- Jagriti Thakur
- 08 March 2020
The 'Shakti' of the Silver Screen
Looking at prominent women screenwriters in Hindi Cinema; on the occasion of International Women's Day (March 8th)
Cinema, the audio-visual medium of storytelling gradually moved from being despised, to being loved by the audience. In this journey, it was not considered a respectable career option for a long time. More so, for women. We saw men playing female characters in silent films. Only gradually, women started to enter the film industry but mostly as an actor or playback singer, with rare exceptions like Fatma Begum who broke the conventions, by being a director, screenwriter and producer. Fatma started her own production house, Victoria-Fatma Films and made fantasy films like Bulbul-e-Paristan and Goddess of Luck, in the 1930’s. Since then, women screenwriters have come a long way in the Hindi film industry.
On the occasion of International Women’s Day let us have a look at women screenwriters who have lend their voices to Hindi cinema making it a stronger and richer medium.
Shama Zehra Zaidi
Garam Hava, Manthan, Shatranj Ke Khiladi, Bhumika, Umrao Jaan, Mandi, Susman, Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda, Mammo, The Making of Mahatma, Sardari Begum, Haribhari, Zubeidaa and many such path breaking classics are credited to Shama Zaidi, who worked with the likes of Satyajit Ray, Shyam Benegal, M. S. Sathyu and co-wrote with Kaifi Azmi, Javed Siddiqui, Khalid Mohammad and others. A veteran of the Indian theatre and cinema world, she is well-known for her art direction and costume design, as well. Her writing represents the views of a progressive modernist, bringing forth brazenly the true image of the society, questioning the values of the independent India.
The opening scene of the National Award Winning film Garam Hava establishes the mood right in the beginning, gripping the audience immediately –
Salim Mirza, “Kaise hare bhare drakht kat rahe hai in hawao mein”
Tonga wala, “Badi garam hawa hai Miya, badi garam… jo ukhda nai wo sookh javega Miya… aur fir ek shayar ne kaha hai na Miya… wafaao k badle jaffa kar-riya hai… main kya kar-riya hun, tu kya kar-riya hai?”
[Translation – Salim Mirza, “the scorching winds are uprooting many flowering trees.”
Tonga wala, “these scorching winds will uproot many trees, and the ones left will wither. Miya, there is a saying: Fidelity begets cruelty… what are you and I doing here?”]
Screenwriter of successful films like Chandni, Prem Rog, 1942 A Love Story and Kareeb; Kamna Chandra gave commercially and critically hit films at a time when there were a very few women screenwriters in the industry. She also explored the TV industry and wrote popular shows like Kashish and Trishna while also writing radio plays for All India Radio. A master of weaving romantic plots, she explores love and relationships from different perspectives. Her recent release, Qarib Qarib Singlle, directed by her daughter Tanuja Chandra, is a romantic comedy that tells the story of solitude and companionship in today’s world.
Romantic thriller like Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai and science fiction superhero films like Koi… Mil Gaya, Krrish and Krrish 3, which Honey Irani co-wrote with writers like Sachin Bhowmick, Robin Bhatt, Javed Siddiqui and Rakesh Roshan are some of the biggest blockbusters of Hindi cinema. After having worked as a child artiste in around 72 films, she grew up to be a screenwriter and wrote films like Lamhe, Aaina, Darr, Suhaag, Kya Kehna, Armaan etc. Three times Filmfare award winner, Honey Irani is definitely one of the most popular women screenwriters of 90s and early 2000s.
Reema Rakesh Nath
The evergreen songs like Meraa Dil Bhii Kitanaa Paagal Hai, Bahut Pyar Karte Hain, Jiye To Jiye Kaise, Tum Se Milne Ki Tamanna Hain are all from the 1991 film Saajan which was the highest grossing film of that year. Reema Nath, the story, screenplay, dialogue writer of Saajan, comes from a film family (she is the daughter of the well-known character actor D. K Sapru) and thus, moving from screenwriting to direction and producing films was not a surprising choice for her. It is interesting to note that in all of her films the female lead was played by the remarkable Madhuri Dixit, starting from the 90s’ Sailaab, Dil Tera Aashiq, Saajan, Yaraana, Aarzoo, Mohabbat to the 2002s’ Hum Tumhare Hain Sanam.
