India is home to the world’s largest film industry, with the Telugu film industry making a noteworthy contribution in particular. Tollywood has been churning out some great stories and producing a large number of films when it comes to silver screen content. Not just content and scripts, Tollywood has also given us outstanding women directors.
Presenting a list of powerful women directors who held their own and redefined Indian cinema with their amazing films and stood out over the past fifty years till date.
Padma Bhushan P Bhanumathi (Image Source: Bhanumathi Ramakrishna facebook A/c)
Padma Bhushan P Bhanumathi tops the list of Tollywood women directors. A super talented actress, classical singer, director, music director, producer, novelist and lyricist, and studio owner, Bhanumathi can be described as the first female superstar of Telugu and Tamil cinema. She acted in over 100 Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Hindi films, besides directing nearly a dozen films in Tamil and Telugu.
Her first directorial debut Chandirani was made in 1953 in Telugu, Tamil and Hindi and was a super hit. Her other notable films include Gruhalakshmi, Ammayi Pelli, Vichitra Vivaham, Manavadi Kosam, among others. Her last film as director was Anthaa Mana Manchike with actor Rajendra Prasad in the lead in the year 2000. Bhanumathi is undisputedly the pride of the Telugu people.
Next comes actress Savitri who was not only a Mahanati but also a director. The actress who first started her career in stage plays and moved on to become one of the top actresses in Telugu and Tamil, directed and produced films like Praptam, Chinnari Papalu and Mathru Devata between 1968 and 1971. She is said to have also lost a lot of money while directing and producing them. Savithri was awarded the state Nandi Award for Best Feature Film in 1968 for the film Chinnari Papalu.
Another senior actress and Savitri and Bhanumathi’s contemporary G Varalakshmi also tried her hand in directing. In 1968 she wrote the story, penned dialogues produced, and directed a film titled Moogajeevulu.
The notable among all the female directors in India we can rightly say is actress-director Vijaya Nirmala. The child actress-turned heroine will be remembered for entering the Guinness Book of World Records (2000) and for being the only woman director to have directed 42 films, the most for any woman director in the world. A matter of pride for all the Telugu-speaking people, she made her directorial debut with Meena (1973) and went on to direct over 44 films with her last film being Neramu Siksha (2009) starring her husband Superstar Krishna.
Calling her a multi-faceted personality, actor Chiranjeevi said, "After Bhanumathi garu, Vijaya Nirmala garu is the only actor-director, who is known for her versatility. Nobody can replace her in these difficult times, but her work will continue to inspire us in the days to come."
After stalwarts like Bhanumathi and Vijaya Nirmala, B Jaya was one of the very few women directors who made a mark in the male-dominated industry after a long gap. A film journalist by profession she made her directorial debut with Chantigadu in 2003 with Baladitya and Suhasini. Known to be sensible filmmaker she directed six films including Premikulu, Gundamma Gaari Manavadu, Saval, Lovely and Vaishakam which was her last film in 2017.
Senior actress Lakshmi who acted in Telugu, Kannada, Tamil and Malayalam and also in the Hindi hit film titled Julie also directed a film in her career. The actress who acted in Mithunam with SP Balasubrahmanyam, and the latest in BV Nandini Reddy’s Oh! Baby, directed one Kannada film under senior director K. Balachander's supervision titled Makkala Sainya with Vishnuvardhan in 1980.
Actress Jeevitha, wife of actor Dr Rajasekhar is probably another woman director to wield the megaphone. After a successful stint as an actress, she married and settled down with him. However directed four films with her husband in the lead. All the films were remakes and they included, Seshu, Aaptudu, Evaidethe Nakenti and Satyameva Jayate. She directed two more films Shekar and Mahankali, which were never released.
BV Nandini Reddy
BV Nandini Reddy is the only female director in the current crop of new-gen directors. With an MA in political science from JNU, Delhi, she assisted director Vamsi for several years and debuted with the hit movie Ala Modalaindi with Nani and Nithya Menen. She has directed 5 films and her Oh Baby with Samantha Ruth Prabhu and senior actress Lakshmi was a super hit in 2019. She also directed an OTT web series titled Mana Mugguri Love Story with Navdeep and Gangstars with Jagapathi Babu for Amazon Prime.
The other new-age female directors who have a single film to their credit are Suchithra, wife of lyricist Chandrabose who directed Pallakilo Pellikoothuru, followed by Sasi Kiran Narayana, daughter of comedian MS Narayana who directed Saheba Subramanyam. Then from the Annapurna Studios camp, Chuniya joins the list with her film Padesave and Madhumitha with Moodu Mullallo Cheppalanate. Last but not least Venkatesh’s Drushayam was director by another successful Malayalam-Tamil actress Sri Priya.