'Mainstream cinema needs a female voice': Anu Menon, director of 'Waiting'
From an engineering student to an advertising professional to a filmmaker, London-based Anu Menon — basking in the glory of her recently released film, Naseeruddin Shah-Kalki Koechlin’s tragic and witty affair Waiting — has come a long way.
Menon has received an “outpouring of love” for the film, which has been garnering positive reviews from all quarters. “I have received hundreds of letters in the last three days. I am overwhelmed. I have never experienced this kind of love before,” she says.
Waiting is about two grieving people who meet in a swanky hospital in Kochi and strike a rapport, despite a yawning age difference. Naseer’s character, professor Shiv Natraj has been waiting in the hospital for eight months, hoping that his wife, Pankaja (Suhasini Mani Ratnam), will rise from her coma. Meanwhile, Kalki plays Tara Kapoor; a young, sexy and brash woman, whose husband Rajat (Arjun Mathur), is also critical with a brain injury.
“Waiting touches upon our biggest fear of losing our loved ones, but we never seem talk about it. We never discuss the fact that we are scared. Lot of people have written to me, wanting me to help them make sense of what they went through. They write paragraphs as if the poet in them has woken up and I have been replying to every single person. My hands are hurting, but I can’t tear away because the stories and their personal experiences are beautiful. Each person has responded to one nugget of the film,” she says, adding, “Also, the film has just these two people, it is a different kind of story between an older man and a young woman. It is not about romance. People love nuances, they like to be questioned."
But Menon's friends, business partners and actors are “worried” for her. “To get this kind of love is addictive. Rajat Kapoor (who plays a neuro surgeon in the film) wrote to me saying ‘I am loving your responses. It must be a great feeling to be you. I will allow you to do this for one more week and then you should go and write the next script. Be grounded and don’t let this take over’,” she says, laughing.
Waiting is a complete departure from Anu’s debut film, 2012-release London Paris New York (starring Ali Zafar and Aditi Rao Hydari) which was a romcom. We wonder what she is working on next. "I love romcoms. I love all kind of genres. There are couple of scripts I’m looking at."
We learn that Menon has been wanting to enter popular cinema for a long time now, and strongly feels that women filmmakers need larger representation in mainstream films in India. “We need to breakout because I feel mainstream cinema needs a female voice too. You can’t have all the characters determined by one sex. The world has to understand the way we write characters, the way we think, the way we do things and I don’t believe that a woman has to direct a mainstream film like a man. Today, we probably have only three women directors, Farah Khan, Zoya Akhtar and Gauri Shinde, who are successful in mainstream cinema,” she says.
“Everybody raves about women empowerment films but most of those are made by men. I have gone with scripts to producers but they usually find them too feminist-oriented. I had Konkana Sen Sharma in mind for my first script, but I was asked who the hero of the film was. Perhaps, in those days female-oriented films were still about breaking the shackles of patriarchy and finding freedom. Maybe today if I go with the same subject they won’t ask me who is the hero of the film, especially since we have had films like Piku, Queen and Khubsoorat in the recent past," adds Menon.
The Waiting director is also strongly against categorising films: “What is offbeat and experimental? I take years to write a film, take years to prepare, so what is experimental about it? These labels are dangerous. They slot my films as indie cinema, niche cinema, or off-beat cinema and I believe if you slot me, you put me on a back foot. Whether it is a Raju Hirani or it is a newbie like me, our motive is the same, to make films.”
Moreoever, Menon says she gets hurt and upset about box office figures: "Somebody told me, Waiting won’t even make five lakhs. Why is everybody interested in the box office? Why don’t they just enjoy the film? Comparing my film to another big budget film is pointless. It is not some commodity market.”