[H] ot on the heels of its world premiere at Mumbai Film Festival, Geethu Mohandas’ debut feature Liar’s Dice has been selected for Sundance Film Festival 2014.
Before donning the director’s hat, Mohandas has acted in twenty seven Malayalam films over more than three decades. She started out as a child actor when she was five years old.
Her film Liar’s Dice follows a woman and her child on a journey in search for the child’s missing father. Produced by Jar Pictures, the film features Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Geetanjali Thapa and Manya Gupta.
In conversation with Geethu Mohandas:
You are a well-known actress in the South. How did this transition to a filmmaker occur?
Even when I was an actor, I was not only interested in acting, I was interested in cinema. I am so passionate about cinema that it is a totality for me. I used to write from a very early age and somewhere down the line this transition was very gradual but intended. I had planned everything in such a way that I would get to learn from a lot of people.
It was not an overnight decision to get into direction. I really worked hard for it. Before I did the feature film, I made a short film called Kelkkunnundo (Are You Listening?). The film received a world premiere at International Film Festival Rotterdam and screened at International Film Festival of India (IFFI), International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) and Mumbai International Film Festival for Documentary, Short and Animation Films (MIFF).
That gave me a stepping stone to do something bigger. For independent filmmakers, it is very difficult to secure funds to make a film. But because my short film had premiered in Rotterdam, I was exposed to the Hubert Bals Fund for Script and Project Development. The film’s journey started from there. Then I secured financing from my producers, Alan McAlex and Ajay Raj. So it has been a long process.
How did the idea of the film come to you?
I had been toying with this idea for a long time. Even my short film was based on the theme of urbanization seen through the eyes of a young blind girl. So somewhere it draws a parallel with my feature film because I am talking about displacement here, about people becoming just statistical information.
Have the kind of films you acted in influenced the kind of film you wanted to direct?
Besides commercial stuff, I’ve done a lot of films with independent filmmakers like Adoor Gopalakrishnan and they have traveled to a lot of film festivals. I have done films which released commercially but were better-known in the festival circuit. And I am an avid film watcher, I always go to film festivals. Besides, Rajiv Ravi, my husband and my partner in crime has been a huge influence as well.
Share with us the experience of casting Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Geetanjali Thapa and working with them.
For an independent film like this where we shot the entire film in only 20-21 days, keeping budgetary constraints and the large canvas of the film in mind, I needed very intelligent actors. Someone I could release on the streets and shoot candidly as well. And that’s exactly what I got from them. Once they got into the skin of the characters the shoot just seamlessly went on.
The experience of working with Geetanjali has been fabulous because she is a very unassuming actor. I think she completely trusts her instincts and turned out to be a very quiet support for the entire film. Her chemistry with Nawaz was also very beautifully done by her.
Nawaz is completely a director’s actor. He trusts the director and asks a lot of questions. But once you tell him what the feel and the mood is, he just speaks out. I think he is a delight to watch.
I never gave them any dialogues. I just told them the situation and a lot of improvisation was done on the sets. Because Nawaz was speaking in his own colloquial slang it was very easy for him to get into the skin of the character. They were feeding off each others actions and expressions; I think it worked really well for the film.
You started your career as a child actor. How was it working with a child (Manya Gupta) as a director?
I remember how I was cajoled into doing a lot of things and it takes a lot of patience and love. Firstly, you have to identify a talented little girl. Once that is over it’s more about making her enjoy the experience rather than making her feel that she is working.
We did a lot of workshops where the actors interacted with her and made her feel comfortable. And I asked her to say things very realistically, very normally because she didn’t know what acting was in any case. But it’s amazing that she quickly began asking for cues. Children are so receptive and intelligent. I was lucky that I found a very talented little girl.
How was it working with your husband who is the cinematographer and also the co-producer of the film?
Well, this is not the first time we worked together. When I was an actor, he was the Director of Photography in four-five films that I worked in. We also worked together in my short film Kelkkunnundo. As a director, I felt that the trust and comfort level that we share worked really well for both me and the film.
The film was shot on Tibet-China border. How challenging was it to shoot there?
It was extremely challenging. Firstly, we shot in the winter in a remote village in Himachal Pradesh bordering Tibet and China. We faced landslides and leopards but these factors did not deter us. My only concern was the child as I didn’t want her to suffer. But luckily she is from Shimla and she is used to such a climate. We did shoot keeping her in consideration. When the temperatures dropped, we would pack up.
What are your plans for a theatrical release of the film?
I see possibilities. I think one of the reasons is Nawazuddin clearly. It was reassuring for the producers to see different kinds of audiences enjoying the film at Mumbai Film Festival. We are going to do the festival run but a commercial release is definitely in our mind.