For the longest time, Farah Khan tried to shirk off the gendered woman-filmmaker tag and she had her reasons. She hadn’t experienced the segregation that other women filmmakers, who were mostly making women-oriented films, been facing. However, that changed following the success of “Happy New Year”.
Nandita Dutta, in her debut book, “F Rated: Being a Woman Filmmaker in India”, published by HarperCollins, details Farah’s change in perception. In a chapter titled “A female director with a male gaze: It’s complicated”, Dutta talks to Farah about what changed overnight.
Farah was the undisputed queen of the box office, giving one hit after another – from “Main Hoon Na” to “Om Shanti Om” till “Tees Maar Khan”- the Akshay Kumar-Katrina Kaif-starrer - flopped and she sat back to review her body of work. She bounced back with “Happy New Year” – making it to the male-dominated then Rs 200 crore club. While she was happy at the tremendous success what struck her was the insecurity of the film fraternity. She didn’t receive any calls from the powers that be congratulating her on her success - and her long-standing perception of Bollywood being fair and not gendered changed.
“The leading male actors didn’t bother to pick up the phone and congratulate me, something they were doing earlier. It’s all good when they are patronising you, but when you become a threat to them…” Farah told Dutta, leaving the sentence unfinished.
“I want to tell those boys (Rs 200 crore plus club)…that we (women) really don’t want to be in their club. It must be a really boring, egotistic club to be in.”
Farah, who likes making larger-than-life, formulaic and popular films says she doesn’t want to defend her choice of making a movie with five guys in it.
After reigning over Bollywood for over a decade as a top choreographer, Farah made her directorial debut with “Main Hoon Na” in 2004. The campus drama rode on action, family drama, comedy, patriotism and Farah’s fondness for song and dance – all crucial ingredients of a Bollywood potboiler.
“I didn’t have a choice between making an issue-based film or a commercial film…Even as a child, I would rather watch an ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’ than a ‘Kabhi Kabhie’…So I wanted to make an action film, which was breezy and funny, with Shah Rukh Khan. You can only make the film that’s in you.”
Dutta writes that Farah opened Bollywood’s eyes to the possibility that women could handle big productions and direct massive entertainers, a territory unchartered by any woman director in India prior to her.
Often Shah Rukh Khan is seen kick-starting Farah’s career as a director. However, Dutta writes, the truth lies somewhere in between.
“I had lots of offers to direct films even before Shah Rukh came into the picture…they would see me in command on the sets…I would save their money, I would finish the songs on time, and the stars would behave themselves with me,” says Farah.
She reveals that Salman Khan had offered to act in “Main Hoon Na” but Farah wanted Shah Rukh Khan as they had a great working relationship.
Credited for introducing item songs – think “Munni Badnaam Hui” and “Sheila ki Jawaani” – Farah says, “I don’t think I have ever crossed the line…How you shoot an item song depends on what your intention is…(in my songs) there is no sexual exploitation which might be a possibility with certain male directors.”
However, Farah is proud of playing a balancing role of sorts by objectifying the male body too. She cites the case of Shah Rukh Khan in “Dard-e-Disco” (“Om Shanti Om”) flashing six-pack abs hinged on precariously low jeans. Farah calls it her gift to all female fans of the star!
Farah’s swearing on the sets is legendary. She says she is trying to cut down on it, not because a woman should not swear but because her triplets should not pick up the habit. In her characteristic tongue-in-cheek response, she tells Dutta, “I don’t smoke, drink, so drugs or even have affairs. If I don’t even swear, I should be put in a shrine and sanctified.”
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