Stepping Out of the Shadows: Director Geetu Mohandas

The international award winning director Geetu Mohandas talks of her journey thus far !

Her journey as an artiste began at the tender age of five with none other than superstar Mohanlal. The movie, ‘Onnu Muthal Poojyam Vare’ won her the Kerala State film award and continues to be one of those rare films that have been etched in Mollywood history for its memorable and touching performance. The little girl instantly stole the hearts of the Malayali audience and as she grew up, there was no stopping her from facing the camera again! But this time, she felt things seemed very different, as though her voice wasn’t being heard. She had entered a period in cinema when machismo reigned and women were portrayed in bad light. She once again won the Kerala state film award for ‘Akale’ and after ‘Nallu Pennungal’ with Adoor Gopalakrishnan, she decided to call it quits only to step behind the camera to make interesting cinema! She was determined to put the industry on the world map! RITZ catches up with the international award winning director, Geetu Mohandas, who is busy shooting at Lakshadweep for the much-awaited Mollywood flick ‘Moothon’ starring Nivin Pauly. 

Interview: Riya Sonny Datson 

She started her film debut as a child artiste and later as a heroine with Mohanlal, so would she be directing him next? “When I won the Sundance International award for Liar’s Dice, my film fraternity decided to honour me and it was Lalettan who bestowed the ‘Ponnanda’ on me. He looked into my eyes then and told me, “Am so proud of you!” It felt so good because he has seen me grow up in the industry. About directing him? I am not sure about that…There are more chances that I would be directing my favourite Mammooka!” she laughs. 

Her Role As An Actor

“I don’t remember doing any exceptional films during my acting stint. The numbers were very few and very rarely would you feel excited working with directors like Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Shyamaprasad or T K Rajeev Kumar. It was a time when senseless or mindless comedy films were being made, where the heroes would say punch dialogues against women or slap a woman and the audience would clap for him. Somewhere down the line, I felt hurt as though my voice wasn’t important…I felt stifled because I had lived all my life abroad and things seemed different here. I couldn’t be apologetic because I was well read or because I was different. I was not the quintessential girl with the Kullipinnal and Chandanakuri, who didn’t have any dreams. I was trying to fit into that mould but I realised it didn’t come naturally. My dad reminded me that I had a different strength and I would know that one day! There were moments in my career where people, especially my senior actors and actresses supported me and told me that I should do something different. One such person is Mammooka – he appreciated my confidence, loved my energy and blessed my energy. It is during such moments that you derive the confidence to chase your dreams,” she recalls.

Towards this goal, Geetu started educating herself by going for film festivals and most importantly, unlearning being an actor and a star! “I remember sitting on the floor with the rest of the audience at the film festival because there were no seats. I had to unlearn being an actor and a star and the day I stopped being an actress, I stepped into the real world! I started to observe films, people and since then I don’t remember being a star for a single day in my life. Even my friends tell me that I have come such a long way and that things are different now!

Donning the Director’s Hat

“I always used to write and direct plays even when I was studying. I met Rajeev in the film industry at a very young and impressionable age. He channelised my thoughts, encouraged me, showed me books to read and guided me to the right path. He instilled in me the thought that there is a world beyond what I saw. He has been my constant inspiration to work hard. And I wanted to show the world that I am what I am, because of my hard work,” she says.

Her first directorial venture, which was a short film called ‘Kelkunundo’ was world premiered at the Rotterdam international film festival and won three international awards and a national award. Next was Liar’s Dice which did even better! It was world premiered in competition at the Sundance International Film Festival and subsequently won six international awards and two national awards. It was also the official entry from India for the 87th Academy Awards. Challenges while directing Liar’s Dice? “The challenges were more in terms of the weather conditions. We had a small crew and the entire film was shot at a stretch in just 22 days. All the production was done in-house, so it wasn’t too difficult,” she recalls.

Her latest project, ‘Moothon’ is already in the news! It was selected for the Sundance lab program, where she got a chance to be mentored by international film makers. She went on to be the only woman director to win the Global Film Making award in 2016 for its screenplay – from among the top five scripts selected internationally! Indeed, a very proud moment!

How difficult has it been being a woman director? “I know successful women directors who have had to face a lot of hardship. But I am at an advantage because I have Rajeev to support me and we have our home production. So I do the kind of movies that I really want to do. The moment I decide to do a film, I have the infrastructure to make it happen. My only battle is to ensure that the movie turns out better than I envisioned.” When asked about her dream directorial venture, she says it is too early to comment but let’s just say that ‘Moothon’ would be my last Indian film for some time!

On Winning Awards

“I think that my father is smiling down at me….I feel that this could have been anyone else. It’s not that it has to be consistent in future although I hope and pray that it does. While the going is good, enjoy it, do good films! But to me, success is a very relative term. I have my own struggles as an independent film maker. Since my name is attached to the Oscars, national awards or independent film making, at times mainstream producers might find it a minus – as it is not mass cinema. But it doesn’t bother me. I know that at the end of the day, no amount of Oscars or awards work – It’s all about the numbers on Friday and I am yet to reach there.” 

‘Moothon’

Everyone is talking about the film and Nivin Pauly’s rugged look in his new avatar! “I can’t reveal much about the movie now but I would say it’s a contemporary story of a young boy in search of his older brother.” Are there many shades to Nivin Pauly’s character? “Let’s see how many shades he brings out! I am very excited about his casting. I love his eyes and I feel he has the most mesmerising eyes. He’s in an interesting juncture in his career when he has done all kinds of ensembles. I hope we can push the bar with ‘Moothon’.” Is it a commercial movie? “I have a commercial actor! Well, it’s my take on a certain type of storytelling. The audience should sit back, relax and enjoy my storytelling.”

Being a Working Mother

“Being a mother is the easiest thing that has happened in my life. I am a natural mother and I have always loved kids – my nephew before my child. Aradhana makes our life easy as she is an easy child herself. I was pregnant while filming Liar’s Dice so she has heard ‘Action’ while in my womb. I take her everywhere and in all my travels. She’s a part of my journey as a director. If I say Action, she’s sitting on my shoulder.  She’s not seen a single movie till date and I don’t want to expose her to films at all. All my friends are actors and she knows all of them not as stars, but as their child’s father or mother,” she smiles. Any advice to working women or mothers who want to get back to their careers? “Motherhood is the most challenging aspect of my life. Every day is a challenge. If a woman decides to have a career, a child shouldn’t come in her way. I work 24/7 on a film, but my daughter is with me through it all. If I feel I need to step away, I make sure my mother travels with me to fill the gap. It is never difficult to manage both. It is ok to be career-oriented and to not have a child too. I for one, needed a child to fulfil myself. It’s all about what you want! What works for me doesn’t need to work for someone else. You need to live life for yourself and for your loved ones and do what makes you happy!”

Rapid Fire:

  • Relaxing is: Spending time with Aradhana, read, cook and party hard with my friends.
  • Favourite Author: Amitav Ghosh
  • Favourite Holiday: Malaysia.
  • Favourite Dish: Mutton Biriyani.
  • Fashion Favourite: Anything that suits me.
  • Motto in Life: Don’t judge people, coz you don’t live their life!
  • Inspiration: My father.
  • Dream: I dream big and not necessarily monetary but I feel one should never settle!