Lights, Camera Action: Meet the woman changing gender stereotypes in Bollywood

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Being the daughter of India’s best-known gaffer, Mulchand Dedhia, did not guarantee Hetal Dedhia a career in the same profession as it did for say, Scott Eastwood, son of Clint.

Hetal Dedhia, Verve Magazine

Hetal Dedhia also had to compete against one of the most patriarchal societies in the world, to become the first and only female gaffer (head of lighting and electronic production) in the Hindi film industry.

Indian society unfortunately still leans heavily towards patriarchy with 66% of working women being denied payment, opposed to 12% of men. Despite Dedhia’s more fortunate upbringing, this is definitely a battle she had to fight to become established in her male-dominated career. ‘It’s very male-dominated. You have to break through’, Dedhia told the BBC.

Hetal has refused to acknowledge her gender as any sort of barrier to her achievements, originally dropping out of education to pursue a career as a professional snooker player, stopping after two years to follow her real passion. ‘Obviously, education is important, but I knew my real destiny was in film-making. I was fascinated by it, especially lighting – maybe it’s genetic’.

When starting out, the lightboys at her father’s company laughed at her claiming she was ‘too frail for the work’, which only pushed her to try harder. Hetal started as a lightgirl, shadowing other gaffers at every possible opportunity. ‘I had to begin with learning the names of every small nut, bolt, and clipper. I would climb the ladders, tarafas (a kind of scaffolding), carry and fix heavy lights and help with the set-up. It was the only way to learn’, she told the Indian Express.

Since then Hetal has worked on both Bollywood and Hollywood hits including Lucky by Chance and Don, as well as Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and Eat Pray Love.

Attitudes towards women in India are by no means equal and there is still a huge amount of work to be done to ensure the equal representation, safety, and rights of women, however, Hetal says that progress has been made even since she started in the industry. ‘When I started working ten years ago, I hardly saw any women working in the industry. But now you see producers, costume designers, stylists. They are all women.’

Let’s hope to see more in the very near future.

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