Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Working during an Avalanche


Director Geetu Mohandas talks about her experiences in the Hindi film, ‘Liar’s Dice’

By Shevlin Sebastian

On a day in January, 2013, the people in the remote village of Chitkul in Himachal Pradesh were feeling nervous. There was an endless rumble in the mountains. And avalanches were taking place on different slopes.

They rushed to inform the 18-member crew of the Hindi film, ‘Liar's Dice’, that it was time to leave. “They said we would get stuck,” says the film's director Geetu Mohandas. “It was a call that my husband [and cinematographer] Rajeev [Ravi] and I took. We needed to take that last shot.”

It was a sunset scene. “A woman (Gitanjali Thapa) accompanied by a three-year-old child (Manya Gupta) and a goat was leaving the village, without informing anybody,” says Geetu. “She wanted to go in search of her husband in the city.”

By the time the shoot was over, they saw that the road was submerged under a huge mound of snow. “It was scary,” says Geetu. “We were stuck. We could not move forward.”

The local people informed the Army. Although it was 6 p.m., it had become pitch-black all over. “The only light was from the headlights of our car,” says Geetu. “The temperature was below freezing. And the sound of the rumbling was frightening. It was like stones breaking. But, really, it is an indescribable sound. And all of us felt frightened to hear the
sound of Nature, when it is angry.”

By the time the Army arrived, two hours had gone past. Then they realised that that they needed machines to clear the road. It would take at least three days. That was when the local people, using shovels, began to make a narrow passage at the edge of the road. “They took close to two hours,” says Geetu. “The cliff-edge was jagged. The road surface was slippery. They told us to cross, but without touching each other. Because we could slip and fall down.”

One by one, the crew members crossed. The one who was the most relaxed was Manya, the child. “She was laughing and singing a song,” says Geetu.

But it was not so for Geetu. “My husband knew about my fear of heights,” she says. “He was worried about how I was going to cross. Then Rajeev said he was going to walk and asked me to hold his hand and walk behind him. But at that moment, I saw that Gitanjali was looking scared. So, I told her to go ahead and hold Rajeev's hand.”

Rajeev was unaware that it was Gitanjali's hand that he was holding. At the half way mark, he turned around and saw that it was Gitanjali. “He became red in the face,” says a smiling Geetu.

Since she was the director Geetu waited till everybody had crossed. Now it was her turn. She walked in a gang of six. Two drivers in front, and two behind her.

We began to walk slowly,” says Geetu. “I felt breathless. And suddenly I lost my balance. So I was literally held by my hands and legs and taken across. I felt like Jagathy Sreekumar in a comedy film.” The crew finally made it across to safety.

But there was one unforeseen result. “For so many days I was the no-nonsense director,” says Geetu. “Now my whole image lay shattered. Thankfully, the shoot had been completed.” When she returned home, to Aluva, she got another shock: she had been two months pregnant during the shoot. But it all ended well. Today, Aradhana is a lively three-year-old. 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode) 

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