The man stumbled into making films. When she finished her master's degree in media and cultural studies at Mumbai's TESS, she found a new career path.
"My thesis was on Parsi women and the exclusion they face in the community, and another friend of mine was writing about her community coming to India during Partition," she says. After writing our theses, we said that our research would make good films.
Qissa-e Parsi: The Parsi Story is a short film by Cowasji that tells the story of the Parsi community in India. Eight years after it was screened at the International Film Festival of India, the director has returned to the event with her new film. The show must go on is a short film about the reunion of veteran Parsi theatre stars for a one off revival. One of the few Indian female directors in competition was Cowasji, who opened the festival.
India's information and broadcasting minister seemed like a good person to speak to on the subject of gender equality in the country's film industry at the International Film Festival of India. In order to find out more about this year's IFFI and the amount of Indian female filmmakers in it, we sat down with the minister inGoa. 40 percent of the work is done by females, according to the minister. "If you look at our jury, you will find a good number of women on those as well...not only in the cinema but also in our government."
The numbers don't add up. There have only been four female ministers of information and broadcasting in India in the last 75 years, according to a study presented at the festival. Only four female government chairpersons have been appointed in the last 72 years and only 29 female board members have been appointed in the last 13 years.
The Show Must Go On, directed by Divya Cowasji and Jall Cowasji. Credit: IFFI 53
A lot of foreign female filmmakers are featured (30 percent in the international competition) and of the 25 films that make up the core Indian feature film competition, several center female narratives. Two women comprise the jury for the official selection of the festival.
It was difficult for women to claim space in the film industry when Singh entered it, she said. Singh is a film editor with credits at home and abroad including Slumdog Millionaire and India's Daughter. There are no feature films directed by Indian women in the festival programme. She points to the range of women-oriented stories in the IFFI lineup as a way to inspire other women to seek opportunities in the film industry. She says that anyone can if she can make it. When you see something happening, you feel inspired by the result in front of you.
Outside of the festival's feature film selection, most of the Indian female directors present documentary films. The short film Chhu Med Na Yul Med, about climate change and the Himalayan mountains, was one of the non-feature films.
The stories her grandfather told her grew Cowasji's interest in the genre. After a 2012 celebration of Marzban's 98th birthday, she became a fly on the wall for The Show Must Go On. Sam Kerawalla directed and starred in the performance as well as other members of his troupe. I had no intention of making a film, but I realized that I didn't want to leave these people. A remarkably poignant and engaging celebration of artistic players, old and new, was edited together from old interviews with the same actors and her brother.
Cowasj knows how hard it is to be a photographer and a film maker. There will always be obstacles for a woman as a visual storyteller. I don't know if I have the ability to just set off on my own or go to the places I want to go on my own. It's not always safe.
The ease with which Indian men navigate the filmmaking world in terms of safety, creative autonomy and leadership opportunities is still mostly for women. Qualitative data is being used to highlight the problem. A panel consisting of Lingam, Dr. Shilpa Phadke, film critic Meenakshi Shedde, and producer Rashmi Lamba took part in a discussion on gender participation in Hindi cinema. There isn't a lot of women who are heads of departments. They are found in music, costume and distribution, but not in the core departments of directing, assistant directing, camera, lighting and cinematography. She said that women with technical degrees are not on the set. Core decisions about things and creative decisions are not made in the mainstream industry where they do a lot of post production work, because they are not there.
Measures to empower women to take on more creative leadership roles is a big part of the conversation. The complaints committee should be set up if women want to complain about sexual harassment.
Even if they are given funding for films, the small number of Indian female directors face discrimination because of their race, according to a researcher. She says that one of the questions raised is how hard it is to get funding if you're a woman. One female filmmaker was forced to change her female-led film to accommodate a strong male co-protagonist that would entice a big name. "If you have a big actor, you can't give them a tiny role, so the co-protagonist role expands and you end up making a very different film from the one that you intended," he said. When it doesn't do well, it's like "Oh, you made this film and you spent a lot of money, but it wasn't the film you set out to make."
Cowasji self-funded her latest short film, and felt more confident after simply because I had no resources.
More opportunities for women to see their directorial dreams realised are provided by streaming services. It's hard for women in India to release films. Women can just finish the film and the rest will be taken care of with OTT platforms. People will be able to see your work when it comes out.
There are several women in the Indian arm of the company from the vice president of content to the head of series. India is home to one of the world's most dynamic entertainment industries and we are excited to be a part of it. We are proud to show these stories to the public.
Qala was the only feature film directed by a female Indian film maker to show at the festival. It is a psychological musical drama about Tripti Dimri and her struggle to reconcile her current success with her traumatic past. Beautiful cinematography, gorgeous music, and vulnerable performances elevate the story of the toxicity of mother-daughter relationships and the sexism of the entertainment industry.
Despite the lack of female directors in its schedule, the IFFI gives a platform to many women in the film industry to discuss gender inequality and representation. The industry can cure the issue of under representation. She told the panel that making presentations in places where often these things are not discussed is part of the larger setting of the tone. Roundtables and consultations with industry people are what we like to do.
Singh believes initiatives like Toronto Film Festival's Share Her Journey would help support marginalized women to attend festivals where their work can be seen too. She says it's a great thought. I'm very confident that female filmmakers will get a lot of opportunities. The way of working and making films will be trusted by producers.
It is now.