Labs polish your craft of screenplay writing
Noted actress Geethu Mohandas started her filmmaking journey with Kelkkunnundo, an award-winning Malayalm short film. Her first feature, Liar’s Dice, won two National Awards and was India’s Official entry for the 87th Academy Awards.
Currently in the process of completing her second script, which was part of the Drishyam Sundance Institute Screenwriters’ Lab 2015, the filmmaker speaks to Pandolin about the genesis of her next film and shares the experience of being part of the Lab.
What prompted you to apply for the Drishyam Sundance Institute Screenwriters’ Lab?
Firstly, I have never attended a Lab before and I feel that a lab offers immense knowledge about writing and its craft for first and second time filmmakers. We were not aware of who the other fellows or the mentors were and I thought it was quite exciting to be in such a space, unlearn what you know about screenwriting and see how it challenges you. Also, I was exposed to it (Lab) because Liar’s Dice was in competition at Sundance so I know everybody who is involved in it and they had requested me to submit my next screenplay which would be under consideration for the Lab.
What was the selection procedure for the Lab?
They have screenplays coming to them from all over the world and India as well. They basically zero in on the top 7 finalists, who they think have maximum potential with their screenplay and the fact that they see those (screenplays) materialising. Such candidates are chosen and given the opportunity to be mentored.
Overall, what are your views on the initiative as a whole – Drishyam Films collaborating with Sundance Institute to give filmmakers this novel opportunity?
I think it is absolutely fantastic. It is a very good thing that they are helping independent filmmakers like us realize our dreams and nurture them. The tie up with Drishyam was amazing because it was so well organized. Drishyam has an amazing background to independent cinema and their works have been on the global platform. They understand this business and the genre, the place that we (filmmakers) are coming from and they understand the struggle. It is important to have somebody with that kind of a vision to support the Lab and not just somebody with a lot of money. Manish Mundra and Drishyam are the right partners to be collaborating with Sundance because it gives us hope that even in the future, possibly, our films will be noticed as well.
The creative advisers comprised a mix of Indian and International filmmakers. Has this mix helped in getting a global perspective to the script?
Yes, definitely. There were filmmakers from India and abroad who were a part of it. However, I’m telling a very Indian story, so somewhere down the line, I felt that the mentors from here (India) could relate more to what I’m saying and connect to the emotional quotient of the story. But cinema has a very universal language, and I realized that what I wanted to tell was conveyed even to the international mentors. The diversity of responses we got was the most exciting part. There were things that the mentors said that can go against what I believe in, about the film. But the whole idea is to be very receptive to suggestions, listen to what they have to offer, and take what you want. Because nothing is written on stone and I don’t think anyone can tell me my script better than myself.
Please tell us about your interaction with the mentors and the other fellows and the experience of working with them?
Each fellow did have 4-5 mentors but it was such an interactive space that we could also sign up for other mentors if they were free. I think the whole experience – not just brainstorming the ideas with the mentors, even talking cinema with the other fellows – really helped. When we were sharing ideas, there was so much of positive energy and so many ideas were thrown on the table that somewhere down the line you get inspired by them.
In fact I was telling Sundance that it is unfair that the Lab is just for first and second time filmmakers because this is my second film and I can never attend the Lab now for Sundance, and it is so unfortunate. Ideally, if my script is good, I should be given an opportunity to come back, even if it’s my fiftieth film. Because you learn from every film, it’s not like you master the craft after one or two films.
Coming to the script that was part of the Lab, how did the genesis of Mulakoya happen? What does ‘Mulakoya’ mean and which language will the film be in?
I travel extensively all over India and abroad. I think the germ of the idea just happened during my travels by noticing stories and people around me. Something must have triggered off an idea and that translated into the screenplay. In the beginning, the language will be the local island language – they don’t have a written language, it’s a dialect that changes from island to island. In certain places even the accent changes. Once the character comes to the mainland, there is a little bit of Malayalam. And then there’s Hindi too. The story travels and I’m covering a lot of languages in this film.
Does the Lab help you finish your script or give you a direction towards doing so? Also will Drishyam Films produce any of the scripts?
Once the script is done, Sundance and Drishyam will mentor you and make sure that you make your film. I didn’t even know about this (Drishyam producing the films); I read it somewhere, but I hope that it is true and I hope they pick me (laughs).
Be it your short film Kelkunnundo, Liar’s Dice or now Mulakoya – What inspires your style of filmmaking?
I tell real stories about real people from what I have been observing around me. And that’s how I want to tell them, as real as possible. My stories are about the common man.
Will your husband, cinematographer Rajeev Ravi be a part of this project as well?
If he has the dates then he will be my first choice.
Before the lab began, what were your expectations like and were they satisfactorily met at the end of it?
I went with a very open mind and didn’t have any sort of an expectation, I just wanted to be very receptive and openly go there. I didn’t want people to know that I had done a film that was an Oscar entry from India. I didn’t want people to read my script with any preconceived ideas. And I felt that. Of course, by the time the Lab got over people got to know about each others’ works but while the Lab was going on I got such amazing feedback, it was more than I could ask for. Labs are a great experience because they certainly polish your craft of screenplay writing.
Being a successful actor yourself, would we see you facing the camera in any of your own directorial ventures?
I think people will be very scared to call me to act in their films now (laughs). Honestly, I don’t see myself acting in any of my films as well, at all.