Pathbreaker Series: Meet Arunaraje Patil, 74, Indian Film Industry's First Woman Technician & Acclaimed Director

Here is all you need to know about the inspiring story of Arunaraje Patil, 74, the Indian film industry’s iconic and pathbreaking woman technician and director who struggled against chauvinism for years.  

She was a class topper, got into medicine but chose passion over everything to become the first woman technician in Bollywood with a degree. Arunaraje Patil, 74 is the Indian film industry’s iconic and path-breaking woman technician and director. it may be hard to believe but Patil was at the receiving end of a patriarchal society and struggled against chauvinism for years. She has directed films like Rihaee (1988) that were bold and spoke of female agency and empowerment much before its time.

Patil has had a chequered life with both highs and lows. The recipient of five national awards had to bear the pain of losing her only daughter to cancer; she has fought her battle all alone, still standing strong in the 70s. She is now a life coach, lives in Mumbai and is growing older in the most active way possible. Excerpts from an interview.

What brought you to the film industry?

Movies have been an obsession since childhood. My mother was a film buff and we used to watch a lot of movies. But around 1963-64, girls from good families did not go into movies so I chose to do Medicine. I managed to get into Grant Medical College in Mumbai on merit. But I hated cutting up the dead bodies in the Anatomy class and ended up failing in that subject. I used to act in a lot of inter-collegiate plays and had won many awards. A family friend suggested that I get trained in acting at Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune. I didn’t do well in the audition and they offered me another course — a double diploma in Editing-Direction which I could do in four years instead of five. I passed out with a Gold Medal but chose not to spend another two years to get the Direction diploma. I felt I had learnt what I needed to.

How exactly was it being one of the very few female filmmakers in a male-dominated industry in the 70s and 80s?

It was very very difficult. The only women in movies those days were actresses or hairdressers. I was the first woman technician in the film industry. People would come peep into the editing room, look at me and whisper ‘ladki hai’ and go away as if I were some animal in a zoo. On the sets, people would stop and stare and not listen. As it is, men don’t like to take orders from women and a director has to give orders like the captain of the team. Those days I used to work with my then-husband as a duo under the name of Aruna-Vikas and I had to work a thousand times harder to prove that I knew my job. It took me quite a long time to show them that I knew my job after which they began to listen to me and follow my instructions. There was a lot of unwanted attention and propositioning particularly after my marriage broke up but most of the time I chose to walk away. There were even times when I have had to throw people out of my house or find a strategy to leave the location safe and in one piece.

Your path-breaking film Rihaee talked about sexual liberation and equal opportunity for women at a time when such things remained unspoken. What gave you the courage and conviction to make a film like that?

The basis of Rihaee was a real incident that happened in Rajasthan and that’s how I had the courage and the conviction to make it because it was a fact, not fiction. The characters, situations and locations I created were fictional but the core idea was real. I got amazing reactions to the film. Women in Bhopal and Lucknow were not allowed to go to the theatre which showed my film but they watched it on video. As against that when I sat in a Delhi theatre with the majority of viewers being male, it surprised me to hear them clapping in the last scene when the women rebel. I realised then, it was not so much about gender at that moment but standing for the underdogs which were women. I got a lot of appreciation for the film. Rihaee did well and was watched on video quite a lot, so much so, that people began to relate to me as an advocate and fighter for women’s rights and without realising I became a voice for women. Over time, I lived the role and became an activist for empowering women and worked on various platforms, writing, lecturing, doing workshops, etc.

What has feminism meant to you?

According to me, men and women having equal opportunities in life and the space to express themselves is feminism. They both need each other and need to create a new equation based on mutual love and respect.

Do you feel senior citizens play a remarkable part as an audience of Indian cinema?

The audience has evolved quite a lot thanks to the exposure to world cinema available on satellite, television, internet and OTT platforms, etc. People began to reject the old cliched sub-standard formulae of telling stories, forcing producers and directors to create fresher and more authentic content.

