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Seeds of a success story


Award-winning director Anjali Menon talks about her feature film, ‘Manjadikurru,’ and her love for cinema.

In cinema, it is not just one person telling a story, it is a group of people – script writer, director, cinematographer, editors, actors…

Photo: Liza George

Raconteur: Anjali Menon says there is a story in every little thing.

Anjali Menon believes small is beautiful. And that could be a reason why she chose a small subject which in turn became an award winning movie. Her movie, ‘Manjadikurru,’ which was screened at the International Film Festival of Kerala won the FIPRESCI Award for best Malayalam film and Hassankutty award for best debutant Indian director.

Starring Prithviraj, Rahman, Thilakan, Murali, Urvashi, Kaviyoor Ponnamma and Sindhu Menon to name a few, ‘Manjadikurru,’ according to Anjali, is a journey back to one’s roots.

“Manjadikurrus, which are in pods, scatter when the pods wither. There is something very organic about the journey of the seeds. I have tried to liken it to the journey a person takes when he steps out of his family or maybe his culture and the kind of journey he takes back towards his own roots. This is depicted through a series of metaphors in the movie,” says Anjali.

Inspired by a photograph

A photograph, according to Anjali, was the inspiration for the story. The photograph captured the moment of joy shared among a few kids during a funeral.

“It was this contrast of emotions which made me wonder. When the adults considered it a moment to mourn, the children did not see it that way. These dual thoughts made me think about it in a larger plane,” says Anjali who adds that her experience as a second-generation non-resident Indian (NRI) helped in the making of the film.

Anjali grew up in the Middle East and studied at the London Film School (United Kingdom).

Says Anjali: “You live in all these different places and you feel as if you belong but in reality you don’t actually belong to any of these places.”

So, in the movie you have Vicky (Prithviraj) the protagonist playing an NRI in search of his roots.

For the making of the movie, Anjali learnt how to read and write Malayalam. She says: “It was very challenging yet very rewarding as well, as you discover a new treasure trove of literature. But I still think in English and it is a problem when you are penning down dialogues in Malayalam,” she rues.

The dialogues for ‘Manjadikurru’ were a joint effort by Anjali and her friend Paliyath Aparna Menon.

While Anjali wrote the dialogues in English, Aparna translated them into Malayalam. As certain elements get lost in translation, there was constant reworking on it.

“It took us nine months to get the dialogues right. They are not high flowing and I think that has worked in favour for the movie as many viewers came up to me to say that it is exactly the way they speak at home and that they could relate to the characters.”

According to Anjali, her love for writing started when she was a kid. “I also used to make my dolls act out the stories from my Nancy Drew and Hardy Boy collection so I guess my flair for direction started there,” says the Mumbai-based director. While ‘Manjadikurru’ may be her directorial debut in feature films, Anjali has directed, produced and written several other works in other genres.

“There is ‘The Time to Blossom,’ a documentary on Rubiya, a classical Indian dancer from Malappuram, ‘Kalyani,’ a tele-film with emphasis on street children and ‘Ila’ a dance film based on a world music track.”

An ardent movie buff, Anjali enjoys the Malayalam cinema of the 80’s and 90’s, especially those by the late Padmarajan. “I usually go for movies with a level of intelligence in them,” says the woman who enjoys telling stories through visuals.

Group effort

“There is a story in everything if you just keep your eyes open. A simple thing can inspire you. Also in cinema, it is not just one person telling a story but it is a a group of people: the script writer, director, cinematographer, editors, actors…which makes it a thing of beauty.”

When Anjali isn’t busy directing, she is busy running Little Films, a company that helps produce fiction and non-fiction films. “We are now starting a new distribution venture where we represent regional film makers of a select group of films and try and promote their movies overseas. It is still in the latent stage. ”Anjali is currently working on two projects. “One is a research intensive one which will take a bit of time to write, and the other is a contemporary drama set in Mumbai, which is currently in development.”

SIMPLE STORY LINE: A scene from "Manjadikurru"

On winning the awards

I’m dumbstruck. Usually I’m quite coherent, but I’m really zapped by the news. I really didn’t expect to win a prize for the movie. In fact when they announced the name the first time, it didn’t sink in, it was only when they called it out the second time that I realised that they were announcing ‘Manjadikurru’ as the winner and that I had to go on stage,” says Anjali.

“I guess the simplicity in the story struck a chord with the jury. Also we explored basic human emotions which I think goes beyond any cultural barriers. Receiving these awards is a reaffirmation for me to continue with my work.”

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