They are just grime and sweat, a perfect antonym for Delhi’s beau monde. They are a faceless crowd caught in the same-yet-endless cycle of work; people who populate the fringes. And, he is one among them. ‘Liar’s Dice’, the debut feature film of Geethu Mohandas, starts with the vanishing of a low-wage migrant labourer that sparks off a string of events. The movie follows his young wife as she sets off from a remote mountain village in search of her missing husband. The film will be screened in the competition section of renowned Sundance Film Festival that started in Utah on Thursday.
“The film is about a woman who embarks on an extraordinary journey. Along with her kid and pet goat she tires to cut through the treacherous mountain terrain. On the way she meets an army deserter who decides to accompany her, possibly for his own selfish motives,” she explains the basic story premise. Geetanjali Thapa and Nawazuddin Siddiqui play the lead characters in the film.
Geethu says she wanted a location least explored on screen, yet fitting into the storyline. Her search ended in the chilly Himachal, or, to be precise, at the last and highest village in the valley. The film is set in Chitkul, a sleepy hamlet located in the Indo-Tibetan border.
“I travelled extensively, checked out the whole topography and did all the background research before the shoot. It’s a small community of highlanders who speak a particular mountain dialect,” she explains. While shooting, reaching the location was an everyday challenge that involved avalanches, steep climbs and serpentine tracks. “It was for the first time that a film was being canned at Chitkul. So we were filming at an unfamiliar terrain in extreme climate. I had to take care of the entire crew and cast which involved a lamb and a 3-year-old. But I think the whole nerve-wracking exercise paid off.”
Geethu says she would call ‘Liar’s Dice’ a travel story set against an alarming backdrop, something that gives a macroscopic take on the socio-political conditions of India today. She adds her film has a strong political edge as it speaks about displacement and people who belong to the margins. “It’s a linear narrative that explores an encompassing sense of futility, anger against the system and the dynamics of a man-woman relationship.”
Liar’s Dice is a gambling game of chance and deception and Geethu says the concept is integrated into the narrative in such a way that the title becomes a major metaphor. “Nawazuddin’s character keeps playing the game, but to figure out the association you have to watch the film.” Mention her brilliant cast and Geethu goes gung-ho over her lead actors. She adds it was “phenomenal” working with Geetanjali Thapa and Nawazuddin Siddiqui. “It’s always a pleasure to have intelligent actors on board.” Ask the actress-turned-filmmaker why she didn’t stick to her comfort zone and went for another language and she quips: “The story required to be set in another place, somewhere North and remote. I believe language is no barrier for motion pictures, they have their own universal language.”
Post Sundance, ‘Liar’s Dice’ will be making its way to all major international festivals while the film is also slated for a commercial release in India.
“Since the Sundance entry was made official we have been flooded with festival invites. We are selling the film internationally and it has already been sold in territories. The fact that we have made money with a small-scale film shows it’s possible for filmmakers to get a platform where they can showcase and sell their work. So it’s not all about a commercial release any more,” she says.