APRIL 2002 Contents
Business & Economy
at Every Alien Door'
- makes her debut as a Director in
'Mitr - my friend'
With the arty blockbuster ‘Mitr—My Friend’ actressRevathy Menon joins the select band of emerging women directors in the mainstream circuit who are tackling complex issues of relationships with guts, and a rare insight. The film was shot mainly in America and by a primarily all woman technical crew.
Round pegs in square, claustrophobic holes. That’s how many wed-for-years couples feel when they get boxed somewhere in the middle of middle age, mediocre lives, menopause and sudden midstream changes. Its a big challenge to depict this phase of life engagingly on the big screen, which is more used to melodramatic, technicolour dramas.
Revathy Menon, an actress herself, seems to have zoomed right in with her directorial debut Mitr – My Friend, which plays on the quixotic premise that it is easy to turn friendship to love but harder to turn love--or what is left of it--into friendship.
Revathy is the latest female director to join the bandwagon of emerging women directors on the mainstream circuit who are tackling complex issues of family relationships with guts and thereby reaping glory. Meghna Gulzar’s debut directorial venture Filhaal deals with the surrogate motherhood and complicated relationships that ensue between friends. Mira Nair depicted the rifts in the `regular’ Punjabi family fabric with her boisterously bold film, Monsoon Wedding. Deepa Mehta showed intimate female bonding within the family space with her controversial film Fire.
the decidedly more mainstream genre Mitr- My Friend, Revathy plays
fly-on-the-wall as she takes the viewer into the home of an ostensibly
`normal’ NRI family settled in America. In the lead role is the popular
model Nasir Abdullah as
Shobhana, the veteran diva from the South plays Lakshmi, the lonely wife and mother who turns to cyber chatting to alleviate her isolation from her family. Preeti Vissa plays Divya, their precocious 18 year old daughter who would rather drift around with her American boyfriend than care about her Indian roots.
While films like Bugaboo and ABCD showed the funny and quirky aspect of Indian lives in America, Mitr-- My Friend digs deeper. It was shot mainly in America and by a primarily all woman technical crew.
Revathy says that the choice of locale was deliberate. On her last visit to the U.S., she was asked why mainstream Indian cinema shot only `running-around-trees’ style films in foreign locales and why nobody made films about the lives of recently settled Indian Americans and their feelings of disorientation. Probably, she told them, nobody wanted to make a film away from the time tested `fantasy fable’ formula of Indian cinema.
Taking a risk and investing on a project that was not routine or run-off-the-mill, was not everybody’s cup of tea. On her return to India, she discussed it with husband Suresh Menon, who encouraged her to go ahead with a project based on the lives of Indians in the U.S.
Though a lot of her peers in the film industry asked Revathy to shoot the entire film in Chennai, on ‘sets’, to keep costs low, she decided to shoot the film in California, as she felt that it would lack the `feel’ and flavour of the real Indo–American lifestyles.
Scripting hero Prithvi as a Silicon Valley based professional was also deliberate as it houses California’s largest Indian population, with more than seven thousand electronics and software companies. About one third of the engineers in Silicon Valley are of Indian descent, while seven per cent of valley’s high-tech firms are led by Indian CEOs.
As Revathy says, "When Priya, the story writer, told us the subject, I felt that it would make a very interesting feature film and it was also the kind of subject that we were looking for. Given the context we decided to make the movie in English."
The film’s characters, like Prithvi and Lakshmi portray the mingled experiences and emotions that many US Indians grapple with. What do Indians feel about their roots? How do they deal with the different cultural norms? What about NRI children who have Indian blood but American minds?The film also explores darker contemporary issues like Cyber chatting, teenage rebellion, date violence, online infidelity and possibility of having platonic relationships with the opposite sex outside marriage. When Lakshmi becomes intimate with an online stranger is she being unfaithful to her husband? Should Divya be allowed to kiss her American boyfriend having been brought up in that culture? Are prom nights, short skirts, pyjama parties permissible?
For a first-time director the challenges were huge…right from having the camera lens stolen from the sets to managing the minute details that go into making that one perfect frame. Added to that is the fact that the all-women technical crew were primarily first timers in the trade. Revathi hopes that her film would encourage more women to enter the technical side of show business, which has been the bastion of men so far.
The music of the film has been given by another musical prodigee, who makes her debut with the film. Bhavarithini, daughter of noted musical maestro from the South – Ilaiyaraaja, has composed the background score alongside Vikesh Mehta, Gulzar’s poem Ehsaas has been rendered by Hariharan who along with Shaan, Vasundhara Das, Kavita Krishnamurthy and Sunita Sarathy have rendered the songs in the film.
Ultimately after all the angst, the film depicts how this small fragmented family reinvents its relationships with each other, through a series of surprising twists that Revathy is sure will have the audiences both shocked and smiling in their seats. And why not…after all Lakshmi learns to live life anew, Prithvi starts to bond with Divya as a friend instead of just a father, and Divya accepts her mother, her own Indian identity and her new status as her mother’s best friend.
And as Revathy catches the midnight flight to launch the film in the US, she rests her hopes on the fact that it is all about the universal desire to `refresh one’s relationships’. As she says, " Mitr-my friend is a film about family, feelings and friends, and how ordinary people can `come home to friendship’ – a truly extraordinary experience during which your family members become your best friends.
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