I realised that working behind the camera is something I can do for the rest of my life. Then I got enrolled into Satyajit Ray Film & Television Institute (SRFTI) and decided to master the craft thoroughly. Gradually, things proceeded on their own, and here I am today, being the first Indian to win the Angenieux special encouragement award at the Cannes Film Festival.
The underlying gender disparity of film industry
The journey was indeed inspiring, but far from easy. Being a woman technician in the film industry is breaking into a male bastion in itself. A subtle gender disparity greets every women director, scriptwriter or cinematographer on a film set. Somehow, the persistent notion is that these professions suit men only. Women directors and writers are coming more into prominence these days, but you would hardly find women cinematographers, or say, sound-editors in India.
Except for perhaps a few essentially female jobs like script-girls or costume-ladies, all behind-the-camera profiles portray a clear trend of proclivity towards men.
If a woman can carry a heavy pail of water, why can’t I carry a camera
I am quite used to hearing that cinematography demands quite a lot of physical exertion. This is purely absurd. Who says women cannot do manual labour? If a woman in a village can carry a heavy pail of water for miles and miles, another can very well shoot with a heavy camera. Why is it so hard to normalise women technicians?
We get to hear vague excuses like if it is a woman, she cannot work on her periods. If it is a married woman, she will be busy attending to her family, how can she focus on work? So, better not select her. If she is a mother, then she must be retiring soon. All the stereotypes we get to hear, seem to be around one gender only.
A female DOP? Impossible!
I remember one time during my initial days I was assigned to be the Director of Photography (DOP) for a project. When I was instructing the technicians to adjust the lighting the way I wanted, they were doing it quite half-heartedly.
When I insisted, they expressed their reluctance fearing that the DOP would instruct them otherwise the next day. I did not reveal to them that I, myself, was the DOP. The next day when they found out, they were extremely apologetic. But that’s the thing. It was beyond their imagination that a woman could be a DOP as well. That’s the stereotype we have to break to let more passionate women take on these roles.
Don’t highlight her gender, highlight her achievements
Why don’t we get to see more female technicians? Right now, female aspirants might be clueless about how to be a cinematographer, what to do, where to go. See, if the existing women are never highlighted, the willing ones would also feel excluded even before starting. We don’t have a substantial female representation in the film industry anyway. So, the little bit we have has to be brought under the limelight.
Then again, I am against the idea of hailing a woman professional just because of her gender. Her gender should not define her work or her identity. But, at least, the narrative on their work and achievements should be put across to the public.
To be honest, very few people are aware of what cinematography actually is. I would like everyone to know that it’s not just holding up the camera on your shoulders. A cinematographer needs to have an aesthetical viewpoint, a philosophical perspective of the scene being shot. That’s how a beautiful scene comes to life on screen.
Experience at Cannes Film Festival
The experience at Cannes has been surreal. I have always heard about the grand event, but being there and accepting an award is insane. It’s beautiful, overwhelming to be honest. Meeting the people you have always dreamt about and idolised – I cannot express it in words.
I get happy very easily. Something as simple as a veteran actor appreciating my work or a famed director wanting to work with me can make me happy instantly. I guess that’s what keeps me going forward with my passion. Presently, I am working on two Bengali feature films and two short films. Let’s see how everything pans out.
My advice to the aspirants of cinematography
To all the youngsters who want to get into cinematography, I have only one advice – be extremely serious about it. You cannot just think that since it is not a mainstream profession like a doctor or an engineer, your passion would be enough for it.
Nobody has become a successful cinematographer just my carrying a DSLR around and shooting random videos. You need to study thoroughly about the basics of the craft. You need to follow and learn from the experts in the field and practise. There is no substitute for learning and hard work. That’s when success will come to you.”