Grand finale of Women Directors week! The two most prolific and successful female directors in Hindi films.
Zoya and Reema met when they were both 25. Reema came from outside the industry but had been working in it for a while, she was the AD on a small film that never ended up releasing. Zoya was very much from the industry, child of scriptwriter Javed Akhtar and scriptwriter/ex-actress Honey Irani. She had just finished a film program in New York and was asked to do a small role in this film as a favor. She never showed up, but came by the next day to apologize for skipping and ended up meeting Reema.
They worked together again and again after that. As fellow struggling ADs on sets, the ones who had to run around getting actors on their marks on time, picking up lunch, lugging costumes back and forth, the boring drudgery jobs that are still so much fun if you are with someone who can make you laugh. Then, finally, they decided to take the leap into making their own film with a small documentary. And they fought so much that the documentary never released and they broke up for a few months. After that, no more co-directing.
Instead, Reema and Zoya discovered a special magic in writing together. They officially wrote their debut films (Zoya’s Luck By Chance and Reema’s Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Lmtd.) by themselves. But, not really. Reema was the first person Zoya went to with her Luck By Chance script and Reema helped her cut it down to a manageable length. And Zoya was first assistant on Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Lmtd. Whether or not they had official credits, I am guessing they helped each other get the story down, however it was listed officially.
Since then, they have written every project together. They start with the beginning and the end they want, and then figure out the middle together. Whoever is directing this time around gets the final call on any decisions, but otherwise it is all done together.
Zoya and Reema have been together for 22 years now. Zoya’s father Javed and Salim Khan had a similar magical creative partnership, but that only lasted 12 years. Maybe because female friendships are just different and so are their creative partnerships?
Javed and Salim broke up suddenly without talking about it, because they both knew everything and there was nothing to say. And then they didn’t talk for years but also didn’t badmouth each other or cause any drama. And then they suddenly became friends again. Without talking about it.
Zoya and Reema were friends for years, had a bad bad break-up after their first failed attempt to work together, didn’t speak for months, then got back together. And in their joint interviews, they still fight and make-up and fight and make-up over and over again. This is how female friendships work. You fight, you make-up, you don’t talk, you talk again, you yell at each other for smoking again, or for making that face that means you want to say something and aren’t, or for falling asleep on the couch, or for being late to the breakfast meeting. There’s something special about female partnerships, which includes female creative partnerships.
When I am watching a Reema-Zoya movie, I know it is a Reema-Zoya movie because somehow all those complicated layers that are in their relationship come forward in the relationships of the characters onscreen. There are a lot of partnerships in their films, in a variety of different ways. Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Lmtd is all about partners, 6 couples figuring out how to start their lives as a partnership. Luck By Chance is about a community of creative people using each other, the darkside of partnerships.
Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara is their first film officially written together. And it doesn’t quite work for me, maybe because it is trying to take all those levels that are in a female friendship and make them fit into the very different levels that are in a male friendship. It’s Zoya and Reema trying to be Farhan because they think that is the only way to be.
Javed and Farhan are the shadows that are over Zoya’s career. Her father and his scripts, and her brother and his movies. Farhan is wonderful with Zoya and Reema. He produces all their movies and even writes additional dialogue as needed, he hired them to work on all of his movies when they were still learning, but Zoya and Reema’s first movies both flopped and whether Farhan said it out loud or not, it’s clear that with this movie they decided that rather than following their own vision, it was better to imitate a man’s vision, remake Farhan’s successful first film. And, tragically, it worked. Luck By Chance and Honeymoon Travels are brilliant complex original layered films about brilliant original complex characters (of all genders and all classes), that flopped and got no attention. Zindagi Na Milega Dobara was about three rich guys finding themselves on a European vacation. Naturally, this was the film that got the awards and the box office and everything else.
And then there was Talaash. Reema’s turn to direct with Zoya taking a backseat. Reema’s films tend to have a stronger feel in general for male characters than Zoya’s. But not the typical kind of male heroes, her heroes have tragic flaws that they try to hide through bravado, and they overcome those flaws by caring more about others than themselves. It’s not as simple as rejecting “masculine” and embracing “feminine”, it’s about a journey from being an individual who has cut off all support to being someone who is part of something greater. It was there in Talaash, Aamir not letting himself be part of this new community, acknowledging his responsibility to the people around him, even to his family, not letting anyone in because he was afraid of sharing his pain. And in Gold, Reema brought it even higher with a whole team of people learning how to be a team, learning why it was important to be on a team beyond on sense of personal glory.
After Talaash it was Zoya’s turn again. Dil Dhadakne Do is a classic Zoya movie. Zoya is about people, lots of people trying to be happy and be themselves and find themselves in the world and, sometimes, hurting each other in the process. And sometimes helping each other. In Dil Dhadakne Do, those people are a bunch of rich folks on a cruise ship. In Gully Boy, they are poor people in a slum. In Luck By Chance, they are aspiring actors.
I love Reema and Zoya together. They create such wonderful art, art that has all the complexity of their real life relationship built into it. Made in Heaven is the artwork that comes closet to being a child of both of them, written and produced and conceived by them together, directed by someone else. And at its center is a relationship like theirs in real life, two partners in business who are partners in life as well, who love each other, who are the people who know each other the best in the whole world. It’s not a relationship that has an easy name or label to put on it, and we can’t know what it is like on the inside, but we can know that it puts something beautiful out into the world.