Charting an independent path

Geetu Mohandas is both thrilled and inspired. The script of her yet-to-be shot film Insha Allah bagged the Global Filmmaking award at the Sundance Film Festival and Geetu is the only Asian to receive it. “It is more exciting when your work gets attention when it is still at the script level,” she says.

The film, which is about a boy from Lakshadweep searching for his brother, is an adventure drama. “We had to attend lab workshops at the festival, where we had a one-to-one session with five mentors. They broke the scripts down for us, polished up rough edges and pointed out what was missing. It was a great exposure.”

Keralites know Geetu as the big-eyed child artist of Onnu Muthal Poojyam Vare that starred Mohanlal. After many years, a grown-up Geetu hit the silver screen again in Life is Beautiful, as Mohanlal’s fiercely independent sister-in-law. Then, she became a filmmaker. Now, the mother of a three-year-old is an established indie filmmaker who has made a mark in the international film market with her debut film Liar’s Dice that bagged two national awards.

This is not the first time that she is attending the Sundance Lab sessions. Last year they had launched a similar one in Goa as well.

“The best thing about these workshops is that it reinforced that cinema is a universal language. For instance, while working on my script, my mentors hardly had any idea about Malayalam nor were they familiar with the political situation in the state. But, they could relate to the emotion.”

She says the experience in Sundance pampers a moviemaker and true film buff. “It is a totally director-driven festival. I believe that should be the way a film industry must function. Stars should be chosen to suit the script and the characters. I am not closed to using stars. If I feel a certain star suits my film, I will rope them in. In Liar’s Dice, I chose Nawazuddin Siddiqui much before he became a household name.”

With its participation in festivals such as Sundance and Berlinale, Indian cinema has opened itself to an international film market. But, the independent filmmaking scene in the country has never looked better, says Geetu. “And it is not the exotic India that the West seems to be looking for. They are genuinely interested in the real stories from India.”

Insha Allah will be a bilingual — in Hindi and Malayalam. Geetu says she will have to cart her daughter to the shooting locales. “She will be attached to me like a backpack. I could not take her to Sundance, since it was a short trip and would have been too much of a hassle. But, I am trying to make her a part of my work from now, shuttling back and forth from home to shooting locations.”

How does it feel to be a woman in a male-dominated field? Geetu refuses to see things in a gender perspective. “When you watch a film, you should not be able to make out if it is of a woman or of a man. That is like killing it.” Geetu is happy that more women are breaking barriers and venturing into the film industry. “A film is either good or bad. I celebrate the women who are in the industry rather than blame those who are not in it.”

More than gender, the bigger challenge for an independent filmmaker is to break the conventional rules of the industry and make a genuine film. “My aim is to play by my own rules and stop comparing myself to other filmmakers, who need to make money out of a film to make their next. Fortunately, I have the luxury that cinema is not my bread-and-butter. It is my passion.”

What the awards are about

The Sundance Institute Global Filmmaking Awards are given to emerging filmmakers from World Cinema on the basis of their next screenplay. The other winners are:

Armando Capo for August (Cuba)

Abdellah Taia for The Treasure (from Morocco)

Antonio Piazza and Fabio Grassadonia for Sicilian Ghost

Story (from Italy)

The Sundance Institute conducts Workshops and Day Labs that offer participants premium resources and expert advice on topics ranging from screenwriting to digital distribution. It provides opportunities for artists to improve their storytelling and advance their projects to the next phase.

For details, visit

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2022 5:58:36 PM |

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