A script is a springboard for a director to build his vision, says Anjali Menon
“I am a bit of a gypsy who found treasure on the way and is looking for more,” says Anjali Menon. Film director, scriptwriter, producer and young mother, Anjali is soaking in the magical moments in her journey. Manjadikkuru, after a bout of festival circuits, accolades and hibernation, is finally reaching the regular movie watcher.
Recently released Ustad Hotel, which she wrote and set in her hometown Kozhikode, is also charming the audience. It is directed by Anwar Rasheed.
The director first noticed for her short film Happy Journey in Kerala Café finds commercial success with Ustad Hotel. After serving as writer, producer and director for Manjadikkuru, Anjali says Ustad Hotel was her most stress-free assignment. Once it was scripted, she let it be Anwar’s vision. “A writer merely creates the blueprint; the film is the director’s vision. If it has touched people, it is because of his choice of how he wants to interpret it,” says Anjali in a telephone interview from Kochi.
If the norm is to graduate from scriptwriting to filmmaking, Anjali has opted for the reverse without qualms. She relishes the interpretations her text gets in the hands of the director. “I believe in certain irreverence to the script. Anwar was quite loyal to it, perhaps more than what I would have been,” says Anjali.
Not the kind of writer who would be on the sets channeling each scene, she believes a story too needs freedom. “It is like a kite, unless you let it loose, it will not fly. The film is more important than the script.”
Ustad Hotel was born from the friendship Anjali and Anwar shared when they met for Kerala Café, in which he directed Bridge. A healthy respect for each other’s work and trust became the benchmark for their professional collaboration. “When we met and talked about his past films, he told me once, ‘Anjali, I want to make a film in which I compromise the least.’ That kind of stuck in my head. I wanted to write something in which he wouldn’t have to compromise,” she says.
Ustad Hotel took shape step by step. Till the seventh draft, the script remained in English. Having spent her childhood in the Middle East, Anjali says, “I write in English. It is only after the script was locked after the seventh draft that I started re-writing in Malayalam.” The film then grew into its skin. “I remember the opening line — ‘The idea of Faizi began before him.’ When I wrote in Malayalam it became, ‘Faizi-nte katha oon janikinnekal munpe todangi.’ That is when it really hit Anwar,” she says. A sophisticated script embraced its colloquial character and grew its soul.
Though the film has won appreciation, there are stray comments on its faint resemblance to Soul Kitchen, another food movie. Anjali reacts with her trademark poise. “I haven’t watched Soul Kitchen. There are a lot of food films all over the world and many that are centred around the renovation of a restaurant. I am a big fan of food films.”
Moving on, she is set to direct her next script. “It is when I am specific about how I want a movie to be that I direct. Next is a romantic comedy, light and fluffy, and those who have read it have had a hearty laugh.”
Scripts may have burst forth, but Anjali insists she is not much of a writer. “I might have a bunch of stories to tell, but I am not a writer per se. If someone asks me to write to a brief, I am lost.” Stories for her are everywhere. “It’s how you say it.” She says she always “had a thing for drama of any sort — theatre, dance, acting, it really excites me.”
However, this graduate in Commerce from Providence Women’s College, Kozhikode, took her time to realise that her heart was in films. “I should have recognised it early — my passion for storytelling and acting.”
Yet she took a detour to reach movies, doing a masters in communication studies specialising in television production. It was only after short films, documentaries and corporate films, even as a colleague commented on her penchant for adding drama to a documentary, and after another masters in filmmaking and writing from the London International Film School, that she finally reached feature films.
Anjali says she took the circuitous route to convince her family that she indeed belonged to films. “I was keen to take my family along with me in my decision rather than rebel. And I am the better for it.”
As she delves deeper into the magic of cinema, she says her quest is towards that moment when the filmmaker, the audience and all involved are in the same state soaking in a moment. “It is that moment that everything is built towards, that little bit of mohabbat in your work.”