What’s been the turning points in life for you?

There was a time when the press called my ex-husband and me the ‘made-for-each-other-couple’. We worked together and raised our children together – a girl and a boy – it was perfect. Then a tragedy struck and destroyed everything we had built together. My 9-year-old daughter had cancer. At the end of that one year, she died of cancer and my marriage fell apart. He asked me for divorce within 24 hours of her passing away. He had gotten into a relationship with my friend who would visit to give us moral support. It devastated me because I couldn’t deal with it in one go. I said ‘no’ to the divorce but came under intense pressure to do so. Though I had another child, a boy of seven and worried for him, I tried to end my life. I did not succeed and out of sheer helplessness went to my friend who was a psychiatrist to get some help. I began to heal and knew that I had to stand and create my life anew. I agreed to the divorce and started working on my film Rihaee. I had my son with me, I brought him up and continued to make films. I was very bold and confident on the outside but a very sad woman on the inside, until my second major turning point.

At the persuasion of a close friend, I did the Landmark Forum which is a transformational program. I heard the leader make a statement that suffering is a choice. It meant taking full responsibility for your life and finding alternate ways to deal with it. I called up my ex-husband and my ex-friend who had now married him and spoke to them. Those conversations were the most difficult ones ever in my life. My voice quivered and my hand trembled as I spoke. All I said was ‘I don’t blame you for what happened. I take full responsibility for my life. Be happy!’ When the conversations finished it was nothing less than magic. I was free. My life was lit up with new possibilities as I declared, ‘the sky is not the limit’. For the first time in many years, I laughed. I then travelled to many parts of the world, painted, read, wrote and trained myself to lead transformational programs. I have lead programs for over fifty thousand people at least. The lesson of ‘letting go of my past’ and forgiveness and moving on transformed my entire life.

What has growing older meant to you? How active have you been with work?

For me, age has never been a problem. Somebody started counting and they created young, middle-aged and old. But, like all things that go through a passage of time and become ‘old’, the body too ages. Even at 73+, I am still working. I am quite unstoppable. I am still making films like the recent ‘Firebrand’ released on Netflix; conducting workshops besides running a home and a production company. I don’t feel old in my head or heart and mingle with people of all ages. Currently, I am writing for my next feature film. Last year, I also did workshops on life conversations, screenwriting and film appreciation.

Do you think urban Indian senior citizens are evolving now?

I do think the urban Indian senior citizen has evolved. Many are doing things they have never done before in their lives – items from the bucket list so to say. I found a lot of senior citizen couples at loggerheads with each other. For some, the outcome was ignoring the other and doing what they pleased which again made them fight and made their children very unhappy. Some others created a space of ‘live and let live’ each being a friend to the other rather than a demanding spouse. The space allowed for peace and harmony in the home. In such cases, I saw that each was free to pursue something that they liked – doing a music or dance class or even travelling with an unknown group.

Raje’s autobiography – ‘Freedom – My story’ was published recently. (

About the author

Author image

Sreemoyee Chatterjee

Sreemoyee Chatterjee is the content head of Silver Talkies. A curious and talkative storyteller, she loves spending time with and working for the older adults and getting the best for them. Sreemoyee has served as a correspondent and on-field reporter for 5 years. A classical dancer and thespian by passion, she spends her leisure by writing poetry, scripts for stage theatres and listening to countryside music.

Post a comment


user image

Silver Talkies

21 Aug, 2020

Hi, Thank you for your interest in Silver Talkies. For further information and to remain updated about our events, please do write to us. Our email id: Once we receive your email, we will get in touch with you. Thank you.

user image


22 Jun, 2014

Ms. Aruna Raje Patil is an achiever. Ms. Chatterjee has brought out the inspiring story very well. I am curious to learn more about the good work Silver Takies is doing. C-84, Anand Vihar, Delhi-110092.

Insert title here

Contact Us