Where did all the talent go?

The spotlight fades in and out on countless performers in the bustling Indian film industry, where thousands yearn for a chance to shine. Among these aspirants are graduates from the esteemed National School of Drama (NSD), an institution revered for producing formidable talent in acting. As careers take flight from this launchpad, it’s not often that one hears a voice pause to question—where have all the female graduates gone?

Monika Panwar, a 2017 alumna of NSD and a rising star in the entertainment world, has made her presence felt with her compelling performances in recent series like “Jamtara: Sabka Number Ayega” and the 2023 releases “Choona” and “Mast Mein Rehne Ka.” Yet, even as she garners accolades and lives out her dream on screen, Panwar expresses deep concern for the scarcity of her fellow female graduates in the cinematic landscape. “I am immensely proud to be associated with such an esteemed institution. NSD has been a nurturing ground for some of the finest talents in the industry, including illustrious female actors like Ratna Pathak Shah and Neena Gupta. But it is also shocking that there are such few women employed in films, who are NSD pass-outs. Where are the pass-outs?” she wonders aloud.

This sentiment highlights a larger, more systemic issue—the underrepresentation of women in the film industry, particularly those with a background as rich and foundational as that offered by NSD. The institution has indeed seen a number of its female graduates go on to become respected and influential figures in the industry, such as Rohini Hattangadi, Mita Vashisht, and Seema Biswas.

Panwar reflects on her journey, noting that the years spent at NSD weren’t merely about learning how to act; they were about imbibing an ethos, a deep appreciation for the craft that she carries into every performance. “NSD has instilled in me a deep appreciation for the art of acting, and I am grateful for the invaluable lessons and experiences it has provided,” she states with a mix of gratefulness and a subtle plea for more opportunities for her peers.

So, what could be the cause of this disparity? Numerous factors may contribute to this trend. Industry biases, the preference for certain archetypes in casting, the precarious nature of film careers for women, and perhaps even a reflection of wider societal norms could play roles in shaping such an outcome.

The pool of NSD-trained actresses undeniably has the skill set required to leave an indelible mark on cinema. Their rigorous training equips them with a diverse toolkit, enabling them to delve into a wide spectrum of roles, from the theatrical to the cinematic, from classical to contemporary. With such potential at their disposal, the question becomes not of their capability, but rather of the opportunities that are made available to them.

It’s imperative for the giants of the movie-making world to take a step back and assess the waste of talent incurred due to the limited screen space granted to these powerful performers. It’s a loss not just for the actresses themselves, but for audiences who are denied the chance to witness the full range of narratives these women are capable of bringing to life.

As Monika Panwar continues to pave her path in the industry, her success is a testament to the caliber of training NSD provides. Yet her words serve as a reminder that there remains a treasure trove of female talent yet to be tapped from her alma mater.

Filmmaking is, at its very core, storytelling. And for a story to be told in all its depth and diversity, greater representation and inclusivity are not just desired—they’re essential.

It is the hope of many, Panwar included, that producers and directors will heed her query and look towards female NSD graduates as more than just a checkbox for diversity, but as a rich resource of phenomenal actresses waiting in the wings, ready to transform Indian cinema with their artistry and passion.

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