FILMFEST: Canadian festival shines spotlight on Indian women directors

Aamir Khan stars as Arun in Dhobi Ghat. Submitted photo


India is known internationally for its extravagant cinema productions, but a wealth of quality films exist outside the country’s celebrity-fuelled Bollywood culture.

A film festival currently underway at the University of Saskatchewan celebrates these somewhat lesser known films during free weekly screenings in the arts tower. All the films are directed by women. Provided to the university by the High Commission of India in Canada, the Festival of Women Directed Films from India ends Nov. 25.

Satya Sharma, associate professor of anthropology at the U of S, says the films are all outstanding.

“(They are) serious films dealing with realistic situations – portraying the life of women, corruption in government, personal relationships and often with oppression or poverty in the background.”

All but one of the six films is in Hindi, India’s main language. The other is in Marathi and all have English subtitles. Sharma says there are many examples of regional cinema productions in India, apart from the Bollywood film industry in Mumbai. In the early 1970s a new wave of cinema started in India, known as art cinema. In stark contrast to Bollywood movies, independent female directors began making a name for themselves with thought provoking work.

“Some imminent women took the lead there and what we have in the festival is the work of six different women directors,” explains Sharma.

One of these films, Dhobi Ghat, is an unusual romance story set in one of Mumbai’s poorest areas. The film portrays the different social situations in India and why caste still constrains so many people. A famous Bollywood actor named Aamir Khan received international acclaim for his role and created a stir throughout India about the issues raised in Dhobi Ghat.

Sharma says understanding India’s culture is increasingly more important, as its economy grows and more people are travelling there.

“We live in a global world. India and China have become big actors in this global world. India’s economy is among the 10 strongest economies in the world. India is one of the biggest clients of Potash (Corp) and of many agricultural products from Saskatchewan.”

He hopes the festival’s films will encourage people to move away from stereotypical images of the country.

“People portray India either in totally black worlds or totally white; a glamorous world with rich people or a country full of poverty.”

Both are a reality in India, but as a tourist one may never travel to the rural areas and villages where two-thirds of the country’s population lives. Sharma says many of the films at the U of S festival show a rural ethos, which is quite different from the culture in the cities.

Women’s status in India is improving, albeit slowly. The film industry was traditionally male-dominated and most of the films were male-orientated. Sharma says women directors are becoming more common, along with movies that deal with women’s issues. He feels this is an indicator of change for the country.

“Women provide a very different kind of sensitivity and portrayal of culture that often male directors miss.”

A Festival of Women Directed Films from India is held each Sunday at 2 p.m. in 241 Arts on the U of S campus, from Nov. 11 to Nov. 25.



A 2002 Marathi language film directed by Sumitra Bhave and Sunil Sukthankar. It deals with the guardian spirit of the house.


A 2004 Bollywood movie directed by South Indian actress Revathi, which deals with the issue of AIDS.


A 2010 Indian-Hindi drama film directed by Kiran Rao in her directorial debut. It’s an unusual story of romance in a very poor part of Mumbai.


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