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Cut to Anjali

Liza George zooms in on award-winning director Anjali Menon as she talks about her take on movies and more

Photo: S. Gopakumar

On a roll Anjali Menon is working on a documentary on Kavalam Narayana Panikkar

Film director Anjali Menon is on a roll. The winner of the FIPRESCI Award for best Malayalam film and the Hassankutty award for best Indian debut director for Manjadikurru, this petite director has completed shooting a segment for Ranjith’s Kerala Café.

On the common theme of journeys, Kerala Café has 10 filmmakers presenting their impressions of contemporary Kerala. The independent segments merge when during these journeys the characters from the various narratives pass through Kerala Café, a railway cafeteria.

With Jagathy Sreekumar and Nithya Menon (of Akasha Gopuram and Vellathooval fame) in the lead, Anjali’s segment titled Happy Journey focusses on the fight of the oppressed against the oppressor.

‘Kerala Café’

“It has been a wonderful ride shooting for Kerala Café. All the directors were senior to me in terms of experience. They were so full of enthusiasm when we shot for the common scene in Kerala Café; I have seen such enthusiasm only during my film school days. And there were no ego hassles on set,” says Anjali, who adds that Ranjith gave the directors complete freedom while shooting their respective segments.

An alumna of the London Film School, the choice of film-making as a career was never a conscious one for Anjali. It was a gradual progression. It probably started when Anjali and her friends directed their Barbie and Ken dolls to enact scenes from ‘Hardy Boys’ and ‘Nancy Drew’ books.

“The first Malayalam movie I remember watching is M anjil Virinja Pookkal. I still recollect the scenes, shots and songs in the movie as if it were yesterday. I love the fact that you can create a world through movies. Cinema is a wonderful medium where literature, poetry, music, theatre, dance… all come onto one platform,” says the director who also scripts her movies herself.

“My love for writing started when I was a kid. Growing up as a single kid in Dubai while my brothers were off in boarding school, I would pen my thoughts down in a diary.”

However, coming from a business family Anjali found it hard to convince them that film-making was her vocation. They realised she was serious about it only when she started work on Manjadikurru.

“My family is quite orthodox. They were quite surprised when I expressed my interest in the field. My mother, Sarada Nair, is a strict woman who feels, girls should be self-sufficient and not rely on others for things they can do themselves. She insisted I learn how to cook, sew, dance, sing… But I am thankful to her for it.

“Knowing how to sew came in handy while shooting for Manjadikuru. One of the actors needed to have his costume hemmed. As none of the others on the set knew how, I did it.”

The inspiration for Manjadikurru, says Anjali, came from a photograph. The snap captured a moment of joy shared amongst a few kids during a funeral.

Inspiration for ‘Manjadikurru’

“It was this contrast of emotions that had me thinking. While the adults considered it a moment to mourn, the children did not. These dual images had me thinking about it in a larger plane,” says Anjali who adds that her experience as a second-generation non-resident Indian helped in the making of the film, which deals with a man’s journey in search of his roots.

Born and brought up in Dubai, Anjali did her high school education and graduation in Kozhikode. A commerce graduate from Providence Women’s College, Anjali says she and her friends used to put up skits while in college; another progression into film-making.

“We had a ‘women only’ class reunion recently at Providence. Just ‘girls’ having fun. We restaged a couple of old skits. While staging them, we realised how creative and innovative we were even back then.”

According to Anjali, being a woman director has never posed a challenge or problem for her.

“Many keep asking me if I had to break glass ceilings to enter this profession; I did not face any problems. I believe in letting my films do the talking.”

The young director, who has directed, produced and written several other works in other genres is working on a documentary on Kavalam Narayana Panikkar, which is being produced by her Mumbai-based company called Little Films.

Documentary on Kavalam

“I have got the footage for the documentary and now need to edit it. Kavalam has rediscovered and revived so many aspects of our heritage – theatre, Mohiniyattam, Sopana sangeetham… I need to focus on the documentary or else I will lose track.” She is also working on the plot for her next feature film, which she says will have a contemporary feel to it.

When she is not into movies, Anjali enjoys listening to music and lounging with a book in hand. While authors like Gabrial Garcia Marquez, Jhumpa Lahiri and Kamala Suraiyya are hot favourites, it’s mostly classical music, ghazals, “mostly dated songs that I like listening too.”

A dance enthusiast, she says “you can find me on the dance floor if the music is good.”

Food, she says, is a weakness. “I do more rounds at the buffet table than the rest in my family,” claims Anjali as she packs up for the day.

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