Geetu Mohandas’ latest release Moothon digs deep into the complex dynamics of migration due to sexual orientation and gender identity. With breathtaking cinematography relaying the remoteness of Lakshadweep’s isolation, the film tells the story of a teenager Mulla who goes in search of his Moothon, his elder brother, only to find himself on the streets of Mumbai's red-light district, Kamathipura.
Moothon is also a window into an emotionally charged conflict, in which a young man named Akbar (Nivin Pauly) wrestles between his sacred Muslim traditions and sexual desires that throw him and his partner Aamir (Roshan Mathew) in crisis.
Released on October 8, the film has been receiving rave reviews for brave storytelling, but it wasn’t a cakewalk for Mohandas to bring her sophomore project to the big screen. This was when her first film, Liar’s Dice, was chosen as India’s official entry to the Oscars in 2014.
In this freewheeling chat, she opens up about the difficulties she faced during the making of Moothon.
Moothon is a brave, unsettling film in terms of its story and treatment. How did you finalise the idea?
The idea came from the idea of search and the fact that this little child from the remote area wanted to know more about the older brother who he has never met. That was very exciting for me because invariably what happens in search is adventure which excites me as a writer. Because you can explore different terrain and spaces, and while exploring it the socio-political undercurrent of that space becomes a character and narrative. There's language politics involved in it.
Then I actually went and did a lot of research in Lakshadweep. I went to Kamathipura and it's such a beautiful place. One would think that it's very hostile but it's not. The people were so welcoming there. For us, it was more about we should not disturb their equilibrium so we would go very quietly and shoot very quietly.
There are layers of violence, unrequited love and loneliness in Moothon...
I think it’s a very subjective thing because as a filmmaker I wouldn’t be able to pin point what a person would take back from this film. As a writer, I have a certain intention for sure. Having said that, in my head there are definitely different layers and different politics involved in it.
You mentioned how you didn't let Roshan’s character resort to beating Akbar’s friend when the latter hit him on learning, both Aamir and Akbar are in love. Is there a message of tolerance there?
It could be, there’s no doubt about it. Because my brief to actors in the same scene are very different. I would brief one actor one way and the other actor other way, so that they don’t really know what’s going to happen from the other person. Generally, I don’t do too many rehearsals. I let my actors explore the way they want.
What were the challenges you faced while developing the script?
The biggest challenge that I faced was to secure finances for the film. After Liar’s Dice, I thought it was very easy for me to find financers because that film did pretty well internationally and it was the Oscar entry from India. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that nobody wanted to produce my film. It’s so funny.
Among other things, Moothon also puts transgender-related issues under spotlight.
Why would they be any different from any of us? I think they are the most beautiful people I have met. We were in their community shooting and it was just spectacular. I’m still in touch with some of them.
There is ambiguity about the film’s ending.
I have many different endings in my head, so when people watch the film that’s some kind of ambiguity to the narrative, especially the ending. And I think you can take however you choose to take that from the film.
Were there any kind of limitations in your mind while writing a subject as sensitive as Moothon?
No, not at all. I honestly believe that it’s time for people to write and tell bold stories and the voices have to get stronger. I hope that in the coming years the film that I continue to make my expression will get stronger and I will not be subjected to any sense of bullying, stereotyping or restriction.