Sometimes angry and scathing and other times gentle and funny, women in Hindi cinema are speaking out in a chorus of affirmation of their many-hued identities the gender prism is shifting thanks to women writers, filmmakers and, of course, audiences who are willing to pay to watch and listen.

While writer-filmmakers such as Sai Paranjype and Kalpana Lajmi in an earlier era changed the testosterone tonality of cinema at the time with films such as "Sparsh" and "Ek Pal", today's writers and filmmakers are using the medium to voice their opinions and aspirations and also to reflect contemporary society.

The first two months of 2020 saw the release of filmmaker Meghna Gulzar-Atika Chohan's "Chhapaak", "Panga" written by Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari and Nikhil Mehrohtra and "Thappad" penned by director Anubhav Sinha and Mrunmayee Lagoo Waikul, all mainstream Bollywood films with women writers on board.

While "Chhapaak", produced by Deepika Padukone who also stars in the film, deals with acid attack, Kangana Ranaut-starrer "Panga" is about a woman returning to work after marriage and motherhood and "Thappad" is a nuanced look at domestic abuse and a homemaker's (Taapsee Pannu) fight for her respect in the face of all odds.

It is the right time to tell stories that are inclusive, sensitive and gender neutral, believe women writers from the Hindi film industry. Mrunmayee hopes the success of "Thappad" makes things a bit "easier" when it comes to telling stories that come from her world.

"I don't know whether this is a shift, but if it is, then I'm very happy. I hope to write a lot of stories that come from my world, come from my being. They will probably now find a platform," Mrunmayee told PTI.

Scriptwriter Kanika Dhillon, who has written unapologetic and not-so-coy female characters in movies such as "Manmarziyaan" and "Judgementall Hai Kya", said women are not ok with "not being heard anymore".

"It's about time we move towards inclusivity and sharing the ownership and responsibilities with co-creators. The emphasis on good content and story telling is further empowering writers. Women voices have to be included because women are not ok with not being heard any more, be it at protests sites, as characters in a story or the creators creating them," she told PTI.
Kanika, who is reuniting with Taapsee for the thriller "Haseen Dillruba", believes the gender of writers should not reflect in the characters they create but the female gaze definitely gives a new dimension to the story.

"A new colour and a new perspective will be added when a woman writer tells about a character. A woman writing a woman will know she can't be boxed or she can't be a uni-dimensional figure. She has her own aspirations, dreams, ambitions and weaknesses like any male character.

"The testosterone in such portrayals is palpable sometimes so it is good to have the female gaze. Although, in an ideal world, a good writing piece is where you cannot tell the gender of the writer," she added.

From being a women-led arena in its initial days in the 1930s with frontrunners such as Fatima Begum, Jaddan Bai and Devika Rani, Bollywood turned into a predominantly male space in the 1950s, resulting in the Hindi film heroine mostly being reduced to a damsel in distress. This also led to lack of opportunities for women behind the camera.
The parallel cinema movement in the 1970s marked the return of working women on screen and had its fair share of female talent contributing to the technical aspect of filmmaking.
While the era saw the rise of women in the fields of choreography, art direction and writing, film direction remained a male domain.

This began to change in the 1980s with Paranjpye, Lajmi, Aparna Sen and Mira Nair turning to direction -- and giving refined and relatable portrayals of women on screen.
As the years passed, the involvement of women in filmmaking increased but, apart from a few exceptions, female characters again were mostly glorified props in a male narrative.
In the 2000s, things started to look up with filmmakers and writers like Meghna, Tanuja Chandra, Devika Bhagat, Bhavani Iyer and Juhi Chaturvedi bringing real, layered stories to the forefront.
The films were few, but their impact was huge as the work by these women writers gave a push to many more to come forward.

Juhi, the writer behind the wickedly funny "Vicky Donor", slice-of-life story "Piku" and the elegiac "October", said she does not like to categorise her stories from the lens of gender.
"'Chhapaak', 'Panga' and 'Thappad' came maybe because when things reach their peak, we can't deny them anymore... What is important is that a handful of people have started understanding or being sympathetic to space which ideally should be gender-neutral. Writing should be gender-neutral," she told PTI.
"I don't remember my gender all the time... An idea is bigger," she added.

With the discourse around gender equality in terms of space, pay and treatment evolving in the post #MeToo era, there is more attention to such stories.
Atika, Kanika and director Ruchi Narain have collaborated for "Guilty", an incisive look at the post #MeToo era.

The Netflix movie, starring Kiara Advani in the lead, touches upon various topics such as patriarchy, inherent biases and class divide through a campus-set rape allegation story.
"My urge to write and create comes with a feeling of protest. I have found my voice through anger. The articulation, the craft may have taken time but the need to say things out loud, things which need to be said, was lurking in me from the age of 12. I knew at that age that I had to protest," Atika told PTI in an earlier interview.