Prime Video’s Maitri: Female First Collective Hosts its First Session in Chennai

The session featured 8 strong women who represented India’s multiple entertainment industries, from award-winning actors like Aishwarya Rajesh, Malavika Mohanan, Madhoo, and behind-the-scenes talent like Reshma Ghatala, Swathi Raghuraaman, Yamini Yagnamurty, to creative leaders like Aparna Purohit and moderator Smriti Kiran

The current session took an in-depth look at the evolution of female representation and participation in entertainment industries across the country, evaluating the various mechanisms adopted to create a more inclusive and equitable environment for women

Highlights from the latest session are now available on Maitri’s YouTube channel

MUMBAI, India – 6 July, 2023 – Prime Video, India’s most-loved entertainment destination, today released the latest session of Maitri: Female First Collective, hosting its maiden discussion in Chennai. Launched last year, the collective is an endeavour to create a safe space where women from the Indian media and entertainment industry can come together to discuss their experiences, challenges and successes, and offer their perspective on bringing about a positive shift.

The session featured 8 eminent women from India’s various entertainment industries, ranging from award-winning prolific actors who have worked across languages like Malavika Mohanan, Aishwarya Rajesh and Madhoo, to women who have left an indelible mark behind the camera, like creator, writer, showrunner & producer Reshma Ghatala, writer & director Swathi Raghuraaman, and cinematographer Yamini Yagnamurthy, in addition to Aparna Purohit, creator – Maitri & head of India Originals, Prime Video, and Smriti Kiran, creator and curator of Maitri & founder, Polka Dots LightBox.

Sharing personal anecdotes, the participants discussed the existing gender dynamics in the film industry, the challenges faced by female professionals, including stereotyping, colourism, ageism, and much more. Surprisingly, the women noted how the issues were similar irrespective of whether they worked in front of the camera or behind it, or whether they worked in production or corporate roles. The core discussion also touched upon the true essence of feminism and empowerment, what gender-equality really means for the trailblazers gathered in the room. An interesting insight that was shared by all was that true equality can be achieved when the industry stops tagging a particular role, a narrative or a job as woman-oriented or male-oriented. The group as a whole agreed that age-old conditioning often restricts the personal and professional growth potential of women, and can be changed only if it is internalized in one’s home and social environment.

The interaction also highlighted the critical role that streaming was playing in improving female representation, creating new opportunities for actors, regardless of their age, body size, or skin colour, and for creators to tell all kinds of unique stories.

“Equitable representation opens up a new world for young girls to draw inspiration from, making it all the more important to have women in positions of influence, where they can provide a platform for newer voices and open up doors for more women,” said Aparna Purohit, creator – Maitri & head of India Originals, Prime Video. “However, we know that change is a gradual process. It is, therefore, important for us to continue having these discussions across the country, and we are thrilled to have hosted our first session in Chennai. Even though it is only a year old, Maitri has managed to drive change in the right direction. It is heartening to see people having a conversation about diversity, equity and inclusion when writing or planning their projects.”

Speaking about the need to have such conversations frequently, Smriti Kiran, creator & curator of Maitri and founder, Polka Dots LightBox said, “There is an undeniable need for spaces where women can voice their stories without any fear. Creating an environment that allows women to share their experiences without judgement is the first step in enabling any change, whether it is in the industry or society. This is precisely why we have to keep the conversation going relentlessly. Thrilled that Maitri is in Chennai today, tomorrow it will be in another part of India. We will continue to connect women across sections and states through conversation and collaboration.”

Prime Video is deeply committed towards promoting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) within its content and productions, as well as with its partners in the creative community. With Maitri: Female First Collective, Prime Video aims to raise awareness of the pivotal role women play within the entertainment industry.

