Reel Women: Writer/Director Gayatri Kumar

(REEL WOMAN: Gayatri Kumar)

Editor’s Note: They are leaders. They are inspirational. They are mentors. They are visionaries. They are, quite frankly, badasses. They are our 2022 REEL WOMEN – incredible personalities in Advertising, Entertainment, Media and Production. Women like Gayatri Kumar  are making “Herstory.”

Writer/director Gayatri graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 2021. She specializes in present-day issues, from which she creates extraordinary stories told through a narrative medium, in the realm of Hotel Rwanda and Schindler’s List.

Kumar’s ultimate goal is to change what cinema will mean to the world by the next decade. She believes that it can do more than just entertain, even if it’s done in an entertaining way. In addition to the upcoming feature, she is also engaged in writing a limited series on the crisis in Ukraine and another series on the mothers of India’s martyrs.

Let’s meet Gayatri.

What’s your origin story?

I was born in India but moved to the U.S. when I was three. My dad had started his own cancer research company in Virginia and so I did most of my schooling there and then attended college in New York. I’ve traveled a lot and attended an international school, so I’m quite well-rounded with cultures from around the world.

How did you get into the film industry?

Today, we have all this fancy gear and it’s become possible to even shoot an entire film on your iPhone! But when I was six, to be able to have your own camera was a pretty big deal. I was lucky to know from a very early age that whatever I was going to do in life was going to involve this camera.

But how? When? Why? That’s what I’ve spent about thirteen years trying to figure out. I’m happy to say that now I finally have.

Who were your mentors? 

My Guru, my mentor, and the one who has believed in me unconditionally is Amolji. He has taught me so much in life and today I realize that no awards or prizes will ever match the value of someone who loves you unconditionally.

That is priceless. I also want to thank every single person who has ever taught me anything in life. If anyone says something with an intention to improve you, consider them God-sent. 

While there will be others, what do you consider your biggest achievement to date? 

My biggest achievement to date is my risk-taking ability. If you want to become big, you have to think big. That’s why I’ve made filmmaking my playground. In one of my first times directing, I cast villagers on the spot to act in my short film which had no script. We shot everything in one day.

They ended up doing so well that my professors believed they were hired through an agency! 

What drives you to create?

My goal is to change what cinema will look like in the next decade and I aim to lead by example by making films that really matter. No more fantasies like Thor and Avengers that is not at all connected to the real state of our world. Cinema can be used to do some incredible things and transform our society. It’s a wonder it hasn’t been at all explored from that lens. 

What shows or films are doing the best job of portraying strong women? 

Two films that really made me proud to be a woman: The Best of Enemies and Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri. 

Coffee, Lunch or Happy Hour. Name a famous woman you would like to attend each function with.

I’m not really interested in attending these functions with someone famous. That’s a shallow pursuit. I’d rather attend each function with someone I can learn something from.

Coffee with Bibi Rabia. Lunch with Mother Teresa. And Happy Hour — none of the women I can learn from do Happy Hour. 

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What is the biggest challenge to women in your industry? 

Females and especially young female filmmakers are not taken that seriously in the industry. Oftentimes, producers will underestimate them. Sometimes this can apply pressure on them to overcompensate through other means.

My advice to them is to stay cool and do what they do best. Leading by example is the best way to respond. There’s no better response than promising work! 

How has having the superpower helped you? 

Being a Hindu and being a woman is a great superpower. When all the male gods realized they couldn’t fight off the devils Shumb and Nishumb, they had to create a woman.

We call her Shakti or Durga Maa (the most powerful Goddess). It’s not enough to have a superpower. You must know how to use it. My religion has only given me more ways to use this superpower in a transformational way. 

If being a woman is your superpower, what is your kryptonite? 

My kryptonite is that I think good about men also. 

When you’re not creating, what do you do in your off time? 

The only time I don’t create is when I’m on my periods. 

Predict your future! Where are you in 5 years? 

I will be serving society through my movies. They will be remembered for their humanistic tales. 

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