All these dedicated women screenwriters made a place for themselves in the male dominated entertainment industry, proving that women too can write and write blockbusters for mainstream cinema, thus, in the process paving the way for the next generation of women screenwriters.
With the twenty first century came the fantastical technological advancements that changed the society drastically and with it, the entertainment industry also underwent a massive transformation. Digital film making made it easier to shoot and edit films, thus, opening more avenues for the independent filmmaking.
Screenwriter of National Award Winning and commercially successful film Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! Urmi Juvekar made her screenwriting debut with Kalpana Lajmi’s 1997 film Darmiyaan: In Between. She went on to write films like Shararat, Rules: Pyaar Ka Superhit Formula, I Am, Shanghai and Detective Byomkesh Bakshy. Working on bold, challenging and out of league stories Urmi has proved her mettle, inspiring other writers to be confident enough to break the clichés.
Beginning her screenwriting career with Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Black, Bhavani Iyer went on to write films like Swami, Guzaarish, Lootera, One Night Stand and 2018 critically acclaimed and commercially hit film Raazi. Bhavani is the granddaughter of the well-known Tamil poet, Shriram Iyengar. She has also written TV shows like 24, Everest, Meri Awaaz Hi Pehchaan Hai and Kaafir. Her work, whether for film or TV, is mostly drama, merged either with the romantic or action-thriller element.
Daughter of film maker Raj Bathija, Shibani did not have to struggle as much as some of her counterparts, to get a break. With films like Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, My Name Is Khan, Kidnap and Fanaa in her kitty, screenwriter she has worked for most of the big production houses in Hindi film industry like Yash Raj Films, Dharma and Red Chillies Entertainment.
A teacher of screenwriting at Tisch School of the Arts, New York University, Sabrina has worked for companies like Disney, HBO, ABC Family and 20th Century Fox while offering mentorship at screenwriting labs all over the world. She has written Hindi feature films, TV documentaries and also directed short films. She is majorly known for her first film Monsoon Wedding, directed by Mira Nair, which also won the Golden Lion award (is the highest prize given to a film at the Venice Film Festival) and received a Golden Globe Award nomination; counted as one of the best romantic films of the 21st century. She wrote the story for the film when she was still studying the film programme.
Screenwriter of films like Rock on, Rock on 2 and Kai Po Che, Pubali Chaudhuri, the former Head of Department, Screenwriting Department, FTII, is actively involved in training new screenwriters. She is known for her nuanced screenwriting skills and impeccable craft. Pubali Chaudhuri also won Filmfare award for the Best Screenplay for it.
An illustrator with The Times of India and then an art director at an advertising agency, Juhi Chaturvedi began her screenwriting career with the super-hit film Vicky Donor for which she also won the Filmfare Award for Best Story. She then wrote dialogues for the film Madras Café and The Sky is Pink. Another of her films, October, was very well received both commercially and critically, while the 2015 film Piku, made her one of the top screenwriters in the Industry. Juhi Chaturvedi also won two National Awards for this film – Best Original Screenplay and Best Dialogues.
With the working experience of 18 years in the Hindi film industry, Anuraadha Tewari has given many popular feature films like Fashion, Heroine and Jail. She has also written for TV as well as Web; for shows like Yeh Meri Life Hai, Saaksshi, Shararat, Ek Hazaaron mein Meri Behnaa Hai, O Gujariya, Qubool Hai (season 5), Laakhon Mein Ek etc. She also teaches screenwriting in various story labs across the world.
Pooja Ladha Surti
Known for films like Andhadhun, Badlapur, Phobia and Agent Vinod, Pooja Ladha Surti is a screenwriter and an editor. Surti has the streak for writing unconventional characters like the smart, conniving Akash from Andhdhun who never fails to surprise us, Raghu from Badlapur who will not rest until he takes his revenge and the honest Mehak from the psychological thriller Phobia.
