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‘Feminism Is Almost a Taboo,’ Say Indian Media Executives Ektaa Kapoor, Aparna Purohit

The Indian media industry is improving when it comes to women in significant positions but there is a way to go before gender parity is reached, a high-powered panel debated at Mumbai’s Frames conference.

The annual media industry conference is organized by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI). Aparna Purohit, head of India and Southeast Asia originals, Amazon Prime Video, talked about the early “tough days” when she started her journey. “From then to now has been a paradigm shift, just the number of women who are now in front of and behind the camera. It’s incredible. And I also want to acknowledge the role of streaming. It has really democratized the industry, the kinds of avenues and opportunities that have opened up, it’s just absolutely beautiful,” Purohit said.

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Purohit revealed that it is now mandatory for every Prime Video writers’ room to have at least one woman and that the streamer is now working towards getting at least 30% women as heads of departments across all of the service’s shows. However, Purohit quoted from a recent, damning Indian media industry study that found that out of the 131 CEO positions that exist in Indian media and entertainment, only 30% are occupied by women, and that out of the over 150 programs and films that the report studied, of the 750 heads of department positions only 12% were occupied by women. “So, we still have a long, long way to go,” Purohit said.

Emmy-winning producer Ektaa R. Kapoor, who commissions film and TV shows via her Balaji Telefilms, agreed with Purohit, saying that while there has been progress, it is still a “tough challenge.” Kapoor said that while there was a brief respite before COVID-19, post-pandemic, it has again become “difficult to make films about women.” She said it was easier to get “misogynistic,” “macho” films off the ground, while films celebrating womanhood or feminism are not welcomed. “The word ‘feminism’ is almost a taboo now.”

“We can sit in these English panels in five-star hotels, but we have to translate that into something actual, what all of us take back from this conversation,” said actor Richa Chadha, who turned producer with the Sundance-winning “Girls Will Be Girls.” Chadha provided the practical example of how the production broke the hegemony of all-male Indian gaffer crews by getting seasoned male lighting personnel to train the film’s team for intimate scenes involving the female cast. The trained women have gone on to prime positions in the Indian industry.

In terms of women having a positive impact, “everything changes when there is equal representation,” said Aradhana Bhola, MD, Fremantle India, adding that the 2023 season of the company’s “Indian Idol” format saw a felicitous equal male-female ratio among the six finalists.

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