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November 10, 2017

How Rakhee Sandilya’s Film ‘Ribbon’ Put Her On The Map

Text by Ranjabati Das

“The relationships in our lives are very much like the two ends of a ribbon. If you can tie it together, it will turn into a beautiful flower”

Her first movie Ribbon that released last Friday has gotten her a nod from the critics. A slice-of-life film dealing with an urban couple, it’s the realism and honesty that you take home. In fact, it’s so relatable and real that the ending leaves you a tad surprised. It’s almost as if the story stepped out of the screen and into life itself. You are never bored, but what carries the film through apart from the director’s vision are the able shoulders of Kalki Koechlin and the promising young Sumeet Vyas, who has interestingly chosen quite an un-Bollywood-ish film to make his Bollywood debut with.

 On naming her film Ribbon… “I’ve always had the title of the project down pat before I write the script. This time, however, I had finished the first draft of the film, but I was having a hard time coming up with the title. Whatever I was thinking of seemed very cliched. The relationships in our lives are very much like the two ends of a ribbon. If you can tie it together, it will turn into a beautiful flower. If it becomes loose, then it will be all over the place, just like a relationship. This is why I finally chose to go with this name.”

On pursuing directing… “I have been writing short stories since I was a child as my father was very keen that I develop a habit of writing. I started developing characters and premises but I had no clue that I’ll grow up and take an interest in this profession. I took up a course in creative media, which introduced me to the power of visual storytelling.”

On her first directorial venture… “I have seen women juggling their private and personal lives and going through what the character of Kalki goes through in the film. Earlier, the joint family system was prevalent in India and it was a given that the grandparents would look after their grandkids. But things have changed over the past few years. We are submerged in our own worlds, we give priority to ourselves. We go wherever our work takes us. We don’t live with our parents anymore. We need to tell the story of the modern-day woman. It’s very tough for women in India to get back to their professional lives after a pregnancy, because we don’t have the right infrastructure here. There’s very little support outside of your family – in the professional sphere or otherwise. Sadly, even today, looking after the child is seen as more of a mother’s job. By becoming a mother, you don’t become any less talented, but the mindset of the society and the lack of infrastructure – like availability of help, daycare centres or crèches – is not supportive or confidence-inducing.”

On working with Kalki Koechlin and Sumeet Vyas… “For Kalki’s character, Sahana, I needed someone who looks confident but is at the same time extremely vulnerable. Sahana’s someone who always says what she feels, for example. I needed someone who would actually understand the shades of the character and perform it in a real way. With Kalki, it was very easy: I sent her the script and she came on board. As for Sumeet, when I met him, he felt very real and was really easy to connect to. You will see him and say, ‘Achcha yeh, he’s one of those guys who lives in my building!’ He’s the quintessential guy next door. My film is very realistic, so I needed my characters to be very real too. I didn’t just want someone with a six-pack!”

On cinematic inspirations… “The Dardenne brothers, who have made Rosetta (1999). What I love about them is that they take one small subject which is current and then interpret it in their own way. When I first came to Mumbai, all I wanted to do was assist Vishal Bhardwaj. He is one of the best we have right now. I also like Dibakar Banerjee and Vikramaditya Motwane, who I think are very sensible. My favourite films are In The Mood For Love (2000), Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… And Spring (2003), The White Ribbon (2009), Piano Teacher (2001), Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream (2000) and Black Swan (2010)…. I’m also a big Kubrick and Aparna Sen fan.”

 On her favourite mediums… “I love documentaries, but funding is difficult to find. Also, you don’t always get to tell the story the way you want to say it, especially in the times that we are in. If you are making a documentary, I think there should be no compromises. If you make adjustments while telling a real story, it’s truly a shame. I’m working on one dealing with the survivors of the Mumbai terror attacks of 26/11 for the last three years. I have the research and we have shot for two days, but we don’t have the funding to finish shooting this film.”

On lessons learned… “Listen to everyone, with all your heart, but never forget that it’s your film and that you know best! The biggest challenge is getting a good team together. I wanted to work with a very select group of technicians, and getting them together was not an easy task. But soon, everyone was on the same page. I have never experienced sexism in the industry. In fact, in my team, a very young team, we have many women. It’s difficult to get into any camp in Bollywood because each camp has its own people that they are comfortable with. There’s nothing wrong with that. In my next film, I would want to work with the same people I have worked with, as they understand me. I trust my assistants so much that I can’t work with anyone else!”

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