Filmmaker Alankrita Shrivastava Advocates for Diversity and Authentic Representation in Cinema

Shrivastava learned about making films at Jamia Milia Islamia in New Delhi and then went to Mumbai. She started as an assistant director for Prakash Jha.
Alankrita at the Rainbow Literature Festival in New Delhi.
Alankrita at the Rainbow Literature Festival in New Delhi.Pic-The Mooknayak

New Delhi-In the ever-evolving realm of cinema, the call for authentic representation and diverse storytelling resonates profoundly. Renowned filmmaker Alankrita Shrivastava passionately advocates for the empowerment of underrepresented voices, particularly in narratives involving Dalit protagonists. Her belief in the profound understanding that Dalit filmmakers bring to these stories prompts her to willingly pass the creative baton to individuals from the community.

The Mooknayak spoke to Alankrita Shrivastava, the director of critically acclaimed movies such as Lipstick Under My Burkha, Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare, and many episodes of the hit Amazon series Made in Heaven. In the magical world of Alankrita's movies, she really loves the characters she creates on the screen. With a twinkle in her eyes, the artist shares, "I don't just tell a story; my characters do. I think about my characters first, and the story comes from them. Their world is where my stories happen. My characters always come to life in a social and economic setting, making their stories more interesting."

Talking about the importance of having flawed female characters, the director said, “I think of only one audience person, and that is me. I should be invested in a character and the story. Unfortunately, we definitely live in a world where we constantly have to fight for the status of women, and I feel it is important to tell the stories of ‘ordinary’ women who do go through the process where they feel they do not have the space. I do not judge my characters and like the ones who are not just being subjugated but having fun as well. All these little breathing spaces and small acts of rebellion can come in any way, from having the courage to say no to a marriage proposal to standing up to your boss. That is how I feel we have survived all these generations, from fighting those small battles which later become bigger victories.”

The Mooknayak directly questioned the famed screenwriter and director about representation and the steps she has been taking. Shrivastava claimed, “I do feel stories with Dalit protagonists are best told by Dalit filmmakers because they would know the story better. In these cases, I would prefer to hand over the mic to someone from the community. Someone like Neeraj Ghaywan will be better equipped to tell such stories but of course, we need better representation and stories from every section of society. Diversity is very important and as a community of filmmakers, we need to do more and bring in stories from queer and scheduled communities.” She further talked about the importance of diversity on set.

The director remarked, “The more diverse people behind the camera are, the more diverse the cast and the stories will be. I think I have been looking at diversity in making sure there are a lot of women in the crew. When I made Bombay Begums, all the writers in the room were women. I made sure the other director was female. When one is in a position of power, it is very important to make such active choices. But this needs to be formalized as all the steps are taken on a personal capacity.” Alankrita herself has experienced a lack of diverse spaces, making it more important for her to take proactive measures. She revealed, “During a recent roundtable, it was discussed that there are certain departments that are historically male-dominated. Not only the entry-level jobs but the heads of such departments should be from structurally excluded communities. What generally happens is that we hire the heads of departments who, in turn, hire the entire team, so more conversations are needed. The first movie where I worked as an Assistant Director, there were 250 men on the set and only 3 women.”

On being questioned about the programs the film industry is taking on to promote inclusion, Shrivastava informed, “there are screenwriting labs and programs to nurture young creators. Screenwriters Association has writing programs for young individuals. There is a Women Cinematographers Association to support women. A lot comes with privilege; if one has the social backing to come and struggle in Mumbai and to make certain calls, it is easier for them to find jobs. There needs to be a more organized way to do things, but our industry itself is very disorganized.”

Lately, much content glorifying violence and abuse has been becoming the norm. This is where the responsibility as an audience member kicks in. “The main thing the audience can do is to support the cinema that does come out. There are multiple independent shows and movies speaking on certain issues that do not enjoy the same level of popularity as mainstream movies do. The people who are making those films also need that kind of support,” claimed Alankrita.

She further advised, “Promote them, talk about them and figure out a way in which you can take more people with you to watch the media. Help build an audience for the culture that speaks to you. Write about it, post it on social media, or just talk to your relatives about it. The mainstream media keeps on changing and often whatever happens in the independent sphere often impacts them. Audience support goes a long way.”

Alankrita at the Rainbow Literature Festival in New Delhi.
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Alankrita at the Rainbow Literature Festival in New Delhi.
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