Teju Belawadi on Gantumoote, rare Kannada film that celebrates its female gaze: 'Internal conflicts are my forte'

Subha J Rao

Jan 05, 2020 12:49:36 IST

Till about two years ago, everyone knew Kannada actor Teju Belawadi as an artiste doing some good work in theatre. However, since director Roopa Rao saw her in the late playwright Girish Karnad’s Boiled Beans On Toast staged by the Centre for Film and Drama and signed her up for Gantumoote, Teju’s calling card has become the character in the film, Meera.

Since its run in the festival circuit over the past year, brief theatrical release and subsequent Amazon Prime Video release, Gantumoote has triggered a nostalgic rush, brought back memories of first crushes, disappointments and the trauma of being a lonely teenager. But, beyond all of this, what has appealed most is the distinct female gaze in the film. Roopa writes Meera and her life with rare empathy, and it helps that Teju, 24, is the kind of performer who can effortlessly slip in and out of a character. This is how she convinced most she was a teenager.

In between handling some carpentry work at home and the love coming her way from those who watched the film on Amazon Prime, Teju speaks about Meera, and what it meant to portray a girl who was very self-aware and in tune with her what she wanted. Also, Roopa shares her thoughts on how she created Meera, and why Teju was a perfect fit in Gantumoote.

 Teju Belawadi on Gantumoote, rare Kannada film that celebrates its female gaze: Internal conflicts are my forte

Teju Belawadi in a still from Gantumoote.

“I enjoy living characters,” declares Teju, usually someone who pauses to speak, as if waiting for the perfect word to drop into her lap. “When Roopa narrated Gantumoote to me, I felt it was my story; not all the experiences, but the general mood. Now, everyone who’s watched it feels it’s their story. I’m the kind of person who pretends to be a character even in a novel I’m reading. I enjoy living these myriad lives, love the fact that, for that period of time, I can be someone else. I don’t think I should ‘deliver’ Meera, but I assume I am Meera.”

Did Teju realise when playing Meera how self-aware she was as a person? “Definitely. She had a certain clarity. She wanted to know what she was feeling at any given point in time. She was aware, she never wanted to be aware. When you want to be aware, it becomes very fabricated. Meera lives in the moment, she does not apply any moral value to what she’s feeling.”

Teju realised that while people might always associate her with Meera, the iconic character slipped out of her soon after shooting ended. “A couple of times, I did stand in front of the mirror to see if I could repeat those small quirks I noticed in the film. I could not. So, it was Roopa who had made that journey possible, created an environment for 45 days where we were our characters.”

Meera, the character played by Teju Belawadi, is a very aware girl, coming of age at a time when there was no sense of wokeness in middle class India, and Teju gives all credit for that tone to Roopa. And, Roopa says that she was not consciously seeking to bring in the female gaze into the script. “That is how the story unravelled to me. I let myself go to every place Meera could go, saw everything she was seeing. I was conscious of the pace; I knew it would be a bit slower than the common audience’s taste. But I wanted to risk it. How can you show the flower blossom if you don’t linger on the moments of it sprouting? I don’t like to be preached and can’t preach. When the story unravels in one strong gaze, the narration becomes a personal commentary and exploration. This is easier for me to relate to — internal conflicts are my forte. The way I see it, external conflicts are more of ripple effects; so the scenes in the story became extremely personal to Meera.”

Teju also travelled back in time to her mid-teens, when boys and girls enter a temporary awkward space. “In Class 8 or so, we would be made to sit together when we did not want to. By Class 10, when we had crushes, we would be told to sit separately. That’s not changed, over the years!”

Teju Belawadi with director of Gantumoote, Roopa Rao

Another thing that has not is the kind of questions coming her way. “One usual annoying question has to do with the so-called ‘bold scenes’. They want to know how the family reacted to it. Like they have the right to an opinion, Roopa has the right to write the way she wants to, and I have the right to do the film,” says Teju, who was initially wondering how her father, actor and media personality Prakash Belawadi {recently seen in a fabulous short in Katha Sangama) would react. “He can be very critical, and brutal. He has his opinions and you can’t neglect them, because you know he’s right. He loved it, and patted Roopa on the back and gave me a thumbs-up. He said he would write about the film, but did not. I’m sure it’s weird for him to write about and advocate his daughter’s film!”

While offers have been coming Teju’s way, she’s yet to sign her next film. “Gantumoote convinced me that it had to be made. I felt society should see this film. The other scripts that have come my way did not make me feel that way. Also, the pay was good. And the minute that thought entered my head, I knew that I would falter in my choice. It would end up being dictated by something other than the script. I want to be part of films that need me.”

It is this attitude that charmed Roopa too. She searched for Meera in others before she went back to Teju. “A common friend told me she was only about 22 years. I messaged on Facebook, and we met. We spoke of various things, and she knew my ‘Meera’; her big eyes are like an ocean of emotions that can be blatantly expressive and yet hide many things. Finding Teju was that magic moment, which can’t be explained.”

Roopa feels that Teju is already in an exalted league of sensitive performers. “She has so much to offer to films and stories, if given the right scripts. I feel protective, but I also know she has a journey.”

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Updated Date: Jan 05, 2020 12:52:59 IST