Women's leadership contributes to the growth and empowerment of the media, entertainment, and art sectors collectively.
There can be no better argument for inclusivity and diversity in all areas of life than this Mahatma Gandhi quote,
“Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization”
He underscores how important it is to ‘collectively’ bring about change. And yet even today, when we discuss the importance of more inclusive workplaces, the onus to create them is put squarely on women in leadership positions. Let me start by saying that the onus to bring more diversity into workplaces should not only be on women. To begin with, it requires deep work from everyone to make society so equitable that women can rise to leadership positions, unhindered. And unless all stakeholders commit themselves to the creation of inclusive spaces, women will continue to do the interminable heavy lifting.
The ‘Women in the Workplace’ report from McKinsey in partnership with LeanIn.Org stated in 2021 that women at senior-leadership levels risk burning out because they are working harder than men to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). This is why building allyship and support networks within organisations should be normalised for all leaders, be they, men or women.
Now let us decode the word, “Inclusive” which in my sphere of work refers to content as well. For me, it is important to tell stories that speak to and for everyone. The pandemic has shown us that without collaboration and empathy, we cannot survive as a race and during this time, stories that resonate with our deepest fears and aspirations have clicked globally. Today, we are not creating content only for one demographic but the entire world and the future of entertainment is inclusive.
At such a time, women content creators are breaking stereotypes and reshaping the entertainment world. Jane Campion’s ‘Power of the Dog’ is in the Oscar race. Actress Alia Bhatt is ruling the Indian box office with a film about a woman sex worker and making her Hollywood debut with Gal Gadot. Shonda Rhimes has created a huge space for black talent in the television and OTT industry via shows like Bridgerton, Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder, Grey’s Anatomy, and counting.
Across the border, we have an immensely talented director and producer Kanwal Khoosat who tells brave stories about gender and other rarely explored social themes. Zee Theatre collaborated with her to bring to the audience, a collection of dramatic readings of stories by authors like Amrita Pritam and Manto among many other subcontinental legends. We did this to remind ourselves and hopefully, those tuning in that human story transcend all boundaries. Art can and should be allowed to bridge distances, heal wounds and bring people together.
Take the success of ‘Churails’. This story explored feminism, gender violence, sexism, domestic abuse, LGBTQIA+ rights, and was a global hit. And this reaffirmed my belief that only by mainstreaming certain issues, can we start initiating change in minds and hearts.
My own creative journey exemplifies my beliefs, I grew up in an old Kolkata neighbourhood amid many cultures and learnt to love diversity very early. As a child, I would hear mythological and folk tales and would also read Hans Christian Anderson and Enid Blyton. In college, I explored Greek Tragedy, Sanskrit drama, Shakespeare, Moliere, Racine, Tolstoy, Kafka, and Marquez. As a student of Comparative Literature, I seek and almost always find the common thread of universality in all human narratives.
It makes me proud that the stories on Zindagi, ZEE5, and Zee Theatre uncover human truths that will always be relevant to all of us. We are now telling stories that include all kinds of women and not just the ‘ideal woman’ whose perfection is unquestionable. Be it ‘Churails’ or even ‘Zindagi Gulzar Hai’, or ‘Gidh,’ the woman protagonists stand tall despite their imperfections and ask relevant questions about patriarchy and systemic conditioning of women to accept their lot and not fight back. I think the depiction of female anger is a radical thing because for the longest time, we have expected our heroines to be sacrificial and accommodating.
Such stories are redefining the meaning of ‘family’ and showing that single women with kids, women who cannot have children or don’t want to be mothers, or who are rebelling against loveless marriages too have interesting stories to tell.
The future of storytelling is going to be even more diverse and inclusive because unless narratives have balance and a sense of equity, they cannot be universally accepted. Our work is only as important as we think it is. Every story, for me, is an opportunity to care, build like-minded communities, create empathy, generate a sense of relatability and comfort and I will continue to work with the belief that what I do matters and has a meaningful role to play in the world. As author Jacqueline Woodson once said,
“Diversity is about all of us, and about us having to figure out how to walk through this world together”
Shailja Kejriwal is Chief Creative Officer – Special Projects, ZEEL with a vast repertoire of path-breaking content. As the force behind Zindagi, she backed originals like Churails and also conceptualized Zee Theatre to archive literary and contemporary classics.