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Gender Diversity and Female-driven Stories on the Up, Thanks to OTT

Gender Diversity and Female-driven Stories on the Up, Thanks to OTT

In the past few years, stories of women have dominated the cinematic narrative, thanks to OTT platforms.

OTT Trends
Covid-19 pandemic has changed our lives in many ways and one of them is the way we watch films. OTT platforms are the new cinema halls for movie goers… we meant movies watchers - you don’t need to go anywhere now to watch films, other than from one room to another in your homes.

As your watching experience has evolved, so has the content. The Manoj Bajpayees, Ayushmann Khurranas and Pankaj Tripathis of Bollywood have replaced the Khans - Salman, Shah Rukh and Aamir. There are more films with actresses as protagonists, but the A-listers have stayed away so far.

Films have become shorter, and some are just a collection of short films put together - an anthology. Web series trend, and are hot favourites. Potboilers and mass entertainers have made way for subtle, more meaningful cinema. Not to worry, the former films are there too.

In this series, OTT Trends, News18 looks at how streaming platforms have redefined Indian cinema, blurred lines between mainstream and indie, cut across language barriers, made actors into stars, and above all, brought entertainment at your fingertips. ​

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For the longest time, men have dominated the film business without contest, both in front and behind the camera. However, over the past few years, streaming platforms have shown that it’s worth pushing harder and giving a diverse range of women-led stories an opportunity to be told by green-lighting so many daring projects with females at the centre. From Delhi Crime and Aarya to Pagglait and Geeli Pucchi, OTT platforms are, clearly, leading the charge on women’s representation and have busted the age-old myth that all Indian audience wants to watch on the screen is their favourite macho star save the heroine from a bunch of goons.

“The nature of the format has encouraged a lot of well-written female characters," Rasika said in an interview while pointing out that makers have “underestimated" the audience’s taste for a long time. The audience has an appetite for variety and all sorts of genres, she said. As an actor, Rasika has always been daring. But her most interesting role to date may well be her turn as a brave, uncorrupted police officer on the Netflix series Delhi Crime, based on the 2012 Delhi gang-rape case. Delhi Crime also won the Best Drama Series at the 2020 International Emmy Awards. Rasika has also starred in critically acclaimed web series such as Mirzapur and Out of Love.

Actress Raveena Tandon, who is set to make her debut with Netflix’s Aranyak, said that not only OTT platforms have given female actors an opportunity to showcase their versatility but also helped dispel stereotypes about their traditional portrayal in cinema. “We have seen women take charge in the industry but with a global platform like Netflix coming in, even our audience has become aware. They know of different cinemas, watch international content which gives us an opportunity to explore untold stories, different formats and experiment with cinema. Even the way they view an Indian woman, their perspective has changed. Women protagonists have been more prominent than the male ones," Raveena said on the sidelines of a special Netflix event, titled ‘See What’s Next India.’

Recognising intersectional female characters

The other interesting and most important thing that the medium has done is that it’s taught Bollywood that stories of women of all classes and castes can translate well to a mass audience. Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare, Geeli Pucchi and Maharani brought the stories of complicated, diverse women who are strong in a myriad of ways, to life through phenomenal writing. “The way we approach movies and things in India is that we always see things in silos, in isolation," Neeraj Ghaywan, who has directed the ‘Geeli Pucchi’ segment in Netflix’s anthology Ajeeb Daastaans, told news agency PTI. Geeli Pucchi received immense praises for handling caste, sexuality, privilege with utmost maturity and sensitivity. The short, starring Konkona Sensharma and Aditi Rao Hydari, revolves around two women, one upper caste, newly married and hired to do a desk job, and the other a factory worker denied the same job for coming from a lower caste.

In ‘Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare’, director Alankrita Shrivastava’s voice is passionate and moves easily between the personal and the political. In her world, women are everyday people and are as flawed and vulnerable as any other human being, navigating treacherous territory, and often taking risks with no safety net. On the other hand, Maharani sees actress Huma Qureshi as Rani, a simple woman from a village who has spent her life doing household chores, become the chief minister of Bihar much to the displeasure of the powerful men around her.

Age no bar

The streaming services have plenty of shows where we find some intense and powerful leading women over 40. One might even go so far as to say that more of these roles are available for female actors today, thanks to OTT platforms. Last year, 45-year-old Sushmita Sen played the leading role of Aarya in the Disney+ Hotstar series. The actress took the online world by storm with her powerful central turn as a doting mother and housewife forced into the narcotics trade, a role that she never got a chance to play on the big screen. Shefali Shah, who has delivered a wide range of roles in her 25-year long career, got her long-overdue recognition when she essayed the role of investigating cop Vartika Chaturvedi in Netflix’s Delhi Crime.

“OTT platforms have opened gates for all creative actors where they have broken out of the box of hero and heroine. It’s is all about characters and good stories. They do feel that women above 45 have someplace in it besides playing grandmothers. Would you have thought of a Shefali Shah playing the lead earlier? Probably you would, but you’d never cast her. So here she is in the lead and she’s proved herself," said Shefali about how OTT helped the audience rediscover her talent. Shefali is currently gearing up for the second season of the cop thriller based on the 2012 Delhi gang rape and murder.

Actresses like Madhuri Dixit and Raveena Tandon will also soon be seen in starring roles on Netflix’s upcoming web shows Finding Anamika and Aranyak, respectively.

Never-seen-before avatars

The streaming services are also doing a better job at depicting women actors in never-seen-before avatars by allowing for more risk-taking. Sanya Malhotra as a young widow trying to discover her identity in Pagglait, Jennifer Winget’s Major Monica Mehra in Code M, Kirti Kulhari’s middle-aged single mother in Four More Shots Please Season 2 are some of the examples of how the streamers are giving diverse opportunities to women to experiment with their on-screen image.

While streaming services have definitely helped champion female-led stories, progress still needs to be made concerning the inclusion of women in the top decision-making roles throughout the entertainment industry. Actress Shweta Tripathi, who has starred in acclaimed web series like Laakhon Mein Ek and Mirzapur, said that including more female input, from pre-production to finishing touches in post-production, will deepen women characters and provide more distinct voices.

“I would want to see not only female protagonists but also females in every department, be it cinematography, direction or writing. I want not just the stories to be driven by women, I want them to be in front of the screen and behind the screen," Shweta said.

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first published:July 17, 2021, 09:00 IST