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‘Moothon provokes and intrigues,’ says Geetu Mohandas

With the Nivin Pauly-starrer opening the the Mumbai Film Festival today, the filmmaker speaks about the various aspects of the much-anticipated film

Filmmaker-actor Geetu Mohandas’ second film Moothon (The Elder One) had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier in September. It marked a homecoming of sorts for her since she had done her undergraduation in law and politics there 20 years back at Western University. “My father brought me here with big dreams and hopes of a better life. I wish he was alive to see the world premiere. It’s like coming a full circle,” she said.

The film that opens the Mumbai Film Festival that begins today is about the search of a young girl for her lost elder brother. It is also about a metaphorical, inner quest within to find oneself. Most of all it is tender love story that negotiates matters of gender and sexuality with a rare fluidity and offers fresh, new challenges to its actors, specially the lead, Nivin Pauly.

The film also marks a unique collaboration of talent from Kerala and Bollywood. It has been co-produced by Anurag Kashyap, Ajay G. Rai of Jar Pictures, Vinod Kumar and Alan McAlex. Besides Pauly, it stars Dileesh Pothan, Sanjana Dipu, Sobhita Dhulipala and Shashank Arora. Moothon also speaks in two tongues — the local dialect of the Lakshadweep islands and Hindi.

The Hindu caught up with Mohandas, for a post screening chat in Toronto, while she joked with her agents about getting her a bottle of “real” (still, not sparkling) water, kept apologising to us for being jetlagged and confessed missing her six-year-old daughter. Excerpts:

The first thing that struck me about the film is the element of gender fluidity…

It came to me while writing but then I realised that it’s a grave responsibility. Very organically, in the process of writing, it evolved. This was the time when the Sundance Lab was involved in mentoring me. I got a sense of clarity and direction that I needed to take. Having said that there have been so many different layers in the film in my head. I am just hoping now that people will get those layers. It’s questionable, it’s up to debate, discussion. It provokes, intrigues. These are the emotions that I expect from the film.

Is that happening? Did you get that sense at TIFF?

Actually I got a lot of love. I got a lot of questions. People kept asking me about my interpretation of the ending, what I intended. This has been such a surreal experience for me that I have also realised that while answering questions I am also getting a sense clarity about my own film. It’s not just about me, it’s about the questions they ask. When I put those back to them, they actually answer themselves. They explain it so beautifully, much better than I could have ever explained it. So I just let it be. I love to tell stories that are ambiguous.

Did the core of the film begin with the love story?

Not at all. I never started off with that. I didn’t start off to tell about identity crisis. All the interviews I did maximum questions were about it. [But] I started off to tell about a search, a thought about a little child, hearing these fascinating tales about the older brother, whom the kid has never met and wanting to know more about him. That was the seed, where it germinated. And then it evolved.

There is the physical search, from Lakshadweep to Mumbai. Then there is metaphorical journey within the self…

These socio-political undercurrents of the narrative were certainly part of the graph that I wanted to achieve.

Nivin Pauly in ‘Moothon’

Nivin Pauly in ‘Moothon’  

How easy was it to get Nivin on board for a character like this, something that a lot of actors might not want to embrace?

I really appreciate him for that. There was no doubt in my mind that he wouldn’t do it. We are neighbours, as in we live in the same building. He had expressed the desire to work with me numerous times. And I had said that we will when a suitable project comes along. In fact Moothon is something I was thinking with another actor. I used to discuss the other names with Nivin. He later told me, after the film was over, that he secretly manifested me into his life and project. He said that every time I would tell him something, he’d think ‘but this is my project, this is coming to me’. I don’t know what happened but one day I decided that I would call him up and say ‘hey, do you want to hear the story?’. He went ‘why not’ and that is how it started.

I don’t care about people saying how different the film is, how innovative it is. I just want people to see the love.

The film is set in Lakshadweep and speaks in a local dialect…

It’s a dialect, they don’t even have a written script. It’s spoken only in Lakshadweep that itself has a lot of islands and each island has a different dialect. It keeps changing.

So everybody had to learn it?

We kept it very close to Malayalam so that we can have a wider release. In Lakshadweep there is no film industry. They watch only Malayalam films. It’s such a beautiful place, it’s incredible.

But will your core audience in Kerala be able to get the dialect?

It may take a little bit to get used to the slang but they will understand and follow because it is the Malayalis [actors] who are speaking in that dialect. They could keep the authenticity of the dialect but at the same time retain a sense of space and setting of Lakshadweep. It was a very balanced thing we did.

So no need for subtitles for the audience?

I have lost objectivity since I have heard it so many times. I follow everything so am expecting people to follow but we will have Malayalam subtitles and English as well. We will need to do that but people will follow it.

I was intrigued about the rituals you show in the film…

Kathurabeeb… If you Google search or Youtube it, you will see more gore.

Did it involve a lot of such research about the place, culture, people…

It’s something that is part and parcel of writing. We shot in Agatti and Bangaram. We are going back to show the film there on a large scale. It’s only Muslims in the islands and they don’t know what my film is all about.

Why the setting specifically?

It’s right next to Kerala. I couldn’t set it in Kochi even though I had initially planned. It’s still a city. A kid from there wouldn’t have been in danger or scared or in harm in Mumbai. They would already be street smart but an islander has a certain charm which comes from the setting and space. I wanted that.

The Malayalam film industry-Bollywood collaboration is unique…

In Malayalam-Hindi, I don’t think such a pan India thing has happened. I call it pan India because we are very fortunate that TIFF happened for us, MAMI opening film happened, so market opened up for us. It’s a small Malayalam, independent film. It became bigger than what it is, bigger than what I had dreamt about.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 1:36:28 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/moothon-provokes-and-intrigues-says-geetu-mohandas/article29724839.ece

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