‘Female author’, ‘female director’, ‘female boss’ – these are certain phrases that we quite shamelessly use to qualify women who have done remarkably well in their lives in a profession which had typically been associated with the male gender. For example, you would never hear somebody talk about a ‘female dancer’ or a ‘female caregiver’, since these are professions that are anyway associated with feminine traits, and therefore, it is meant without being explicitly stated that a caregiver or a dancer would be a woman, and not a man. Sounds tragic, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, this is the kind of discrimination that has been inflicted on both genders by ‘patriarchy’ – a system which has a exerted a stranglehold on human beings since the very beginning of civilisation.
So, at a time when we are just about getting used to the idea of ‘female doctors’ or even ‘female authors’, here we are curating a list of homegrown female cinematographers, who have done phenomenal work in Indian cinema. Despite the Indian entertainment industry being a space where thousands of films and advertisements are produced every year, only five to seven women make it to the list of top 100 cinematographers each year. It can be attributed to the same sexist attitudes in the Indian film industry as there are in the day-to-day life of a woman in our society. It is time for an upheaval and a change, to mark the beginning of a day when there won’t be a female doctor, a female boss or a female cinematographer, but rather doctors, bosses and cinematographers who just happened to be women.
Until that happens, here’s a list of some of the most brilliant cinematographers in India, who happen to be women. Take a look!
I. Fowzia Fathima
Fowzia Fathima is an Indian film cinematographer and director, known for her cinematography on feature films such as Mitr, My Friend, Gulumaal: The Escape and Uyir. She is an intuitive practitioner of Cinematography across media technologies, a hands-on academic with an eye trained in history of art practices, along with having a wide range of experiences in Film Production and Teaching in contemporary cinema based in India.
Fowzia Fathima, an alumnus of Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) has also worked as professor and Head of Department of Cinematography at SRFTI and has directed the short film, Infected that was also screened at Busan International Film Festival. Fowzia is also a part of the Indian Women Cinematographers’ Collective’, which has connected most many female cinematographers in the country today.
II. Deepti Gupta
Deepti Gupta is a Filmmaker and Cinematographer living in Mumbai, India.
She graduated in cinematography from Film and TV Institute of India (FTII) in 1998 where she discovered her love for art house cinema and documentary. Among over a dozen documentaries she has shot, ‘Laxmi and Me’ (Nominee Silver Wolf IDFA 2007) received global recognition. In the last 20 years, she has shot feature films that straddle the commercial Bollywood idiom (Honeymoon travels Pvt. Ltd) and the Global Art house (‘The Fakir of Venice’, ‘Ranu’). She has also shot commercials for major brands in and India and abroad.
In the world of directing, she has made a select few music videos for independent artists in India.
‘Shut Up Sona’ was her first feature documentary which premiered at MAMI, Mumbai in October 2019 and received a Film Critics Guild Jury Special Mention for gender sensitivity.
III. Priya Seth
Priya Seth is an Indian cinematographer, best known for her work in Indian feature films, advertisements, and underwater filming and photography. She is among a handful of women cinematographers currently working in Indian mainstream cinema.
Born in Amritsar, India, she was educated at Cathedral and John Connon School and Welham Girls’ School, a boarding school in Dehradun. After school, she pursued a degree in Economics at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai and then later went on to do a six-month film-making course at New York University, Tisch School of the Arts.
She has worked as a clapper and an assistant cameraman on Deepa Mehta’s 1998 film, Earth, followed by Jane Campion’s Holy Smoke!. After that, she worked on diverse projects such as music videos and commercials for FMCG brands, before returning to the cinema industry. Seth is a trained scuba diver and is known for her expertise in her underwater filming and photography. She has been the underwater DoP for Bollywood films like Dhobi Ghat and Mardaani 2. Seth’s first solo feature film project was the indie Barah Aana, directed by Raja Krishna Menon and starring Naseeruddin Shah. She reunited with Menon on his 2016 Historical drama film, Airlift, starring Akshay Kumar and Nimrat Kaur. The film was noted for its bold, raw, and tense camerawork depicting the real events on which the film was based. She then worked on the Saif Ali Khan starring Chef, an official remake of the 2014 Hollywood film. In 2018, Seth shot the Season 2 of Zee5 web series Karenjit Kaur – The Untold Story of Sunny Leone, a show based on the life of former porn star-turned-actor Sunny Leone.
IV. Savita Singh
Savita Singh is a Cinematographer and Film maker based in Mumbai, India.
