The Outreach Programme, Jamia Millia Islamia, conducted a panel discussion on the topic “Female Gaze in Popular Culture” at the Dayar-i Mir Taqi Mir building on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011.
The guest panelists included Advaita Kala, Anuja Chauhan and Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan; all of whom are popular fiction writers.
About the Panelists
Advaita Kala’s debut novel, “Almost Single” published in 2007, was a bestseller with more than a lakh copies sold. She is also a script writer in Bollywood. She has written screenplays for the movie “Anjaana Anjaani” and for the upcoming movie “Kahaani” starring Vidya Balan.
Anuja Chauhan is also a bestselling author. Her first book “The Zoya Factor” published in 2008, won the Cosmopolitan magazine’s Fun Fearless Female award for literature. Before turning into a published author, she had a successful career in the advertising world. She is known for creating commercials for brands like Nestle, Kitkat, Pepsi and Kurkure. She is the mind behind the popular Pepsi slogan “Yeh Dil Maange More.” Her literary success continued with her second novel “Battle for Bittora” (2010) which shows us glimpses of Indian politics from the point of view of a woman.
Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan is known popularly for her long-running blog “The Compulsive Confessor” which is in its 8th year now. Her debut novel “You Are Here” was published in 2008 by Penguin, which is based on her blog. She made her venture into Young Adult fiction with “Confessions of a Listmaniac” published in 2010, which was her second novel. She also writes for the magazine Outlook.
In the beginning of the discussion, all three writers gave their views on the term “female gaze” and what it means to them.
Ms. Kala mentioned that her film “Anjaana Anjaani” received a lot of reviews, and one of her cousins after watching the movie told her that she could see the imprints of the female gaze all over it.
“Hearing this was very interesting because this was not something I did consciously,” she said.
Continuing on the topic of “female gaze” she said, “There’s a tendency to look at it in a very progressive sort of way. Women are actually exercising their voices and marking their presence much more deeply than they had in the past.”
Ms. Chauhan elaborated on it and said: “It’s very important that you get both sides of any record that is kept, even the popular culture of anything .
“The way a woman sees it is different from the way a guy will see it. It’s nice to be exposed to both to get a complete picture of what’s happening.”
Ms. Madhavan added that she never discovered herself as a woman till she started writing. Suddenly she received comments from people asking her if her book was for women, and this made her wonder what it means to interpret the world from the point of view of a woman as opposed to others. “It’s just something I’m coming to terms with as a writer and learning about everyday,” she said.
The discussion on female gaze led to a discussion on the term “Chick Lit” and what it means to be a chick lit writer. Surprisingly, not much fondness was shown by the panelists towards the term, and not much importance was given to being labeled as a chick lit writer.
“A chick lit,” said Ms. Madhavan, “is about a young girl in a big city looking for love.” She elaborated that it differed from other romances in the sense that a chick lit sticks to just a woman’s search for romance and that is the ultimate quest. It results in the woman finding happiness, irrespective of the fact she finds that ideal person or not. It is usually limited to the age group of 21 to 35.
Expressing her thoughts on the chick lit tag, Ms. Chauhan said, “I have issues with tags, … placing a book in a particular genre blocks it for a lot of people.”
Adding to this, Ms. Kala recounted her introduction to the term. She said, she first came to know about this term, chick lit, when she was with her publisher at a book party, and her publisher introduced her to another author as an upcoming chick lit writer. She said she noticed a change in the person’s expression. It went from great interest to something slightly less appreciative.
On the subject of writing, Ms. Chauhan said, “It’s wonderful the kind of escapes you can make while writing fiction.”
While Ms. Kala said that initially writing was a private endeavor, and later on what she did in private became public.
To which Ms. Madhavan added, “The city made me write.”
In the end of the discussion they added that one shouldn’t stress too much about what others think of their work. Their writings might be criticized by some, but that doesn’t stop them from moving on forward.
On a concluding note they said that chick lit takes a lighter view of things and the purpose they serve is to make you feel light and happy in this stress filled world.
Scenes From the Event
*click on an image to enlarge