New Delhi: The Holi weekend this March has been booked for Pari, a horror film produced by actor Anushka Sharma’s Clean Slate Productions, in which she also plays the lead role. Priyanka Chopra’s Purple Pebble Pictures announced starting the shoot for its third Marathi production Firebrand last week after its last project, Ventilator, won big at the National Awards in 2016. This Republic Day release Padman will also see 1990s actor Twinkle Khanna don the producer’s hat with her newly-founded company Mrs. Funnybones Movies.
To be sure, the trend of Indian film actresses taking to production may go back in time with examples like Aishwarya Rai, Juhi Chawla and Manisha Koirala but the top names added to the list lately make it more relevant. Especially since female stars are producing content both for feature films as well as web series.
“There is great content around us and this is a great time to make great content in this country," said actor Neha Dhupia, whose company Big Girl Productions has just taken off with her celebrity talk show #NoFilterNeha on music streaming app Saavn. “The audience is opening up and bringing in money for us. My simple formula of producing today and always is going to be to look for great content, I have interesting contacts and with a little bit of conviction, I would try to marry the two."
Dhupia added that the crucial need to create wealth and value out of whatever she does will only be met by insisting on ownership of intellectual property rights. She’s not in this for the money.
And it seems like the others aren’t either.
“There aren’t that many roles as one gets along. They become few and far between, repetitive or not that challenging. However, I feel an actor comes into their prime only in their 30s. And I think that is the time you start considering options of collaborating with like-minded people," said Tisca Chopra, who has produced award-winning short films like Chutney under her company The Eastern Way and is now looking at feature films. “There are also certain directors and writers whom you’ve worked with in the past and you try to pull that talent together that otherwise might not have gotten an opportunity."
It also stems from experience. Actors like Chopra say when you’re in the business of storytelling, it’s natural that you would, at some point, want to tell your own story and tell it in the way it deserves to be told.
“It’s great that female actors are taking the reins in their hands and saying that if other people will not tell their stories, they will tell them themselves," said film critic Shubhra Gupta. “They know where the lacuna are, where things need to be tweaked, to get those stories going. It’s happened in Hollywood too where people like Susan Sarandon and Julia Roberts produce their movies. The top female actors in Bollywood may not be able to write their own paychecks, at least not yet, but they can tell their own stories."
To be sure, most of the female actors remain independent producers and have to align with another company or a corporate studio for actual funding. Padman, for example, has been co-produced by Sony Pictures Networks, apart from KriArj Entertainment and Hope Productions.
“There’s also this strange myth that a producer is a person who has money and creates opportunity. That’s far from the truth," said Dia Mirza, who co-runs production house Born Free Entertainment along with husband and business partner Sahil Sangha. “Independent producers like myself aren’t sitting with bags full of money waiting to post them in a certain direction. We actually have to spend a serious amount of time convincing people who have money to invest in the stories that we believe in. Then it’s about managing that investment and ensuring that the money is used effectively and practically."
That doesn’t, however, translate into making a film for yourself. While Anushka Sharma has starred in all her three productions (NH10 and Phillauri, apart from Pari), actors like Priyanka Chopra have refrained from acting in their own productions. Mirza too hasn’t starred in her own films since 2011 saying she would make herself available only if the project warrants her presence.
“Being a producer not just means you get your film made but also get it released," Gupta said. “To do cinema with difference, the time has come to do things differently."
To be sure, not all things and attitudes are always different.
“When I told my colleagues that I was going to be producing films, many of them said it’s just too challenging. In their own way, they were saying this is really not a woman’s job," Mirza recalled. “I was also very amused by the fact that because I had male partners in my company, they thought that would make it easier."
Even today, there are some people, Mirza points out, who in meetings only look at her husband Sangha and speak.
“Then of course there are people who enjoy the fact that I’m in that conversation. These are small things but they say so much," Mirza said. “Of course it takes all kinds and I find this to be true not just for us producers, it happens even with technicians because it’s a largely male-dominated industry."