Women in Media – 5 Individuals Who Made It Big Despite All Odds – Part I

The shift of India’s national policy away from state-dominated broadcasting in the 1990s led to a boom in the television, media, and print sectors. You can multiply that manifold when you take into account the internet explosion of the 2000s.

Despite the fact that the market has expanded to employ more people, women are still underrepresented in media houses and newsrooms across the country.

According to a detailed report published by the International Women’s Media Fund (IWMF) carried out in 2010, the ratio of female journalists to their male counterparts was 1:4.

India is a pluralistic and multicultural society with 2 lingua francas (English and Hindi) in addition to 20 other official languages. The opportunity for women to find their place within these parameters is ripe. Seamedu School of Pro-Expressionism has taken this opportunity to highlight a few stories of women who have pursued their passion and stood firm in this male-dominated domain. Read on!

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1. Homai Vyarawalla

Not many people know about the first woman photojournalist in India. At a time when few women had the privilege of a decent education (let alone employment), Homai Vyarawalla carted around her 2.5 kg camera, documenting a nation in flux. ‘Dalda 13’ as was her codename in photo-archives was educated first at Bombay University and then the J. J. School of Arts. She featured in the Bombay Chronicle and Illustrated Weekly of India before she worked for the British High Commission. After the death of her husband in 1970, Homai Vyarawalla quit her career as a photojournalist and has never picked up a camera since. But her contribution to the field lives on through her outstanding work.

2. Sooni Taraporevala

Sooni Taraporevala is one of those powerhouse women who walk down the unbeaten path with a machete, hacking away at barriers and misconceptions about women in media every step of the way. She’s had a strong training in filmmaking and cinema studies but it was behind a still camera that Sooni began her career. Her work documenting the Parsi community has been exhibited in galleries and notable museums all across the globe. In addition to being an accomplished photographer, Sooni has written many a screenplay. Her work includes her own directorial debut Little Zizou (2008), and collaborations with Mira Nair such as the Oscar nominated Salaam Bombay (1988) and the adaptation to Jhumpa Lahiri’s Pulitzer Prize winning The Namesake (2006).

3. Anjali Shukla

As of January 2017 there has been only one woman to have ever won a National Award for Best Cinematography – Anjali Shukla. Upon graduating from the FTII, Pune, she began her career as a cinematographer’s apprentice. Proving that women can do the heavy lifting required on the job, Anjali rose up the ranks quickly. She won the National Award for her very first film, Kutty Srank (2009), and continues to be a role model for women who want to break into cinematography. The number of women cinematographers is on the rise in India.

4. Nitya Mehra

There is a growing list of female directors in the Indian film and television industry. Nitya’s journey to her directorial debut began as an Assistant Director in Bollywood. She worked on small indie films such as Little Zizou (2008) under Sooni Taraporevala as well as large-scale productions such as Ang Lee’s Academy Award winning movie Life of Pi (2012). Nitya Mehra added her name to the list of female directors with her concept drama Baar Baar Dekho (2016). Her move from an assistant to a director in her own right happened through the world of ad-films and television.

5. Sneha Khanwalkar

If you thought being a female cinematographer was a lonely spot then think about what it’s like for Sneha Khanwalkar, one of only a handful of women who currently work composing original music for Bollywood. Here it is necessary to make the distinction between songwriters who are women and women who are tasked with breathing life into the film through its background score. Sneha Khanwalkar comes from a family of musicians from the Gwalior gharana. It took a while for Sneha to find her place in the world of media, starting as an animator and working in art direction before realizing her true calling. Sneha’s has more than a dozen films under her belt including Gangs of Wasseypur (2012) for which she was nominated for a Filmfare award. This eclectic musician / producer was also the host of MTV’s acclaimed Sound Trippin.

With multimedia tools available so easily, it seems like just about anyone with a camera or a microphone attached to a computer claims to be a photographer or a producer. However, it takes a time, effort, and practice to really hone your craft. Seamedu offers cinematography courses if your calling is to capture the world in moving colour and photography courses for those who strive to memorialize the perfect moment in time. There are also short filmmaking courses for those with grand aspirations to direct their own work.

India has adopted strong policies towards encouraging the extent to which women enter the workforce. Unfortunately, given the imbalance of gender in the media it helps leaps and bounds to have a strong foundation. With the tools you can learn in mass media courses here at Seamedu, the scales are yours to tip in your favour.

In part II, we will bring to you parallel success stories of women from Seamedu who made it big despite all odds. Keep an eye on this space!

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