Meera Menon, a United States-based filmmaker, who has her roots in Kerala, won the inaugural Nora Ephron award at the Tribeca Film Festival. The filmmaker talks about her debut feature film Farah Goes Bang.
And she arrives on the scene with a bang! For her debut feature film Farah Goes Bang, Meera Menon, a United States (U.S.)-based filmmaker of Malayali origin, has won the inaugural Nora Ephron Award at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, New York; an award instituted in the memory of the writer/director who gave us hits such as Harry Met Sally and Sleepless In Seattle. Farah Goes Bang is an engaging, sexually and politically candid coming-of-age story of Farah Mahtab, a 20-something Iranian American, who tries to lose her virginity while campaigning across America for presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004. She’s on the road trip with her friends, K.J. and Roopa. Excerpts from an e-mail interview with the filmmaker, who may be familiar to Malayalis thanks to her role in the popular tele-serial American Dreams (that used to be aired on Asianet)
What was your inspiration for Farah Goes Bang?
There were multiple sources of inspiration for the film. The first and foremost was my experience as a young college student during the 2004 election, a time in which many people my age were sensing a need to engage with the world. The youngsters depicted in Farah Goes Bang are energised by that same political moment, one in which America was a country newly at war. Equally important was my friendship with my co-writer, Laura Goode. The film, at its heart, is about the importance of female friendships during the rapid period of personal growth that is your twenties. I have learned so much through my friends, particularly female, about who I am and the woman I hope to be. This film is a love letter to how formative those relationships are when you are young.
Does it reflect your own identity as a first-generation emigrant in the U.S.?
Yes.The film also reflects my experience as a first generation immigrant. Farah and Roopa are first generation immigrants [Roopa is from India]. Their odyssey through the heartland of America is meant to demonstrate the ways in which these girls are often not seen as American, though they are as American as any other. I really wanted the film to integrate their faces and races into a new sense of American identity, one that embraces the hybrid, cross-cultural form that I have experienced in my own sense of citizenship.
How challenging was it to tell a story of an America in turmoil through the story of a young woman who does not fit the bill as typically ‘American’.
It was not challenging to tell the story because this is how my friends and I experience the country as young, modern American women. That being said, what is difficult is getting people to understand that we are not telling an ‘ethnic’ story, but rather, we are telling an American story, with characters that just happen to be female and have immigrant backgrounds.
Why did Farah’s story need to be told?
I really feel that if more stories are told, especially in the West, that integrate various cultural identities into the mainstream, that the stereotypes we often see of Asian Americans on screen will fade away.
Was there any particular reason why you chose the Kerry campaign to set the milieu?
We chose the Kerry campaign because it was an election in which we participated. But I also thought it would serve as a really appropriate backdrop to a coming-of-age story, because the end result of that campaign was so disappointing and surprising for us at the time. I think that really nicely it reflects how it feels to be young, really believe in something, and then realise that not everything always turns out the way you want it to. Such disappointments are part of what helps us grow up and realise that the world will not always bend to our will, and that we must find a way to move on in the wake of that.
Tell us a little about yourself and how you got involved with the movies
My father [film producer Vijayan Menon, who is also the founder of cultural association Tara Arts] is the primary reason I became interested in the movies. I grew up with many actors, filmmakers, and musicians in our house, and through my father I learned the way in which films can really keep communities and cultures alive. Without his influence I might have dismissed my passion for films as a fancy. Through him I saw how powerful an influence Malayalam films have on its people.
You’ve also acted in the Malayalam soap American Dreams. Do you prefer acting or directing?
Right now I prefer directing. But I think my background in performance does help me relate to actors a bit more.
Growing up, my parents would take me to Kerala once every two years. Now it is more like once every three to four years, whenever I can find time off from work, or in the past few years, being in college [Meera holds an undergraduate degree in English and Art History from Columbia University, and an MFA in directing from University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts]. My memories are always connected to my grandfather, and his home in Kovoor, Kottayam. That is the place where my family has visited and gathered for so many years, and that is where the deepest part of my heart lives because of how far back my roots go there.