A 2007 Cinematography graduate, from the Film and Television Institute of India, Savita Singh, in her last eleven years in the film industry has worked with varying visual styles and formats.
Her journey began with her graduation film, Kramasha To be continued (2007). The short film, shot on the dying 35 mm format, established her as a fine craftsman and a virtuoso, and helped her bag a National Award for Best Cinematography (2009) in the Non-feature category for the same, making her the first woman cinematographer to receive the National Award.
Singh was selected as a scholar for the prestigious Budapest cinematography masterclass and had the great opportunity to learn under the guidance of master cinematographer, Vilmos Zsigmond. She was also declared the Indian Winner (2007) for the prestigious Kodak Film School Competition. Her work has garnered applause from the likes of Jonathan Rosanbaum, a revered film critic. Her graduation film was also voted as one of the best films in the Senses of Cinema poll in 2007. Awarded with the Golden Conch for Best Film at the Mumbai International Film Festival, 2008 and the Critic’s Award at the Oberhausen Film Festival, Singh’s first work in hindsight, probably led her to so quickly rise in the fragmented Indian industry.
Singh has shot feature films of diverse genres such as ‘Phoonk’ (Director Ram Gopal Verma/2008/ Horror), ‘404: Error Not Found (Director Prawaal Raman/2011/ psychological drama), ‘Dhoosar’ (Director Amol Palekar/ 2009/Drama), Hawaizaada (2011, Period Drama) and Ventilator ( Director Rajesh Mapuskar/ 2016/ comedy-drama).
V. Anjuli Shukla
Anjuli Shukla is an Indian cinematographer and film director, known for her debut film, Kutty Srank, which won her the National Film Award For Best Cinematography in 2010. An alumnus of the Film and Television Institute of India, Shukla started her career as an assistant to cinematographer and director Santosh Sivan before making her feature film debut.
Even though she was born into a family that was not related to the film industry at all, she was interested in films right from her childhood. After graduating from the University of Lucknow, she decided to join the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) to do a course in cinematography. Shukla’s diploma film at the FTII was premiered at the competition section of the Cameraimage Film Festival. Upon completing her course at the FTII, she joined Santosh Sivan as an apprentice and went on to assist him in various films including two Hollywood Productions – The Mistress of Spices and Before the Rains. She was the second unit camerawoman for Mani Ratnam’s Tamil–Hindi bilingual films Raavan and Raavanan (2010). After her National Award winning Kutty Srank, she joined Santosh Sivan for Urumi, a period drama.
VI. Archana Borhade
Archana Borhade is an Indian cinematographer, director and writer, who won the Maharashtra State Award for Best Cinematography 2018 for the Marathi feature film ‘Idak’; an idyllic fable of a village simpleton whose life changes as he embarks on a road trip with a goat. Archana used to be a SAP consultant at Wipro Technologies before she made a tectonic career shift to filmmaking in late 2007. Since 2012, she has shot several commercials, corporate films, shorts and music videos as an independent Director of Photography. She has also shot and directed several short documentaries for PepsiCo and CARE, India, The Akhandjyoti Project, Singapore International Foundation (SIF), Our Better World (OBW), Ashoka – Innovators for the Public, Voice4Girls and Cochlear, Australia. As and when the idea strikes and the resources permit her, she writes, produces and directs short films and commercials. Her first short film, In Denial (2010) was much appreciated while her second short, The Essay(2011) won the Jury award at Gorbatschow Vodka Shorts Festival.
In 2014, she started her own independent production house, Nine Archers Picture Company. The company’s first production – Bhopal Diaries 2012, a short film chronicling the illegal drug trials conducted in Bhopal won numerous awards for Best Director, Best Story, Best Screenplay and was chosen for film festival screenings in Australia, China, US and Germany.
She was the Director of Photography on the Marathi feature film ‘Phuntroo’, released in March 2016, which won her rave reviews for her cinematographic skills. Next she shot the cineplay ‘Baaki Itihaas’ directed by Nikhil Mahajan followed by ‘Idak’ by Deepak Gawade and ‘Ek Nirnay’ by Shrirang Deshmukh.
VII. Durga Chitrak
Durga Chitrak is a cinematographer based in Mumbai. She specialised in Cinematography from Satyajit Ray Film & Television Institute, Kolkata (SRFTI). She has assisted on commercials and feature films like ‘Newton’, ‘Bhavesh Joshi Superhero’ to name a few. She has also worked as a second unit cinematographer on the film ‘Manmarziya’ and as additional cinematographer on web series ‘Rangbaaz’.
