Mira Nair, who successfully took societal films like "Salam Bombay" and "Monsoon Wedding" to international audiences, feels the Indian film industry is "very much sexist" in its treatment of women.
In a freewheeling interview with IANS, starting from her filmmaking style to racism and sexism in the industry, the Indian-American director delved into issues like censorship in Indian cinema and the tough journey for the country's women to make a mark in an arena which continues to be largely sexist in its approach towards them.
"There are several more women directors and technicians in the Indian film industry than there are in the West. But, undoubtedly, it is still a very sexist industry in the way men refer to women or the way women are used in films here. I fear patriarchy is very much existent in the industry.
"I was very thrilled to know that a film such as 'Bareilly Ki Barfi' has been written and directed by a woman with such panache and grace. But I am sure it is not an easy task to make your way through in an essentially male dominated industry," she said, mentioning she had called "Bareilly..." director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari and met her.
Nair, who faced the heat from the censor board for her film "Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love" that was banned in India for its erotic content, deplored the raging protests against Sanjay Leela Bhansali's "Padmaavat" in some parts of the country and said censorship in Indian cinema has reached a "draconian level".
"I think the random instances of anybody making an objection to your film are getting more and more (hoarse) in India. It is a pretty terrible situation. Also, a draconian and sort of arbitrary level of censorship is going on. It is unfortunate."
"Although I believe negotiation can sometimes enhance creativity, it isn't exactly the recipe to nourish in a great country like ours, where any person can slap you up and burn you down. I deplore it. I really feel for Sanjay Leela Bhansali and his work," said the director of the much acclaimed "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" and "Mississippi Masala".
Nair, now busy with the stage version of her Golden Lion-winning film "Monsoon Wedding" in Broadway, also revealed her plans about her next project.
"I'm just about to start a real dream project, an eight-hour film. I am going to start it in the middle of the year and I am very excited because I have been planning it for many years. The whole of it will be shot in India and, of course, with Indian actors," she smiled.
The filmmaker, who once turned down an offer to direct "Harry Potter 4" to pursue "Namesake", based on Jhumpa lahiri's novel, said she doesn't regret her decision as she prefers the "privilege of inspiration" more than the prospect of a blockbuster film.
"The decision was more from the heart. I believe in the privilege of inspiration and I was deeply inspired by the 'Namesake' at that point in my life as I too had lost a parent. I wanted to tell a story that was imbued with such a sense of melancholy and the sense of crossing bridges in India and the United States; those are the bridges I have known and crossed myself. I don't regret it for a minute," she said.
Talking about her filmmaking style, Nair, whose last movie, "Queen of Katwe", features Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong'o, expressed her fondness for photography and said she instinctually pairs legendary actors with non-actors in her films.
"I love actors and cast kind of instinctually and pair up legendary actors with non-actors. My films come very much from the street, very much from observing the reality and humanity. Although I think I am a strong visualist, I like to imbue that reality with a kind of heightened realism.
"I feel every aspect of a film has to serve a larger intention or deeper intention. So it won't work to have a beautiful looking thing. All of it has to come to a coherence to work out. That is the beauty of the all-encompassing nature of cinema," Nair added.
(Milinda Ghosh Roy can be contacted at email@example.com)