Malayalam Interviews

‘This Is The Bronze Age Of Malayalam Cinema. I Won’t Call It The Golden Age. We Are Not There Yet’: Geetu Mohandas

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Geetu Mohandas was at the Toronto International Film Festival 2019, where her film Moothon had its world premiere. Moothon stars Nivin Pauly, Roshan Mathew, Sobhita Dhulipala and Shashank Arora, and is a tale of a boy from the serene islands of Lakshadweep running away to Mumbai in search of his elder brother – moothon. We caught up with the director whose debut feature Liar’s Dice premiered at the Mumbai Film Festival in 2013 and screened at Sundance 2014. Moothon will be the opening film of Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival 2019 next month.

Excerpts from an interview:

Both your films are set outside Kerala? Did that just happen by chance?

I don’t know. Maybe, because I am rootless. Are you a Malayali?

I am Tamil.

I was born in Kerala, but brought up in Kerala, Malaysia and Canada. I’ve been all over the place. If you ask me where I am from, I cannot tell. I am a hybrid. I am from all over the world. And, therefore, I am very envious of filmmakers such as my husband, Rajeev Ravi. Like Lijo Jose Pellissery, Anurag Kashyap or Vetrimaaran. I am very envious of these guys.

Why is that?

Because, they are so rooted. To their space, their milieu. I am a storyteller; I want to tell stories. But I am always in search of something. If you’ve seen Liar’s Dice

Yes, I have. That was my next question. So, both Moothon and Liar’s Dice involve search. A search for the elder brother, search for a husband living elsewhere as a labourer…

Correct. I don’t know. Maybe, in my life, I am searching for something. Maybe, in my next film, I’ll find the answer. What is it that I am searching for? But, having said that, it is starting to look like a pattern. It is amazing how this is the most popular question.

About searching? Even without having seen Moothon?

No no. People who have seen both Moothon and Liar’s Dice. This is the most common question asked. Liar’s Dice is very popular in the festival circuit. It was at Sundance. The second question I hate, I hope you don’t ask me that.

And, that is?

How did this idea germinate?

Oh, no. I was not planning to ask you that.

Good. (laughs).

A still from Liar's Dice. Credit: Variety.com
Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Geetanjali Thapa in Liar’s Dice. Credit: Variety.com

But, I wanted to ask this, considering your short film Kelkkunnundo too. All three have a common children element. Is that something that fascinates you? It’s also not the rosy world, it’s the darker underbelly through the eyes of children. Be it the girl in Kelkkunnundo, Manya in Liar’s Dice or Mulla in Moothon.

I am dark, right? You are asking me this and it is making me think. It is making me think of the fact that it is great there is search and kids in common, and it is also dark. In a way, it is disturbing me, but I also realise that that is my expression. I honestly have no idea. Maybe, because I was a child artiste. I don’t know. This is going to be a very inconclusive answer but let’s conclude it this way — because, it is logically making sense to me right now. That, possibly because I was a child actor, there was a certain influence in me when I was working. That, I love working with children. So, maybe, that could be one of the factors. There is also so much of innocence in a child’s perspective. There is so much of ambiguity. I play with a lot of ambiguity in both my films. Maybe, because of these reasons.

Is something like Salaam Bombay a huge influence then?

Definitely, Salaam Bombay is an influence. I cannot say it is not. When you have a location such as Kamathipura, that is a reference point for filmmakers. And, as cinema, I love that film. I’ve never seen Kamathipura portrayed so realistically in any other film or as well as Mira Nair did. So, it is not that I was conscious about it. But, no doubt, I subconsciously drew inspiration from it.

And, Mumbai? Is it Mumbai because of the gangster element to it?

Mumbai, because I wanted a metropolitan city. I wanted something that is not a quaint, withdrawn island. I wanted something where the language and politics are different. Something where it is fast and chaotic. There is a certain sense of rush. The soundscape and visual narrative had to be different. The idea was to go for something completely off-kilter when compared to the island.

Anurag Kashyap is involved because of those elements…

Anurag, because, he is so quirky with his sense of life and dialogues. I’ve known him for the longest time — he’s worked with Rajeev a lot. For the first time, we were working professionally, and I wanted the best team.

When filming in those different settings — Lakshadweep and Kamathipura — what were the notes between you and Rajeev like to shoot the contrast? The narrative and visual language are different. Here, it is peaceful, people are happy. The first shot of Bombay in the film, for example…

Apart from the fact that he is my husband, we are not in that mode while shooting. There is amazing camaraderie between us, and we work so well together. And, I think that our brief, between ourselves, was not to make it look beautiful. I don’t want beautiful frames and picture-perfect shots. Stay real; that’s what he does.

You go for the festival circuit and Rajeev sticks to a more mainstream functioning. Is there a reason for that?

I really don’t know what Rajeev does (laughs). He doesn’t tell me his plans. We don’t discuss at all. I think that’s how it should be as well.

Did it ever strike you that Kammatipaadam was also about someone searching for a friend? Who was more like a brother?!

(laughs). You are screwing with my head right now! Well, I mean…

There, he leaves Mumbai, so…

I don’t have an answer. I am going to speak to Rajeev about this. It calls for serious discussion.

Nivin Pauly

Did you have to convince Nivin Pauly for this role?

You should ask him that. Really. But, no, not at all. It was not right away, but, no.

Was he your first choice?

No.

You had multiple choices? From Malayalam?

Yes, but not necessarily actors. Even directors.

So, Dileesh Pothan is in this film.

Yes.

Dileesh himself makes great films. He appears in Rajeev’s and Aashiq Abu’s films. Aashiq and Rajeev work together. Zakariya Mohammed acts in Aashiq’s film and himself directs a wonderful film. Syam Pushkaran and Muhsin Parari write for all of them…

Are we all connected?

Yeah! How did Malayalam form this collective? Was it organic you think? Do you guys jam films?

We are a collective. We do jam, yes. (laughs) Because, this is the bronze age in Malayalam cinema. We all jam. I won’t call it a golden age. We are not there yet. We all want to do good shit.

Do you call the Padmarajan era the golden age then?

That is the golden age. Actually, no. KG George. Aravindan. Even John Abraham. Amma Ariyan!

I’ve watched most of the Padmarajan era, but need serious catching up on the earlier ones.

You should start with KG George. Mela, Mattoral, Irakal. Uff! Pure cinema.

So, the golden age?

Yes, this is only the bronze age. When we switched from film to digital, when that transition happened, people thought and categorised this as “new generation” cinema. You would have heard that phrase a lot. It is the same shit in a different bottle. No difference. There was stark difference in visual narrative, the way they were shot, the way the images appeared. But, basically, the bronze age has just started in the last few years where interesting filmmakers with strong voices are coming out and they are doing films with stars, but telling their stories. It’s not a star-driven industry anymore. That has made the bronze age possible.

Also read Silverscreen’s review of Moothon here.

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