Historically, a large number of actors have turned captains of their ship with varied results. Some have earned a fresh batch of respectability (Ben Affleck), blockbuster success (Jon Favreau) and some are undeniable in their vision (Mel Gibson). Very few female actors have completed the conversion, barring an Angelina Jolie or a Jodie Foster.
In comparison, the Hindi film industry has just as dismal figures. There are few female directors and even fewer actresses who have made their own films. However, the few that have released their films have done it well enough to make us hungry for more. There is a different treatment, sensibility and outlook that women bring to cinema. We can only hope that there are more that join the bandwagon as time passes by.
On that note, here are a few female actors-turned-directors whose work is creative, bold and inspiring.
After working in over 40 films with auteurs like Deepa Mehta (Fire and Earth), Mani Ratnam (Kannathil Muthamittal), Shyam Benegal (Hari-Bhari) and Mrinal Sen (Aamar Bhuvan), Nandita Das decided to helm her own directorial debut with Firaaq. Released in 2008, the film more than displayed Das’ prowess as a director. The ensemble film was an anthology of short stories based on the 2002 Gujarat riots. As difficult as it is to tackle a subject of this kind, Firaaq proved Das’ willingness to make films on topical issues of importance.
The film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and won more than 20 awards including two National Awards for Best Art Direction and Best Editing. Her latest film, Manto is generating a big buzz. Based on the life of writer Siyah Hasan Manto, the film stars Nawazuddin Siddiqui in the titular role. The poster for the film was released at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. With the kind of talent the film has in the form of Siddiqui and the great feedback on the rushes, we wish the anticipation for this one ends quickly.
A well-known actor, Aparna Sen began her illustrious career as a director way back in 1981. However, using her talents judiciously, she has directed only 13 films in three decades and one telefilm. When she does direct, one can be sure of the quality of the output. Her first effort, 36 Chowringhee Lane won the National Award in 1981 for Best Director. Sati won the National Award for Best Original Screenplay and Yugant won the National Award for Best Bengali Film.
Sen has never shied away from the exploration of the complex. There is Mr. and Mrs. Iyer starring her daughter Konkona Sen Sharma and Rahul Bose in 2002 depicted Hindu-Muslim sectarian violence in the country. On the other hand, 15, Park Avenue dealt with the turmoils of schizophrenia and how it affected a relationship between two sisters played by Shabana Azmi and Konkona Sen Sharma. Often casting her own daughter, Sen has achieved the delicate rarely-found balance of commercial success and critical acclaim. Another common thread that runs through her films? Being a writer herself, Sen is sure to give full, rounded, characters to women who are the main protagonists in her films.
Even when she started as an ingénue in the late 70s, Deepti Naval along with her contemporaries Shabana Azmi and Smita Patil represented the women that led the movement in art house cinema. Naval quickly built a name for herself with films like‘Ek Baar Phir for which she won her first Best Actor award and Chashme Baddoor and Mirch Masala.
After having starred in close to 90 films, Naval made her directorial debut with Do Paise ki Dhoop, Chaar Aane ki Baarish starring Manisha Koirala and Rajit Kapur. The unconventional story of a relationship between an ageing prostitute and a failing lyricist was directly in path with the choices that Naval herself had made in her acting career. The film opened to a wonderful response at Cannes 2009. It was also awarded the Best Screenplay at the New York Indian Film Festival that year. However, the film did not receive a wide release. Naval also served as the director of a TV serial on women called Thoda sa Aasmaan. While we grow impatient waiting for a full-fledged feature film directed by her, it is safe to say that Naval chooses to march to the beat of her own drum.
Konkona Sen Sharma
The daughter of Aparna Sen, Konkona Sen Sharma has an acting career that chock-a-block with acclaimed parts. Her debut in film was alongside her mother in Titli, directed by Rituparno Ghosh. But recognition came only when she starred in Mr. and Mrs. Iyer for which she won the National Award for Best Actress. Success in mainstream Hindi film followed soon after, in Madhur Bhandarkar’s Page 3 in 2005. Regardless of whether she was in a Pradeep Sarkar film, Zoya Akhtar film or Ayan Mukherji film, Sen Sharma remained the most effortless person in it. Clearly, it wasn’t just parallel cinema that wanted a piece of her. Until last year, Sen Sharma had worked in Bengali, English and Hindi films prominently across genres with a plethora of directors. Her apparent ease in acting has brought her two National Awards in Mr. and Mrs. Iyer and Omkara and four Filmfare Awards.
As her acting career slowed, it seemed she was ready to embark on the second phase. Then came A Death in the Gunj, starring Vikrant Massey, Ranvir Shorey and Kalki Koechlin in 2017. The film won unanimous praise winning her Best Director prizes at Filmfare Awards, New York Indian Festival and 18th Jio MAMI Film Festival. A Death in the Gunj proved to be everything that Sen Sharma had come to be known for complexity, layers and assuredness. Her next venture called Scholarship starring Kalki is in pre-production. We can barely contain ourselves.
Are you aware of other women actor-turned-directors? Let us know in the comments below.
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