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Verve People
May 30, 2017

When Women Call The Shots: Anu Menon

Text by Huzan Tata (With Ranjabati Das). Photograph by Prateek Patel. Styling by Anuradha Gandhi. Make-Up and Hair by Vathingla, Jean-Claude Biguine Salon and Spa, Mumbai

The award-winning film-maker talks about her cinematic works…

She started off as an engineering student and worked in advertising as well, but the arc lights soon beckoned, leading her to the director’s chair. Menon’s debut film was the romantic comedy London, Paris, New York (2012) starring Ali Zafar and Aditi Rao Hydari, that met with lukewarm response at the box-office. But praises — and a Best Director Award at the London Asian Film Festival — poured in for her second movie Waiting (2016), that featured Kalki Koechlin and Naseeruddin Shah, and dealt with themes of loss and longing in a light-hearted manner.

“When I was based in Singapore, I ended up spending a lot of time alone in remote places, and was drawn to stories from those areas. I had an epiphany that I didn’t want to sell sugared drinks and mobile phones for the rest of my life — I would rather be a storyteller. So I quit my job and went to film school. There is no high that compares to those minutes between ‘action’ and ‘cut’. All that you have worked for is being captured in those precious moments. I live for that!”

“Writing and directing are like my children — I love them equally. Both are rewarding and exhausting in their own ways. I think it’s always better to tell stories that deal with heavier, more intense themes with a dose of laughter and wit to take the edge off.”

“Receiving an email from Naseer sir when he read the script of Waiting was a great moment. I forwarded it to a lot of close friends and family. I do have some close collaborators whose ideas and criticism I look forward to. I don’t have a mentor, but I have learnt a lot from people I have worked with, from co-writers to actors to technicians. I am always thrilled when someone brings a new insight to my work or my worldview.”

“Once someone asked me, ‘why did you choose to make experimental cinema?’ I got annoyed because there is nothing experimental about this cinema! We work really hard, take years to write the script, rehearse with actors and edit for months so as to get the best product out. What’s experimental about it? This sort of labelling does a disservice to us because it scares people away. It just puts people in boxes. Films should be evaluated on the basis of their content — and that’s all.”

“It’s important to have many more women directing to get the female point of view on screen. There is some obvious and some not so obvious sexism around — essentially it’s all about access and opportunity. Since many decision makers in the industry are still men, they don’t warm up to female film-makers easily. For example, there are enough male directors making so-called ‘feminist’ films, but if a woman wants to make an action movie, everyone is wary.”

“We need to change the narratives we see on screen. I’d like to see opportunities given to more actors than just the top stars. We need a much larger pool of actors and better distribution models, so that films are not just dependent on the size of marketing budgets to get noticed and watched. Film-making is not meant to be easy and it won’t be — so be prepared to enjoy the ride, however bumpy!”

“The privileges I enjoy today as a woman are because a lot of women fought for them. We still have a long way to go. We have to continue fighting till there is true equality between the sexes, at least for future generations. I am proud to be a ‘woman director’ and if in any way my work or my words can inspire more women to follow their dreams to become film-makers, I would feel satisfied. So yes, till we have that equality, I can’t afford to hate questions on being a ‘woman director’.”

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