Madhoo explaining why she quit the film industry, in the early days of her career
I decided to leave the film industry initially because I had acted in movies like Roja, Annayya, and Yodha, among others, where I played strong female characters. However, I eventually shifted my focus primarily to Hindi films since I was based in Mumbai and wanted to be a part of that industry. During the 90s, action films and heroes dominated the scene, and my roles mainly involved dancing, delivering a few romantic lines, and shedding tears with parents. While I enjoyed dancing, I realized that I was deeply unhappy with this shift from films like Roja. I recognized that my true passion lay in being an artist and doing meaningful work.
Whenever my shooting dates approached and I had to go for shoots, I couldn’t shake off the feeling of dissatisfaction. After working in the industry for about 9-10 years, I decided it was time to quit. The moment I found a reason, which was when I wanted to get married, I wrote a letter to the people in the industry, expressing my intention to leave. It was partly driven by a sense of arrogance, childhood arrogance, I recognize that now, but at that time I felt that they didn’t deserve me. Deep down, I knew I wanted to accomplish much more in my career. So I decided to get married, have children, and continue with my life.
However, it was only after leaving the industry that I truly understood my identity as an artist. I realized that I needed to return to the field and secure a role that would allow me to fully express my talents and pursue my passion.
Few of them from the conversations :-
Madhoo on outshining male actors with her performance:
I often feel that after reviewing the footage on the editing table, if a male actor perceives that the female actor has performed well or delivered their lines effectively, they proceed to edit or remove the entire scene. Alternatively, they opt to reshoot the scene altogether. In those instances, I would question the need for reshooting and inquire about the rationale behind it. The response I would receive was that the actors themselves requested it. And then I used to think but what about me? I have done well!

Madhoo on ageism in the industry:
It becomes exceedingly difficult to secure a meaty role when working onscreen. I have no interest in portraying the character of Ajay Devgn’s mother. And this is a probable scenario! We were both launched in the industry simultaneously and are of similar age. However, things are changing. Recently, Tabu, who is also my contemporary, starred opposite Ajay Devgan in some recent films, and I am immensely grateful for the positive changes that the industry has undergone. The emergence of OTT platforms allows for the creation of content that doesn’t rely on drawing audiences to theaters. Regardless of one’s age, size, or color, it is now possible to tell your story and receive recognition. I commend exceptional women who produce such narratives and provide opportunities for individuals like us to make a comeback irrespective of age.
Malavika Mohan on the deep patriarchy that exists in society:
I think there’s this idea, that even with our dreams, we are told to dream a certain way. When you are embarking on this whole journey of being an actor, the idea of being a successful female actor that is sold to you is that if you work with the male biggies, that means you’ve arrived, that is the benchmark of success. So that’s what every female actor in this country has been taught. Therefore, when work started coming my way, my go-to instinct was to work with these ‘biggies’. And when you work with a big male star and get overnight success, sometimes you start associating your worth with the worth of your project or the actor you are associated with. I realized that started happening with me. This realization reminded me of something my mother used to mention. She would often watch Malayalam films from the 1960s and 1970s, during which actresses were offered remarkable roles. She would express her admiration for those times – she would ask me to pray for ‘good’, ‘meaty’ roles. As a 20-21-year-old, I failed to fully grasp her perspective, questioning why she held such sentiments, and told her she should be telling me to pray for ‘big’ movies. However, having now completed a full circle in my own journey, I understand that securing substantial roles is the key to sustaining one’s career and leaving a lasting impact. This ensures that you are not merely a temporary sensation or a passing trend.

Aishwarya Rajesh on becoming her own hero:
I come from a background with no connections to the film industry – my father was in cinema, but unfortunately, I lost him when I was 8. My journey to becoming an actor was challenging. I faced discouragement and criticism based on my appearance, particularly my dark complexion. People told me that I wasn’t suitable to be an actor, and that I couldn’t even stand behind someone on set. However, despite these setbacks, I decided to give it a try and prove those naysayers wrong. Slowly but steadily, I began to make progress and achieve success. I had a strong desire to work in female-centric films, and I was fortunate to get opportunities in that domain. However, as my career progressed, I noticed a decline in opportunities to work with prominent male stars. In response, I started questioning whether the roles they offered were truly aligned with my level of skill and ambition. These thoughts crossed my mind, at least in a lighthearted manner, as I reflected on my journey so far (laughs).
After the success of my film Kaaka Muttai, the entire film industry showered me with praise. However, despite the positive reception, I found myself in a surprising predicament: I wasn’t receiving any offers for almost a year and a half. It was a period of stagnation, and I felt frustrated by the lack of opportunities.
If we examine my filmography today, apart from a few prominent actors like Dhanush, Vijay Sethupathi, Sivakarthikeyan, and Dulquer Salmaan, who appreciated my work, I haven’t been offered roles by other actors who admired my performances. That’s when I had the opportunity to work on a film called Kanaa, which marked the beginning of my journey in female-centric cinema. Since then, I have acted as the sole protagonist in around fifteen films or more. Despite this, I still ponder why the prominent male actors haven’t approached me yet.
However, I made a conscious decision to embrace being the hero of my own films. This mindset shift has brought me immense happiness and allowed me to let go of any concerns or worries regarding the involvement of bigger heroes. I have established my own audience, and that is something I truly cherish.


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