Monday, July 21, 2014

The Throw Of The Dice

Writer-Director Geetu Mohandas' indie film, 'Liar's Dice', has made a mark on the international film festival circuit

Photo by Mithun Vinod

By Shevlin Sebastian

On the first day of the shoot of the indie film, 'Liar's Dice', writer-director Geetu Mohandas took images of the heroine Kamala (Geetanjali Thapa), working as a sweeper at a homestay run by a Bengali in the remote village of Chitkul in Himachal Pradesh. After the shot was canned, angry villagers swarmed around Geetu and told her, “You cannot shoot this. Our women don't work for other people. They only work for themselves.”

Meanwhile, the production members told Geetu, “If you listen to them now, they will not allow you to complete the film on schedule. They will dictate terms all the time.”

Geetu had to take a split-second decision. She listened to her intuition, and said, I am going to take it off the script.” Then she told the villagers, “Tell me what this woman does. Write the first part for me.”

Thereafter, the excited villagers took Geetu and her crew to the most interesting spaces where the women worked. There was one particular spot, where they stacked hay, with leaves and sticks, before winter arrived, on a particular tree, high up on a mountain. “That became the opening shot of the film,” says Geetu.

'Liar's Dice' traces the journey of Kamala, along with her three-year-old daughter, Manya, as well as a goat, from Chitkul, via stops at Shimla and Chandigarh, in search of her missing husband at Delhi. Along the way, she is befriended by an Army deserter Nawazuddin (played ably by Nawazuddin Siddiqui), and the film highlights the tension and distrust between the two. “It is also a love story,” says Geetu.

But, at bottom, it is a political film. “I got the idea while reading a newspaper item, a few years ago, about migrant labourers and their displacement,” says Geetu. “It was about men from the interior parts of the country who were shown the big dreams of city life, and how they were recruited and the terrible conditions that they lived in. And if a calamity occurred, they became nameless faces or a statistic. They were never identified by name or the place they belonged to.”

The film has made a mark on the international film festival circuit. This year, it has won the Special Jury Award at the Sophia International Film Festival, as well as Best Film and Best Actress at the New York Indian Film Festival. Then it won the Bronce Alhambra award at the Granada Cines del Sur Film Festivaland National Awards for Best Actress and Best Cinematography for Rajeev Ravi, one of Bollywood's leading cinematographers, as well as the spouse of Geetu.

Not surprisingly, the film has also received positive reviews. “Geetu makes an assured debut,” writes Dennis Harvey in 'Variety'. “This Indian road drama is interesting to look at, and nicely observed.” Thus far, it has been screened in 22 festivals, with acceptances from another 30.

It's overwhelming when your film is well-received,” says Geetu. “When you make a movie, you don't have awards in your mind. You just want to produce it within the allotted budget and make a good film.” 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)  

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