Television

Women in the picture - International Women's Day

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On International Women‘s Day, indiantelevision.com goes behind the small screen to check out life in the television industry as seen by women professionals.

The women of grit on television in India are all behind the screen.

On screen, they simper and sob, plot and pamper, whine and weep. Whether in serials or in advertisements, the woman is the one that‘s exploited or waiting to be. But the women who appear only fleetingly in credits at the end of shows are the ones who seem to be made of sterner stuff. They have made it to the top of their organizations by dint of sheer hard work, creativity and patience in a field that‘s dominated by the Y chromosome. Unlike in the US, where three of the top networks today boast of women bosses, the Indian television industry is still in the patriarchal age, but then, there are these few who have made a dent.



Indian television could well be completely women-dominated in five years‘ time: Anuradha Prasad

As BAG films promoter Anuradha Prasad optimistically points out, NDTV, Balaji, UTV and Synergy are just some successful software houses that are actually being run by women. The television channels are yet to catch on though. The top slots in broadcasting companies are all filled by men, although you may have the odd woman at the helm of departments in some organizations. It‘s a tough climb to the top though.

Anita Kaul Basu, the brain behind Synergy Communications rightly points out that the mindset at channels, although unspoken, is very often not very sympathetic to women professionals. Sony‘s on air programming director Anupama Mandloi is one of the younger breed who flowered into her profession in the liberalized 90s and consequently says it‘s been a smooth ride to her current position. "I have never witnessed any gender bias in the organization. In this field, your work speaks for you. So to excel you need to put in your best."

But that could be a scene restricted to more liberalized metros. Says Tamara Nedungadi, who is directing the offbeat Kittie Party for Zee, "I have been in the profession, believed to be a man‘s domain for 12 years now. I have never faced any problems and have never been discriminated against, not in Mumbai at least. I guess that‘s because of the cosmopolitan culture that prevails out here. However, I did face some problem in the South where it does become kind of difficult to get the cooperation of male crew members."



Women on television are not the kind of women you would find working behind television:Anupama Mandloi

Agrees SABe TV Creative supervisor Shubhra Shandilya, "I guess we are moving into an era where the major emphasis lies on what you have to offer to the organization regardless of your gender."

SABe is one of the few channels that has stayed away from the standard soap and has concentrated instead on comedy, in which women are often shown as go getters, be it a Kavita Kapoor juggling between office and home in Yes Boss, an Ushaji of Office Office or a Sushmita Mukherjee in Public Hai Sab Jaanti Hai.

The mainstream channels on the other hand have women either warring with the mother-in-law or plotting to win someone‘s husband, or playing the cringing wife to the hilt.

Admits Mandloi, "That‘s not the kind of women you would find working behind the scenes in television. They‘re the kind of women who work far better as characters on television with their strengths, their values and so on. Very few working women are shown on television. Actually, the women on television and the women behind television are two different entities."

This, despite the fact that there is an army of creative young women working on scripts and sets of serials, apart from the production departments of channels.

In the final analysis, it is the portrayal of women that appeals to audiences that dominates. As Kaul says, "It‘s a dearth of ideas. Either they go over the top, portraying women as archetypal vamps, or they are projected as docile doormats. There‘s no middle ground."



The only thing I object to is that women are never shown as taking a stance:Tamara Nedungadi

Adds Tamara, "It is a fact that all serials don‘t cater to all people. However , the only thing I object to is that women are never shown as taking a stance. They are never shown taking decisions. The decisions taken by them are usually determined by either her husband or in-laws."

Prasad begs to differ on this one, though. The dynamic journalist turned producer says it‘s a catharsis time for Indian television. For every soap, there‘s a stark reality show like Haqeeqat or even the daily news.

"Have you noticed that half the news channels are filled with women?" she asks. Prasad strikes a positive note by saying that Indian television could well be completely women-dominated in five years‘ time. Kaul thinks alike. "Women at the helm of matters are often much more together. They can successfully handle a multiplicity of roles that men sometimes can‘t."

Despite this, both shows and advertisements continue to be loaded in favour of men. HLL‘s Fair and Lovely has just been pulled off air following a protest by the All India Democratic Women‘s Association, but several continue to be displayed unabashedly.

LIC plugs its product as investment for the daughter‘s marriage, and ICICI promotes the protection of the wife. The rare man doing the washing of the house is an exception that proves the rule. Needless to say, most Indian ads are made by men. The ACP apple juice ad may be a classic case of surrogate advertising, but it also smacks of chauvinism.

With information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad now promising to look into the issue, more ads are bound to come under the magnifying glass.

It may have been a slow ride for women in the Indian television industry, but it‘s a forward ride nevertheless. Reminisces Prasad, "When I started out making videos for Eyewitness, there was no satellite TV and no girls in the business. We were a bunch of brash, jeans wearing female journalists who learned the tricks of the trade and stole a march over most seniors. It‘s all a matter of adapting fast, a skill women possess!"



It hurts to see women being portrayed as 19th century relics or objects in a marketplace: Anita Kaul Basu

Agrees Shai Venkatraman, NDTV Mumbai bureau chief, "When I started out as a TV journalist, there were not many women in this field. But now, the scene is totally different. We need more women on board. Due to the odd working hours, my mother always told me it was not the right profession, she still says so. The field is such that it is arduous both physically and mentally, but at the end of the day, it‘s entirely up to the individual. As women, we need to stop pressurising ourselves, which I guess is possible if you have support on the home front."

Kaul would agree. She says though the career moves have not exactly been an obstacle race, it is the juggling between work and home that requires the greatest of skills. Which is why it hurts to see women being portrayed as 19th century relics or objects in a marketplace.

Venkatraman too, hates the way women are portrayed on television, especially the ads where women are shown as mere objects. "There are successful women, by which I am not referring to the ones which are talked about in the media, but women in the slums who do so much but are unnoticed."

For every Ektaa Kapoor who clawed her way up to success to a Ravina Raj Kohli who has proved her mettle enough to be named head of Star News to a Lynn DeSouza who has returned to head Initiative Media to an Apurva Purohit who heads Zee TV, there are still several at the lower rungs waiting for their share of the limelight.

On this day, we raise a toast to Anuradha Prasad‘s hope that five years from now, it will be a different story on television altogether. Amen!

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