Farah Khan: Bollywood's Female Vanguard

Film industry veteran sees some gender progress behind the scenes

Farah Khan reflects on changes in the Indian film industry (on both sides of the camera) in Mumbai on Dec. 18, 2008.  (3 min., 43 sec.)

MUMBAI, December 18, 2008 — Bollywood industry insider Farah Khan acknowledged that the Indian film industry, like its Hollywood counterpart, is still very male-dominated.

Speaking with documentary filmmaker Nasreen Munni Kabir at a book launch hosted by Asia Society India Centre, Zubaan, and the British Council Mumbai, Khan alleged that a female lead alone isn't able to carry a movie at the box office, and noted that actresses in Indian films of the 1950s and '60s enjoyed stronger roles, where as later decades saw a relative decline in the kind of parts that women got on screen.

The award-winning choreographer of such films as Dil Se, Kal Ho Naa Ho, and Monsoon Wedding, and more recently a screenwriter and director in her own right, Khan did see some positive trends emerging. For instance, while women are usually cast in familiar feminine parts, she noted, they tend to be more confident within those roles — and have also become more prevalent behind the scenes. Until recently, sound and light jobs in the industry were not regarded as very desirable work. That view has changed as the film industry is now seen as a "cool" profession, both because Indian films have gotten more respectable and because their higher profiles in the West have also given them a wider audience.

As a new mother of triplets, Khan admitted that she expects to deal with some amount of guilt about leaving her children at home when she starts work on her next film. But her gender, she emphasized, has never affected her ability to do her work, and she feels that she is taken seriously as a director in the industry and not condescended to as a woman.

Reported by Angeline Thangaperakasam, Asia Society India Centre