The Winning Throw of the Dice
By Shevlin Sebastian | ENS | Published: 20th July 2014 06:00 AM |
On the first day of the shoot of the indie film, Liar’s Dice, director Geetu Mohandas took images of the heroine Kamala (Geetanjali Thapa), working as a sweeper at a homestay run by a Bengali in the remote village of Chitkul in Himachal. After the shot was canned, angry villagers swarmed around Geetu and told her, “You cannot shoot this. Our women don’t work for other people. They only work for themselves.”
Meanwhile, the production members told Geetu, “If you listen to them now, they will not allow you to complete the film on schedule. They will dictate terms all the time.” Geetu had to take a split-second decision. She listened to her intuition, and said, “I am going to take it off the script.” Then she told the villagers, “Tell me what this woman does. Write the first part for me.”
Thereafter, the excited villagers took Geetu and crew to the most interesting spaces where the women worked. There was one particular spot where they stacked hay, with leaves and sticks, before winter arrived, on a particular tree, high up on a mountain. “That became the opening shot of the film,” says Geetu.
The Hindi film traces the journey of Kamala, along with her three-year-old daughter, Manya, as well as a goat, from Chitkul, via stops at Shimla and Chandigarh, in search of her missing husband at Delhi. Along the way, she is befriended by an Army deserter Nawazuddin (played ably by Nawazuddin Siddiqui), and the film highlights the tension and distrust between the two. “It is also a love story,” says Geetu.
But, at bottom, it is a political film. “I got the idea while reading a newspaper item, a few years ago, about migrant labourers and their displacement,” says Geetu. “It was about men from the interiors of the country who were shown the big dreams of city life, and how they were recruited and the terrible conditions they lived in. And if a calamity occurred, they became nameless faces or a statistic. They were never identified by name or the place they belonged to.”
Released in the Mumbai International Film Festival in October 2013, the film has made a mark on the international film festival circuit since then. This year, it won the Special Jury Award at the Sophia International Film Festival, Best Film and Best Actress at the New York Indian Film Festival, the Bronce Alhambra award at the Granada Cines del Sur Film Festival, and National Awards for Best Actress and Best Cinematography for Rajeev Ravi, one of Bollywood’s leading cinematographers, and Geetu’s spouse.
Not surprisingly, the film has also received positive reviews. “Geetu makes an assured debut,” writes Dennis Harvey in Variety. “This Indian road drama is interesting to look at, and nicely observed.” Thus far, it has been screened in 22 festivals, with acceptances from another 30. The film will be released in India later this year.
“It’s overwhelming when your film is well received,” says Geetu. “When you make a film, you don’t have awards in mind. You just want to produce it within the budget and make a good movie.”