women's narratives

A campaign reminds us of the missing person on the director’s chair

52 Films by Women asks its users to pledge to watch a film by a woman every week. How does India measure up?

Dharm is a Hindi film about a revered and austere Brahmin priest who is compelled to revaluate his idea of religion. Marathi film Kapus Kondyachi Goshta chronicles the struggles of a fierce young woman and her three sisters as they grapple against insurmountable odds to keep their farm thriving after their father’s suicide. Irudhi Suttru is a Tamil film featuring the relationship between a grumpy boxing coach and his spirited protégé. These markedly diverse and entertaining films share an interesting commonality: they have all been directed by women.

Women in Film, an organisation in Los Angeles that focuses on enhancing women’s participation in the entertainment media, has launched a campaign titles 52 Films by Women. The initiative asks users to pledge to watch one movie by a woman every week for a year and post about it under the hastag #52filmsbywomen. The campaign is part of a larger initiative called Trailbazing Women, which aims to “raise awareness about the underrepresentation of women in positions of power” within the entertainment industry.

Women have long been condescendingly credited for influencing historic social changes from behind the scene. In the cinematic world, however, that position has been usurped by men. Women direct, write and produce an appallingly small number of movies the world over. In the Indian film industry, the gender ratio is abysmally skewed at 6.2 males to every female, according to the report of a study funded by the Oak Foundation. The report also revealed that only one in ten Indian directors is a woman (9.1%).

Indian female directors are attempting to find a foothold in an industry that has always been dominated by men, but are finding that that is particularly tricky for them to balance between artistic sensibility and economic returns. Yash Raj Films, one of India’s major production houses, has produced only one film directed by a woman (Bewakoofiyan, by Nupur Asthana) since its inception in 1970. Barring a few directors such as Farah Khan, Zoya Akhtar, Reema Kagti and Leena Yadav, female filmmakers are forced to make small budget or art house films.

Viewers who pledge to include a movie made by a woman in their weekly filmic diet are likely to also discover some fascinating small budget films directed by Indian women. For instance, Shonali Bose’s National Film Award winning Margarita with a Straw is details how Laila, a teenager afflicted with cerebral palsy, discovers herself through her sexuality. Manjadikuru, Anjali Menon’s Malayalam film, chronicles the experiences of a 10 year-old Vicky as he returns to his mother’s ancestral house after his grandfather’s death.

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‘Manjadikuru’ by Anjali Menon.

Deepa Mehta and Mira Nair have repeatedly proven their cinematic acumen with films like Fire and Monsoon Wedding, which capture a plethora of female experiences with wrenching insight. Leena Yadav’s Parched has also attracted praise for its frank portrayal of female sexuality.

Since female directors are few, they are tasked with the heavy responsibility of authentically depicting female experiences, and featuring believable female leads. However, Indian women have also made movies that offer alternative perspectives on masculinity, prominently featuring male perspectives without compromising on strong female voices in their narratives. Reema Kagti’s psychological thriller Talaash captures the grief of a man who has lost his child, but doesn’t neglect his wife’s anguish. Konkona Sen Sharma’s A Death in the Gunj deconstructs contradictory notions of masculinity.

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‘Parched’ by Leena Yadav.

Just as they bear the burden of intelligent representation, most films directed by women are also required to adhere to an intellectual standard that is not demanded from other cinematic efforts. They are often expected to contain grave ruminations about social and cultural realities, dissecting human emotion with restrained flourishes.

Indian female directors occasionally attempt to defy this notion, producing films that are either incisively witty or absolutely ridiculous. Consider Sai Paranjpye’s cult classic Chashme Buddoor, which features a trio of feckless college boys trying to woo a woman. Gauri Shinde’s English Vinglish retains comic moments even as it addresses the subtle but constant shaming that Indian housewives endure from their husbands and children. On the other hand, Farah Khan’s commercially successful films Main Hoon Na and Happy New Year completely abandon logic in their quest for humour.

As female directors start the tedious process of breaking the glass ceiling in Indian cinema, their work is gradually attracting attention. The Mumbai Film Festival’s 2016 edition has instituted a new award for the Best Indian Female Filmmaker. The need of an award that is marked with gender offers a painful reminder that movies made by women are still considered deviations from the norm.

But the few women who have made a place for themselves behind the camera are narrating diverse, vivid and compelling stories. And if cinema enthusiasts decide to engage with at least 52 of these narratives, they will get the audience they deserve.

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‘Dil Dhadakne Do’ by Zoya Akhtar.
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Behind the garb of wealth and success, white collar criminals are hiding in plain sight

Understanding the forces that motivate leaders to become fraudsters.

Most con artists are very easy to like; the ones that belong to the corporate society, even more so. The Jordan Belforts of the world are confident, sharp and can smooth-talk their way into convincing people to bend at their will. For years, Harshad Mehta, a practiced con-artist, employed all-of-the-above to earn the sobriquet “big bull” on Dalaal Street. In 1992, the stockbroker used the pump and dump technique, explained later, to falsely inflate the Sensex from 1,194 points to 4,467. It was only after the scam that journalist Sucheta Dalal, acting on a tip-off, broke the story exposing how he fraudulently dipped into the banking system to finance a boom that manipulated the stock market.

