As she geared up to pitch Moothoon’s script to the market, Geetu Mohandas was fairly confident she would find buyers. After all it was coming from a director, whose last film — Liar’s Dice- not only won two National Awards but was also nominated as India’s Oscar entry in 2014. The writer-director was, however, in for a rude shock.
“I thought my journey to make my second film would be easier but funnily, it remained the same. Producers thought I was a minus for the market. They said, ‘Her films are all international!'” Geetu tells indianexpress.com in an interview ahead of Moothon’s premiere at the 21st edition of Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival.
Starring Malayalam star Nivin Pauly, Shashank Arora and Sobhita Dhulipala in primary roles, Moothon is a story of a teenage boy from Lakshadweep, who comes to Mumbai in search of his elder brother. It is co-produced by Anurag Kashyap, S Vinod Kumar, Ajay G. Rai and Alan McAlex. Kashyap has also written its Hindi dialogues.
Here are excerpts from the interview:
Q. You are at the centre of attention, once again, with Moothon having its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September and now gearing up to open the Mumbai Film Festival. What do you make of this madness?
Every time I start making a film I think I am going to make a sincere film, I will have sincere people associated with it and I won’t compromise on any level and we will just go ahead to tell this story. Then we finish the script and start looking for producers and I realise nobody wants to produce my films! It’s hilarious because with Liar’s Dice, with the Oscar nomination, National Award one would think that my journey would be easy second time around. At least I thought that, I sincerely thought that but it’s funny because nobody wanted to produce Moothon because they thought I was such a minus for the market. It’s got this big star (Nivin) but the moment they heard my name they were like, ‘No! Her movies are all international.’
Q. This is such an eye opener for everyone, including myself, who would assume the struggle of a filmmaker after world-wide acclaim would lessen.
It’s funny the kind of comments I have heard even in my friend circle that her films are international, they are not for the masses. I am thinking wow! So, it’s a reassurance when it got selected at TIFF and then MAMI being such a big platform and it being the opening film! Because now people are talking about it in India. We are looking for a beautiful theatrical release after MAMI so, it has come a full circle for me. I hope I don’t have an issue with my next film.
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Q. Do these times create a doubt in a filmmaker’s mind, like, ‘What am I getting wrong?’
No, never. If I doubt that then I will think ‘Let’s give people what they want.’ And I want to give people what I want. I want to share my expression with them. When I came into the film industry as a young adult I was different because I studied abroad. I spoke and dressed differently. My mannerisms and attitude were all different and I wasn’t accepted. People thought I was arrogant and rude. I was frustrated as a young adult. My father told me one day, ‘Your difference is your strength. You don’t have to be like others.’
That’s something that stuck with me in every walk of life and I realised that we grow up reading certain books, watching certain films and having a certain sensibility and you don’t have to belittle your intelligence to fit in and you don’t have to tell the stories that are expected. You have to continue telling stories that you want to tell and hold on to that. Bombard people with those stories in such a way they cannot ignore us anymore. That’s our plan.
While Liar’s Dice saw a woman in search of her missing husband, Moothon is about a young boy migrating to a big city in search for his elder brother. What attracted you to the themes that involve travel and search of someone dear?
I don’t know. Maybe I am in search of something myself. A lot of interviews have been about this and I realised, “There’s a pattern.” Maybe I will find my answer in my next, which will complete a trilogy! On a serious note, I don’t think it’s just the search that has a pattern but it is also about migration, minorities and identity and there are a lot of common themes that I have touched up on in both the films. That’s a certain area that intrigues me. But now that I think about it, my next film will be completely different. I don’t think you will see any of these elements in it.
Q. Do these themes also come from a personal space because you went abroad to study and when you came back you felt unaccepted in your own country?
It can be. But I was among the privileged few. My father was doing well, he took me abroad, I studied there. I’m talking about the vast minority who are a majority. In this era of globalization where there is materialization and fast life and instant gratification is the mantra of the nation, the poorer people or the lesser privileged people, they come to the nation’s attention as a statistic when something happens to them.
I am talking about their story, I am talking about survival. That is very different from my own personal experience.
Is it easy to switch on and off when you have your daughter right next to you while you write?
I don’t know any other way. I am conditioned that way. We are all conditioned in some ways, aren’t we? We are all conditioned to put on different hats and play different roles. The one role that I enjoy playing proudly and beautifully is of a mother. It comes really naturally to me. When I have these deadlines and I’ve to do this, she is such a special, little girl that she understands. Sometimes she goes around in the room, creating havoc, to seek my attention but since a young age, she has been sitting next to me, playing, while I have been writing.
I want my daughter to see me in a work space. It is very important for me that she understands that for her mother, her work is very important. These are some really important things that my mother passed on to me and I want to do the same to my daughter. Initially, I used to have this constant guilt when I used to go away. I would think, ‘Oh my God! I have to finish this really fast,’ but over the course of time I have realised that when I have my own time and I work and then I come back, I am a better mother because everyone needs time to do their own thing.
You obviously feel strongly about women portrayal in cinema. So, when we talk about it, does it also become imperative to have more female voices because the gaze with which they would write or portray a female character, a man might not, unless of course there has been a lot of unlearning.
I don’t agree with the fact that only women can write great female characters. Some of the most sensitive and profound women characters have been written by a man. There’s no doubt about it. But I also feel cinema should not be gender-biased. When you walk into a movie, you should not be able to tell whether it is directed by a man or a woman. There should be a time when we don’t pose these questions to a woman filmmaker.
But I like the way you asked the question because there’s definitely need of more female voices because if you take up history and talk about cinema, literature, poetry, science; every time a woman has come into the picture, there has been a different perspective. I am not saying worse or better. And we need that. Look at Zoya! Her film is India’s nomination for Oscar, mine was there a couple of years ago. So, we are like, ‘Bring it on!’ I feel we are here, and it’s a great time for us.