“It comes as a surprise that the film is shot by female cinematographer Priya Seth. The images her camera captures are rugged, virile and predominantly masculine.”
This is what film critic Subhash K. Jha had written in his review on Firstpost of the 2016 Bollywood film Airlift. Such statements would never be made were it a man behind the movie camera. His sense and sensibility as a progressive thinker who can successfully capture a woman’s plight would be praised fervently, for men are seen as the rightful narrators of all kinds of stories.
Our surprised reactions are reserved for women storytellers behind the camera. These reactions are not limited to Indian cinema either. For in more than eighty years of its existence, the Academy has not nominated a single woman for an Oscar for Best Cinematography. Yet, as I tried to think, I realized that though I know of independent filmmakers who are cinematographers, I didn’t know much about the works of mainstream Indian women cinematographers either.
In March this year, senior cinematographer Fowzia Fathima formed the Indian Women Cinematographers’ Collective (IWCC). The idea behind the initiative is to support women cinematographers, particularly new and upcoming ones. As well as to change the perception around the male-dominated profession.
The works and biographies of the seventy-three members of that collective will be up for viewing soon. Till then, here’s a list of some well-known Indian women cinematographers and their works:
1. B.R. Vijayalakshmi
Hailing from Tamil Nadu, she is the oldest woman cinematographer and the first female cinematographer in Asia. Being the daughter of renowned director-producer B.R. Panthalu gave her easier access to the film industry. She was mentored by cinematographer Ashok Kumar and has shot 22 films in the 1980s and 90s including Chinna Veedu and Paattu Padava. She has now shifted her focus from films to television and dons multiple hats as a writer, director, photographer and producer for serials.
2. Savita Singh
A 2007 Cinematography graduate from the Film and Television Institute of India, Savita has been director of photography for a number of films, ranging from period fantasy film Hawaizaada to the critically acclaimed Marathi comedy-drama Ventilator. Scenes from feature films, adverts and short films she has shot are available for viewing on her Vimeo page.
3. Fowzia Fatima
Fowzia made her debut with the 2002 National Award winning film Mitr, My Friend, which was directed by Revathi and had an all-female technical crew. She was the one who nudged her colleagues to form the IWCC. What started off as a Facebook group she had formed for fellow cinematographers she knew from the industry, turned into a collective. This was inspired by the formation of the Illuminatrix, a similar association of women cinematographers in the UK.
4. Anjuli Shukla
In 2010, Anjuli Shukla became the first (and only) woman cinematographer to win a National Award for Best Cinematography for her debut movie Kutty Srank. Before working as an independent camera person, Anjuli had previously assisted cinematographer Santosh Sivan on a number of projects, including international collaborations like Mistress of Spices and Before the Rains. In 2015, she directed her own feature film, Happy Mother’s Day, which was the opening film for the 19th International Children’s Film Festival India (ICFFI).
5. Priya Seth
Priya has been the director of photography for a number of ad films and ventured into Hindi cinema more recently with films like Chef and Barah Aana Montage. She shot the 2015 period action film Airlift in just 49 days.
6. Archana Borhade
Archana has been the cinematographer for the 2016 Marathi sci-fi film Phuntroo. Idak, her second film as a cinematographer has been selected for the Mumbai and Goa International Film Festivals. She has also been part of the camera department for several mainstream Hindi films, including My Name Is Khan and Gulaab Gang.
7. Deepti Gupta
Deepti has been the cinematographer for Hindi feature films like Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd. and Fakir of Venice. She has also shot acclaimed documentary films like Nishtha Jain’s City of Photos and Lakshmi and Me.
If you’ve watched some of their films, let us know your thoughts/views on the works of these cinematographers in the comments section below. This list is obviously not exhaustive. Do share details of Indian women cinematographers whose work you’re familiar with. Let’s keep the conversation going!
Featured Image Credit: TV Workshop