Now that 90 ml is occupying theaters, director Anita Udeep seems relieved. “I have been wanting to go on a break, but somehow, I have been busy giving interviews and clarifying my stance on certain issues post-release. Filmmaking can be physically exhausting and sometimes, emotionally draining,” she smiles.
Anita says she is always up for discussions, but what upsets her are personal attacks from those who barely know her. “I understand when people thrash a film’s content. But no way I can tolerate those harsh and vulgar personal remarks,” she rues.
Excerpts from a conversation:
90 ml became the talk of the town within a few hours of its release. Was it something that you expected?
I knew I had made a bold film, and as a filmmaker, I need to accept both appreciation and brickbats with grace. If I hadn’t been open about accepting criticism, I wouldn’t be making a film like 90 ml. Some men couldn’t relate to the film—I understand why. But what I couldn’t understand was, why some even thrashed the film without watching it. 90 ml isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and I am aware of it. The film was, in fact, A-certified, and I am not okay when people moral police the content when it has been through the Censor Board. Reviewers reviewing the film is fine. But I am not willing to take in abuse. Certain online reviews were extremely chauvinistic. Instead of discussing the content, they made personal attacks. I confronted some of them online. They ran away after reacting to some of my tweets.
What is your response to those who say there is no storyline in 90 ml?
If that is what someone feels, so be it. I wasn’t going to make a ‘karuththu’ film. There are mature audience who saw the film for what it is—beyond the smoking and drinking scenes. The takeaway of any film depends on the viewers, and what they want to see. After all, everything is perception. My film doesn’t talk about feminism and I don’t know why they drag that into this. Neither I have bashed men nor insisted that a woman should do whatever a man does. That was never my intention. If I had made 90 ml with five men, instead of five women, it would have been celebrated as a ‘jolly film’.
Reports suggested that the Indian National League Party and Tamizhar Kalachara Paathukaappu Peravai had requested the Police Commissioner to ban 90 ml.
Oh, really? I don’t know in what way exactly the film had offended their sentiments and Tamil culture. Before banning my film, they should ban TASMAC shops. In case you had observed, 90 ml talks about ‘empowering women’ in little ways. It is more about the choices a woman makes in the society. Actually, I have tried to convey ‘big things’ in a lighthearted film. Men who watched the film are slowly supporting me—that is half your crowd. If a man respects a woman’s choices and starts treating her better or understanding her better, that is my success.
Some were against the portrayal of lesbian relationship in your film.
As a human being, I believe in freedom of choice. I would like to reiterate that homosexuality isn’t a psychological or mental disorder. It is neither immoral nor against ethos of Indian culture. Lesbianism is a normal form of sexuality, and you need to accept this. A psychiatrist reviewing a film expressing unhappiness over how homosexuality has been addressed in 90 ml was just a bizarre idea. Like I had mentioned in the film, love is love and there is a huge psychological stigma associated with homosexuality.
Can we say 90 ml is partly-autobiographical?
Not really. But you could say I am that counsellor character in real life, played by Devadarshini. My friends always approach me with their problems, and I give them solutions. I am balanced in general, and I don’t take sides. Every character in 90ml has a bit of Anita. (Laughs)
How was your writing process?
I wanted to make a trendy fun-film, and I was clear about the intentions right from the beginning. Mostly, women-centric films fail to address what women really want. So, while conceiving the story, I had imagined I was one of the five women characters, and wrote down all the quirky portions first; then weaved the serious stuff into the script. I don’t judge my friends. Likewise, Oviyaa’s character (Rita) also doesn’t judge her group of friends. They open up to her easily.
Was 90ml written for Oviyaa?
No. But when I had completed the script, she got out of Bigg Boss Tamil. I felt Oviyaa would be apt for my film. She is bold and unapologetic about her choices like Rita (my protagonist). Oviyaa was herself on the show, and that made her what she is today.
You have dabbled with singing, art direction and costume designing, besides filmmaking. Why did you not get into acting?
There had been offers, but I love being a filmmaker. As a director, I enjoy creating my own world with different characters. But hey, I have an issue with people touching me. I am not comfortable with all that. (Laughs)
Kulir 100° got released in 2009. 90 ml came nearly after a decade.
I am not driven by money. I make films because I am passionate about filmmaking. I was writing multiple scripts in between, but as a woman, family comes to me first. As a mother, I have got the responsibility of my children. It is tough to establish a work-life balance, and that is what I have learnt over these years. I am eventually getting there. Any successful woman needs a supporting family, and I am blessed with that. But women in the film industry have to cross many hurdles. Cinema is still a man’s world.
Filmmaking isn’t just a professional process. It is much more than that. Ten years ago, we didn’t have these many women-oriented films. But now, women directors are proving that we can also make commercially-viable films. Thanks to artistes like Nayanthara and directors like Sudha Kongara. Most importantly, women filmmakers have interesting perspectives to offer and different stories to tell. In India, we make the most number of films, but it is unfortunate to see Indian films don’t enjoy such reception like English, Italian or French films. New avenues are getting established, and 2019 looks lot better than 2009 in many ways.
You did Engineering in Chennai. How did filmmaking happen?
Cinema is a powerful medium, and I spent three years in L.A pursuing Masters in Film and TV Production. In addition, I did my internship at Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks Company, which taught me so much. When I returned to India, that helped me generate varied content and ideas. I didn’t want to assist any director because I thought I should develop my own style of filmmaking. (Smiles) Getting inspired is okay. But I shouldn’t try to imitate them.
Why do you use a pseudonym (Azhagiya Asura) and direct films?
I don’t want people to judge my films just because I am a woman. But that’s what they do. (Laughs) I didn’t put my father/husband’s name after mine because they shouldn’t get trolled for whatever I do.
Fair enough. What’s next?
I am planning to do a rom-com or a sci-fi film. But I believe in telling stories that are honest.