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In her book ‘The confidence game’, Maria Konnikova observes that con artists are expert storytellers - “When a story is plausible, we often assume it’s true.” Harshad Mehta’s story was an endearing rags-to-riches tale in which an insurance agent turned stockbroker flourished based on his skill and knowledge of the market. For years, he gave hope to marketmen that they too could one day live in a 15,000 sq.ft. posh apartment with a swimming pool in upmarket Worli.

One such marketman was Ketan Parekh who took over Dalaal Street after the arrest of Harshad Mehta. Ketan Parekh kept a low profile and broke character only to celebrate milestones such as reaching Rs. 100 crore in net worth, for which he threw a lavish bash with a star-studded guest-list to show off his wealth and connections. Ketan Parekh, a trainee in Harshad Mehta’s company, used the same infamous pump-and-dump scheme to make his riches. In that, he first used false bank documents to buy high stakes in shares that would inflate the stock prices of certain companies. The rise in stock prices lured in other institutional investors, further increasing the price of the stock. Once the price was high, Ketan dumped these stocks making huge profits and causing the stock market to take a tumble since it was propped up on misleading share prices. Ketan Parekh was later implicated in the 2001 securities scam and is serving a 14-years SEBI ban. The tactics employed by Harshad Mehta and Ketan Parekh were similar, in that they found a loophole in the system and took advantage of it to accumulate an obscene amount of wealth.

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Call it greed, addiction or smarts, the 1992 and 2001 Securities Scams, for the first time, revealed the magnitude of white collar crimes in India. To fill the gaps exposed through these scams, the Securities Laws Act 1995 widened SEBI’s jurisdiction and allowed it to regulate depositories, FIIs, venture capital funds and credit-rating agencies. SEBI further received greater autonomy to penalise capital market violations with a fine of Rs 10 lakhs.

Despite an empowered regulatory body, the next white-collar crime struck India’s capital market with a massive blow. In a confession letter, Ramalinga Raju, ex-chairman of Satyam Computers convicted of criminal conspiracy and financial fraud, disclosed that Satyam’s balance sheets were cooked up to show an excess of revenues amounting to Rs. 7,000 crore. This accounting fraud allowed the chairman to keep the share prices of the company high. The deception, once revealed to unsuspecting board members and shareholders, made the company’s stock prices crash, with the investors losing as much as Rs. 14,000 crores. The crash of India’s fourth largest software services company is often likened to the bankruptcy of Enron - both companies achieved dizzying heights but collapsed to the ground taking their shareholders with them. Ramalinga Raju wrote in his letter “it was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten”, implying that even after the realisation of consequences of the crime, it was impossible for him to rectify it.

It is theorised that white-collar crimes like these are highly rationalised. The motivation for the crime can be linked to the strain theory developed by Robert K Merton who stated that society puts pressure on individuals to achieve socially accepted goals (the importance of money, social status etc.). Not having the means to achieve those goals leads individuals to commit crimes.

Take the case of the executive who spent nine years in McKinsey as managing director and thereafter on the corporate and non-profit boards of Goldman Sachs, Procter & Gamble, American Airlines, and Harvard Business School. Rajat Gupta was a figure of success. Furthermore, his commitment to philanthropy added an additional layer of credibility to his image. He created the American India Foundation which brought in millions of dollars in philanthropic contributions from NRIs to development programs across the country. Rajat Gupta’s descent started during the investigation on Raj Rajaratnam, a Sri-Lankan hedge fund manager accused of insider trading. Convicted for leaking confidential information about Warren Buffet’s sizeable investment plans for Goldman Sachs to Raj Rajaratnam, Rajat Gupta was found guilty of conspiracy and three counts of securities fraud. Safe to say, Mr. Gupta’s philanthropic work did not sway the jury.

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The people discussed above have one thing in common - each one of them was well respected and celebrated for their industry prowess and social standing, but got sucked down a path of non-violent crime. The question remains - Why are individuals at successful positions willing to risk it all? The book Why They Do It: Inside the mind of the White-Collar Criminal based on a research by Eugene Soltes reveals a startling insight. Soltes spoke to fifty white collar criminals to understand their motivations behind the crimes. Like most of us, Soltes expected the workings of a calculated and greedy mind behind the crimes, something that could separate them from regular people. However, the results were surprisingly unnerving. According to the research, most of the executives who committed crimes made decisions the way we all do–on the basis of their intuitions and gut feelings. They often didn’t realise the consequences of their action and got caught in the flow of making more money.

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The arena of white collar crimes is full of commanding players with large and complex personalities. Billions, starring Damien Lewis and Paul Giamatti, captures the undercurrents of Wall Street and delivers a high-octane ‘ruthless attorney vs wealthy kingpin’ drama. The show looks at the fine line between success and fraud in the stock market. Bobby Axelrod, the hedge fund kingpin, skilfully walks on this fine line like a tightrope walker, making it difficult for Chuck Rhoades, a US attorney, to build a case against him.

If financial drama is your thing, then block your weekend for Billions. You can catch it on Hotstar Premium, a platform that offers a wide collection of popular and Emmy-winning shows such as Game of Thrones, Modern Family and This Is Us, in addition to live sports coverage, and movies. To subscribe, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.