Aishwarya Rai to Receive Women in Film India’s Meryl Streep Award for Excellence (Exclusive)

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Aishwarya Rai Bachchan

The Bollywood star and former Miss World is the headline name at the first WIFT India Awards taking place in Washington D.C. on Sept. 8.

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is set to receive the inaugural Meryl Streep Award for Excellence at the first Women in Film and Television (WIFT) India Awards, which has been established to honor the best female talent in Bollywood and Hollywood.

The Bollywood star and former Miss World is the headline name at the event that will also recognize Indian director Zoya Akhtar, Wrinkle in Time producer Catherine Hand and many more. The awards ceremony, which takes place at the Hyatt Regency in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 8, is being held alongside the capital’s South Asian Film Festival (DCSAFF), which runs Sept. 7-9.

The Meryl Streep Award for Excellence will be exclusive to the annual WIFT India Awards. Back in 1998, Streep herself was honoured with the WIF Crystal award. Organized by Women in Film L.A., the Crystal + Lucy Awards marked their 45th anniversary this year.

In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, WIFT India said that Bachchan will receive the award for showcasing a “distinction in her craft and for expanding the role of women within the entertainment industry.”

“Whether it is her extraordinary body of work or her charitable endeavors, Ms. Streep is an inspiration for all,” said WIFT India founding president Petrina D’Rozario. She added, “Our aim here is to encourage others to think outside the norm of gender-based hiring practices and give females of all nationalities an equal chance to vie in fields dominated by men.”

Bachchan’s two-decade career has seen her deliver major hits such as Kandukondain Kandukondain, a Tamil language adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Sense and Sensibility, and Bollywood romantic drama Devdas, which received a special screening at Cannes in 2002. Her international credits include British director Gurinder Chadha’s 2004 release Bride and Prejudice, a Bollywood-inspired take on Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Akthar will receive the Wyler Award for Excellence in Direction. She helmed Bollywood hits such as Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and Dil Dhadakne Do. The award is named after legendary Oscar-winning director William Wyler (Ben-Hur, Roman Holiday) and his daughter Catherine Wyler, who was senior vp production at Columbia Pictures.

“The Wyler Award is so surreal for me as I grew up in Bombay [Mumbai], got a video player in the eighties and one of the first films I ever saw on it was Ben-Hur,” Akhtar told THR.

Akhtar added that while women “had a late start in my industry” the “influx of women into power positions is growing steadily every year.” But she also cautioned that “if I have to pick challenges, then I’d say we still have a hard time getting stories with only female protagonists made. We still have to be careful dealing with men in the business as they have very fragile egos and we still have to get paid fairly.”

Bollywood actress Janhvi Kapoor will receive the WIFT Emerald Award, which recognizes an artiste’s debut performance, for her role in the tragic romance drama Dhadak released this year.

WIFT India will award the Producer of the Year to Catherine Hand “for her persevering 50-year journey” of turning Madeleine L’Engle’s award-winning novel A Wrinkle in Time into a film, directed by Ava DuVernay, “relevant for current times.”

Catherine Hand told THR that when she first started working on the film, “there were very few, if any, women film visionaries…. I find so much hope and inspiration in the amazing careers of women like Kathleen Kennedy, Jennifer Lee, Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling, Reese Witherspoon and of course, the indomitable Ava DuVernay.”

Hand also outlined the challenges women face in Hollywood stating, “We must never give up on our pursuit for equality in pay, respect, opportunities and the fight to tell our stories in a different voice. I think we will look back one day at the Time’s Up movement as a watershed of sorts for women to stand up for themselves and each other in ways we’ve never seen before in all sectors of life.”

A Wrinkle in Time will also see Hand and DuVernay receiving the Film of the Year Award “for breaking barriers and re-imagining L’Engle’s characters as black or mixed-race.”

WIFT India was set up in 2012, adding to WIFT International’s global network of over 40 chapters worldwide with over 10,000 members. The nonprofit is dedicated to advancing professional development and achievement for women working in all areas of film, television and digital media.

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