BY RENU MEHTA, TORONTO: Anurag Kashyap, well known to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) film audiences has returned yet again with Geetu Mohandas’s film Moothon or The Elder One. Presented at the prestigious Winter Garden theatre, this is director Mohandas second film that follows her first venture Liar’s Dice with this story of two small-town siblings, each with their own reason for escaping to Mumbai. The story ponders sexuality, a lesser talked about topic in Indian cinema.
The film begins with 14-year old Mulla who dreams of joining her older brother Akbar. Armed with just a phone number, she steals a small fishing boat to flee the small island of Lakshadweep for Mumbai. But when she arrives in Mumbai, Mulla immediately falls in with a gang of criminal orphans and gets entangled in a journey of survival and crime.
Mohandas had her main crew in attendance when her film premiered at TIFF on September 11. Well known Malayalam actor Nivin Pauly as well as Sanjana Dipu, Shashank Arora and other cast members were in Toronto to attend the world showcase of the film.
The audience applauded and whistled when the first scene of Pauly’s character was shown on screen.
“I cast Nivin in the film because first he’s my neighbour and we keep bumping into each other in the elevator. I wanted to cast someone who is believable and someone who has innocence and of course it also helps as he’s a superstar,” said Mohandas at the Winter Garden theatre, dressed in a stunning white saree along with Kashyap and her entire cast.
The 110 minute film was shot in Lakshadweep and Mumbai. Shooting the film in Lakshadweep was easy, says Mohandas, because the island is small and the residents very welcoming.
“In Mumbai, it was not so easy as the film is shot in Kamathipura, the red light district. The crew and cast slunk in without making it apparent they were shooting a film. We were ten people and we took a DSLR camera,” says Mohandas.
The film crossed language lines and was bilingual in both Malayalam and Hindi were spoken
“The dialect is a bit different than what we spoke in Kerala. We had a coach for the Lakshadweep language and Hindi as well,” said Pauly at the screening. “We spend a lot of time learning the language and getting the dialect right because we wanted to be as believable as we can.”
Many of the scenes were shot without the cast knowing, says Mohandas, and told this was a rehearsal.
The most difficult scene, said Pauly, was the end when his character couldn’t be with his sister and rescue her.
“I was a failure in the past,” he said. “And I thought this is happening again. When I tell Shashank that she’s my sister, the emotions were unexplainable. My character is a big failure. He wants to protect his sister but cant. That was the most difficult scene.”
“I wanted to tell this story of people who live in this downtrodden decadent space and people who live that life. This is the reality. So the tale end or the ending you see in the film is the reality that happens. The siblings are quite similar with their sexuality or the fact that this is her fate or this is how she has to live her life or that Akbar had to die because this is a fact and there is no other way.”
Amidst scenes of bracing violence, The Elder One is a story of familial bonds and underworld misadventure, infused with urgent questions regarding gender, sexuality, and tolerance.