Being from a creative family of parents as artist, the appreciation & passion for beautiful visuals through any medium is ingrained in her.
She enjoys shooting both fiction & non-fiction. The never-ending process of exploring more about light, movement, emotions, styles etc. through this medium of art fascinates her and she hopes to keep on learning more while working.
VIII. Vatsala Goel
Vatsala is deeply influenced by music, light, movement and slice of life stories. She likes to collaborate with the director and production design team early on to craft highly stylized images. She has a solid foundation in carrying the image from preproduction to the screen in modern digital workflows & films comfortably on any cinema camera.
“Aggie” a documentary feature film she co-DP’d premiered at Sundance Film Festival, 2020. In 2019, she DP’d the short film “Blood and Glory” which won the grand jury prize at WIM’s Camaraderie Competition. Also in 2019, 3 of her films premiered at Tribeca film festival – Chromosome 19, A Tale of Two Kitchens and Snaggletooth. In 2018, a PSA she shot in response to the Kavanaugh hearing was featured on ABC News Network. Her film, The Train Leaves at Four was on NFDC Film Bazaar “Viewing Room” list in 2015 and premiered in the “India Story” section at MAMI film festival.
Recently she has shot for CBS Primetime show 48 Hours, Netflix Originals, Tribeca Studios, Aubin Pictures, 23andme, 212Berlin working with Emmy nominated and Guggenheim awarded directors on feature films.
She has lectured as adjunct faculty of Cinematography at the School of Cinema, SFSU and served as photography mentor for Bay Area youth at First Exposures. She graduated with an M.F.A. in cinematography from FTII, India where she trained primarily on 35 and 16 mm film and a B.A. in English literature from Calcutta University.
IX. Sunayana Singh
Sunayana Singh is a post graduate from Film & Television Institute of India, Pune. She practises Cinematography and has shot several fiction, non-fiction, and experimental projects with indie filmmakers, artists, curators, musicians, performers and various organizations.
During her institute years she received the ‘Excellence in Cinematography’ award at the ‘Cut In’ Students Film Festival at TISS, Mumbai for a NID diploma film “Tanna Banna”. After graduating she has worked on various films. Amongst it is a fiction film inspired by the short fictions of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Sea Of Lost Time brings together diverse characters in a imaginary space. A Diploma film for acting students in FTII. The film premiered as part of the official selection at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, 2019.
Also a short film ‘Infiltrator’ as a part of a omnibus of 10 short films by directors from 10 countries called “In the same Garden’. Its world premiere was at Sarajevo Film Festival 2016. Indian Premier was in MAMI (Mumbai Film Festival 2016)
Her interest lies in bringing together film making and design by collaborating with artists, artisans and designers specializing in folk embroideries, textiles and traditional block printing techniques. She has directed and shot a series of short videos on the works of a designer who specializes in Sujani embroidery and one who works extensively with hand woven chanderi fabrics. She will continue to Document these processes, methods and techniques used to re-inventing the application of traditional textile practices.
X. Juhi Sharma
Juhu Sharma is an NYC and Chennai-based filmmaker working in documentaries, fiction films, music videos and branded content. She has an MFA in Cinematography from LV Prasad Film & TV Institute, Chennai and is in partial completion of an MFA in Direction from Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema, NYC.
She is most interested in telling stories of India’s women and children and her focus drives her to understand the universal thread of emotion that unites us all, irrespective of the boundaries society has placed on us.
With work panning across 6 years, she has been a part of over 50 films as a cinematographer and is currently building her reel as a director with 5 shorts under her belt. Her work in documentary and AD films has taken her to UAE, England and United States apart from India. As a DP, her film Walk of Fame, with Dir. Blaine Morris premiered at the Oscar Qualifying NY Shorts International Film Festival and has traveled to festivals in the US and Abroad. Her directorial debut, Skinny Love premiered at the Alternative Film Festival in Toronto and was the Official Selection at the Newark International Film Festival and Adirondack International Film Festival amongst others. Her diploma film, Podhum Ponnu, won her Best Cinematography in the International Section at the AMU International Film Festival. She is currently working on her debut feature documentary The Vinyl Records: Destroy Phallus Oppression as the DP and Co-Director. The film, while still in production, has been pitched at prestigious documentary festival Meet Markets including Australian International Documentary Conference (Australia), Sheffield DocFest (England) and Dok Leipzig (Germany).
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