An author and a screenwriter, Kanika Dhillon represents the voice of today’s generation. Blending the commercial with the artistic, Kanika has written films like Ra.One, Manmarziyaan, Kedarnath, Judgementall Hai Kya. She has also written hit TV shows like Ghar Ki Baat Hai and Ishaan: Sapno Ko Awaaz De.
Manorama Six Feet Under, Bachna Ae Haseeno, Aisha, Ladies vs Ricky Bahl, Jab Tak Hai Jaan, Mahi Way and Four More Shots Please! are some feature films, a TV and web show that are written by Devika Bhagat, a film and TV production graduate from Tisch School of the Arts, New York University.
Screenwriter of commercially successful films like Malamaal Weekly, Bhool Bhulaiyaa, Billu, Mere Baap Pehle Aap, Bumm Bumm Bole, Kushti, Rangrezz and many others, Manisha Korde is one of the most prominenet screenwriters in the industry who write rib-tickling comedies.
Shor in the City, Go Goa Gone, Happy Ending and A Gentleman are the films that Sita Menon, who has also worked as a film editor, has co-written with writer-director duo Raj & D.K. Working on fresh and unique stories, this team surely loves experimenting and exploring different genres.
With a successful TV career as a dialogue writer, giving us shows like Dekha Ek Khwaab, Bade Achhe Lagte Hain, Khotey Sikkey, Ajeeb Daastaan Hai Ye and Bepannaah, Ishita Moitra also wrote screenplays for feature films like Kambakkht Ishq, Always Kabhi Kabhi, Mere Dad Ki Maruti, Ragini MMS 2, Half Girlfriend. But it is the success of the recent web show – Four More Shots Please! – that gave her the much deserved recognition in the industry.
Screenwriter of successful films like Daawat-E-Ishq, Kaccha Limboo and Good Newwz; Jyoti Kapoor has also written the famous television show Left Right Left. The highest grossing film of 2019, Good Newwz is a fun filled ride that handles a sensitive subject in a light-hearted, pure manner, subtly highlighting the difficulties a couple faces when they choose to have a baby through the IVF technique. A South Korean and American remake of the film will also be made soon.
Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, Lipstick Under My Burkha, Wazir, Qarib Qarib Singlle are the films for which screenwriter Gazal Dhaliwal collaborated with director Shelly Chopra Dhar, Alankrita Shrivastava, Bejoy Nambiar and Tanuja Chandra. A LGBTQ+ activist and a transgender empowered woman, most of her work subtly emphasises on the importance of accepting change on individual and societal level.
Starting her career as a journalist, Atika Chohan switched to fiction writing. Her films, Margarita With A Straw, Waiting and the recent release Chhapaak, which was a critical and commercial success; have made her one of the most sought after screenwriters and a distinguished dialogue writer, in the Hindi film industry at the moment.
And so, the journey of women screenwriters that began with a few forthright women who did what their heart wanted them to do and spoke the language of dreams; has not ended. Instead, the velocity has only multiplied.
Women screenwriters are moving ahead steadily, fuelling their passion for cinema. Many of them have become accomplished writer-directors, namely - Sai Paranjpye, late Kaplana Lajmi, Zoya Akhtar, Meghna Gulzar, Tanuja Chandra, Anu Menon, Leena Yadav, Gauri Shinde, Konkana Sen Sharma and Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari. The list goes on. Emerging screenwriters like Smita Singh, Pooja Tolani and Disha Rindani have also made their presence felt.
Though the path is not rosy - women writers still face challenges like wage disparity and gender bias; it is certainly brighter than before. With more women screenwriters coming forward, the community has become stronger as each success story cements the fact that any woman can speak her mind through the language of cinema and make a lasting impact.
(NOTE: Images in the collage are in order of the names in the article.)
Jagriti is a trained screenwriter from the Film & Television Institute of India, Pune, with experience in media and journalism. Currently, she is an elected Associate Member of the Executive Committee of the Screenwriters Association, Mumbai, as well as a member with its Dispute Settlement Committee (DSC). She writes a blog on the art of storytelling: https://www.chimingstories.in/