for the whole day, shooting on all the wrong days of the month, isn’t exactly a pleasant experience for a woman, but it’s all in the game! I have never made excuses till date about not being able to stand long hours and work just because I am a woman. To the contrary, I was firm that I would be the last to fall.”
The Collective makes people wake up to the fact that women are behind cameras and creating brilliant work
Cinematographer Siddharth Diwan (Queen and Trapped fame) provides a man’s perspective on this issue of gender disparity. “The disparity is all around us. In the past I’ve had an instance where one of the guys from the team came up to me and asked me why I had a girl in my team; he said that I shouldn’t have girls in a camera team. But I automatically reject such statements because I work with a lot of women in the camera department,” says Siddharth.