So, Indian women are shining! And, claiming their space in print and digital media. Cinema, cricket, sport….

So what do we have here?

A big splash at the Cannes International Film Festival. A double win, with two Indian women finding themselves holding awards.

One: Payal Kapadia director of ‘All we imagine as light’ who won the second spot in the competitive section. That the film stood out against a line of extremely well-made competitive films, to receive an eight-minute standing ovation, and win the award, is actually a moment that will remain in cinematic history.

Kapadia’s film, made against odds, like most independant films, premiered at Cannes, and was the only film in the last 30 years to make it to the competitive section. Kapadia is the first Indian woman to win this honour.

Anasuya’s success

Two: Making history as an actress, Anasuya Sengupta became the first Indian to win the award for Best Actress at the Un Certain Regard segment of the Festival. Her role: that of a sex worker who stabs a policeman and escapes from a brothel.

But even as we celebrate these very significant achievements, let us pause for thought.

Why is it that both the films that won awards had to look outside India for sustenance?

Funding woes

Kapadia had to look to producers in the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy, as well as an Indo-French collaboration production house to produce her film. A clutch of financiers from countries outside India helped shoot a film that was sans frills, had no known stars, and was shot in just 28 days, with locations in Mumbai and Ratnagiri. Not a 100 crorer, definitely.

No comment, but says a lot about perceptions of producers and financiers in the Indian film universe.

The Shameless,’ for which Anasuya Sengupta won the Best Actress Award though shot with Indians as its main characters,was written and directed by Bulgarian filmmaker Constantin Bojanov, filmed in Nepal with international financing. Anasuya Sengupta was cast in the film when Bojanov, struggling to find a way to turn the rights of William Darrymple’s book, ‘Nine Lives’, into a film, met the character visualiser and production designer. Between them, director and actress made history.

Questions arise about what the achievements by these two women will amount to. Will Kapadia find backing in India for her next project? Will a channel or even cinema halls give her award-winning film space?

Doubtful. Considering that the first ever Indian film to win the top Grand Prix award at Cannes, Chetan Anand’s ‘Neecha Nagar’, did not get a decent release in India, and reels of the history-creating film were found in a discarded heap in a rubbish bin. But that’s beside the point.

And yet again, will Sengupta find roles being offered to her in Bollywood, or in a series made for streaming channels? Or will she get typecast, as is the norm, and sidelined because glitz and glamour rule the day? Consider the reams of space on social media and off it, given to the over dressed tawaifs of Heeramandi, and it’s obvious that an unglamourous sex worker type of character will not be high on the must-cast list.

Sporting achievements

Let’s come to the other Indian obsession: Cricket.

And yes, women are having their day on the field too.

Women cricketers have indeed proved their mettle. Following on the very successful field records of Diana Eduljee, and more recently, Jhulan Goswami, Mitali Raj, younger women too have been wresting victories from more established teams on the international field. In a list of successes which include Team India Women being semi finalists at ODI World Cup thrice and the T 20 World Cup Matches four times, winning all Asian Cup matches, besides a gold medal at the Asian games 2023, they also have the credit of garnering the record for maximum runs in women’s cricket.

Yet, despite the equal pay and encouragement now forthcoming from BCCI, exploitation and sexual harassment of junior aspirants continues at entry level. This has forced many to abandon the sport.

All this tells us, that some attitudes need a sea change, to give even our achievers their due, and allow talent to come to the fore.

Then there’s the story of Simran, a blind runner, born with semi-developed ears, who just won gold for India in the 200m; finishing in 25.95 secs at ParaAthletics World Championship. At 22, she became the first Indian woman to qualify for the 100-metre track event in Tokyo Paralympics. And is readying herself for Paris.

An unsung heroine. Has she got her share of media? No.

Women have changed.

Is it not clear, attitudes and perceptions need to change?

The writer is a Consulting Editor with Penguin India