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Films for thought

'I look beyond campus capers'

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Anjali Menon, whose nostalgic 'Manjadikurru' was the sleeper hit of the year, is among the first women directors to break the glass ceiling in the Malayalam film industry.

It took Anjali Menon five years of arguing with her conservative Palakkad family before she could pursue her passion for films. Their reservations were understandable - Malayalam films have always had strong, if mostly traditional, women characters. But women directors? They were almost invisible in the state's film history.

Menon's tenacity paid off. Her debut film, Manjadikurru, which was released last month, made the audiences sit up and take notice of this new talent. The film is an effort to bring back the golden 80s when Malayalam films had managed to find the perfect balance between art and commerce.

"I have been carrying the dream of film-making in my heart for a long time. And I was sure that my first film would be rooted in the state's social realities, " she says. "These days there is this misconception that youth can only relate to stories set in college campuses. But I don't agree. The life of a young person has so many more aspects to it. I wanted my first film to be connected to my world and that's how I zeroed in on the theme of the film - a large traditional matriarchal home like mine, " she says.

Manjadikurru's storyline spins around four sisters and two brothers living in different parts of the world coming back to their matriarchial home to attend the funeral of their father. Though each of them wants to return the very next day, they have to stay back for a fortnight as their mother is not ready to deal with their father's will. "It's like a child peering into the world of adults, but it also opens our eyes to the child's mind, " she says.

Menon says she was overwhelmed by the audience response. "Many viewers called me after they saw the film. But they would start with the film and then start telling me about their memories of childhood, " she says. It was not easy for Menon to sell the film to distributors. It took a lot of cajoling but contrary to their apprehensions, the film was a hit.

The film's success came as a huge relief for Menon. Her family had backed her stint at the London Film School and it was important that she make her mark in the market. At her graduation ceremony, where her parents were present, her short film, Black nor White, was picked by the jury for praise. "Thereafter they supported all my endeavours, " she says.

Back home from London, she made short films and documentaries. To earn a living, she started making promotional films. But in her mind, the dream of a feature film was taking shape. Her schedule as a filmmaker is getting busy. She has also written Ustad, a movie by noted film maker Anwar Rasheed. It will reach cinema halls within a few days. Now she is working on her next film, which she will write and direct. "I want to make a film which cuts across class, creed, religion, language and gender, " she says.

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