A writer and Ustad in her own right

Scriptwriter-director Anjali Menon recently won the National Film Award for Best Screenplay (Dialogues) for the film, Ustad Hotel. She is one of the more promising talents in Mollywood today.
A writer and Ustad in her own right

One day, in 2012, scriptwriter Anjali Menon called up director Anwar Rasheed. The shoot of the film, Ustad Hotel, which she had written, was about to begin. So he invited Anjali to the location. When she arrived there, Anjali received a jolt. The scenes of a woman being pregnant and giving birth were being shot at the Beach Hospital, at Kozhikode. “That was the hospital where I was born,” says Anjali. “I thought it was a good omen. And this was the first time I was going to the hospital after my birth.”



When Anjali wrote the script, she was herself pregnant. “I told my friends that my son was the co-author,” she says. “I began writing Ustad Hotel when I was carrying my baby and, by the end of it, he was on my lap.”



The film—about a young man, Feyze, who works as a cook in a restaurant run by his grandfather—became the top Malayalam grosser of 2012. And now more accolades have come its way. At the National
Film Awards announced recently, Ustad Hotel got the award for ‘Most Popular Film’, while Anjali received it for ‘Best Screenplay (Dialogues)’.


“It is a bit ironical that I got it for dialogues,” says Anjali. And there is a reason for her surprise. Anjali, who grew up in Dubai, learnt to write Malayalam only in 2005. “It was my great desire to be part of Malayalam cinema that made me do it,” she says. So, the initial drafts were written in English and then a friend of hers did the translation. Thereafter, she began working on the Malayalam version. “I worked on the dialogues over and over again,” she says. “And since I don’t know any big Malayalam words, I used simple language. And that touched people’s hearts. Perhaps that was why I won.”



She seems to have a good idea of what a winning script needs. “A writer has to pull the viewer into a world that is intriguing and interesting, and can keep their interest for two hours,” says Anjali. “I prefer to work intuitively. Initially, I have a strong sense of the characters and what they will do. But, after a while, they will take
on a life of their own and I tend to follow them. And I am always surprised by their actions.”



At present, Anjali is working on another script, which she will direct. It will be produced by Rasheed. Anjali has done direction earlier, based on a script she wrote. The film, Manjadikuru (Lucky Red Seeds), got her the Best Screenplay Writer at the Kerala State Film Awards, 2012, and Best Director and Best Debut Director at international film festivals in Kerala, Germany and the US. Anjali also directed Happy Journeys for the anthology film, Kerala Cafe.


It is also a time of happy journeys for Malayalam cinema. “There is a creative ferment going on,” she says. “Earlier, there were different trends. At one point, films were technician-driven. Later, stars had a say. The new change is that the director has finally become the captain of the ship. His voice and creativity are predominant. It makes a big difference, because everybody is now following the vision of one person.”

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