Geetu Mohandas: We Need To Celebrate Women Every Day
From a dreamy-eyed child actor to a feisty international award-winning filmmaker, meet Geetu Mohandas – a feminist, a doting mother, a passionate storyteller, in this exclusive Women’s Day interview!
By Deepthi Balasunder
Geetu Mohandas is a force to reckon with in the film industry. Cinema is her passion, and over the last few years she has crossed milestones in independent filmmaking that most directors can only dream of.
Geetu weaves beautiful stories through her films – films with depth, art and substance. To top it all, her masterpieces have consistently received not just national, but also worldwide acclaim. Her directorial debut in 2010, a Malayalam short film Kelkkunnundo, won three International awards as well as the national film award in India.
Further, her first feature film in 2014, Liar’s Dice, won six international awards, and was India’s official entry for the 87th Academy awards (the Oscars). Liar’s Dice also featured in over 60 film festivals and had its world premiere at the Sundance International Film Festival in competition.
Moreover, she is also the first Asian to bag the Global Filmmaking Award at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival 2016 for the screenplay of Moothon. Further, she has also won several other awards for both her acting and directorial excellence.
ParentCircle was excited to catch up with Geetu and hear her story – one of grit, dreams and passion. She shares about her family upbringing, her life as a mommy and about finding an independent voice in an industry that is all-too-marred by sexism. Here are the excerpts:
What does Women’s Day mean to you?
I think as women, we need to celebrate ourselves every day, because I think that is just how it should be. It is not just about one particular day. And it should not be just about others celebrating us, but I think we need to celebrate ourselves every day.
What’s your take on gender equality – especially in a patriarchal industry such as cinema?
I think women have come a long way. Today, more women are breaking barriers and venturing into the film industry. And yes this industry is a male-dominated world with patriarchy looming all over us. So, I feel, in a way it has been very difficult for women to have a foothold. But that scenario is fast changing, with several women graduating from film institutions and venturing into this field. I think in Bollywood the scene is much better, as compared to the Malayalam film industry, but the progress is still laudable. We also witness families being more receptive to the idea of sending their daughters into this profession, now more than ever, and this comes with education, awareness and understanding the craft. It is still not in that equal space, but it is getting there. And several different organisations, like the Women in Cinema Collectives, churn out work and empower women. I am feeling positive that it is definitely going to be a better place for us.
What would you consider as your biggest achievement so far?
I haven’t thought of that, because if I do then there would be no scope to dream on. There would be nothing to look forward to, if you know you have been there and done that.
How about sharing a few memorable moments of your career?
For my first film to get a nomination for the Oscars from my own country, it was overwhelming. It happened in my first film and I was like "what next? and now what?" That is an unforgettable moment for me. And even the Global Filmmaking Award that I won at Sundance 2016 was also quite memorable. Yes, these recognitions are nice, they are good incentives that keep us going and stay motivated. But these should not really define our work; we should continue telling the stories that we want to tell.
Wow, the Oscars! What was that experience like?
It was a great experience, all of us went to Los Angeles (LA) and had several screenings. There were a lot of things we needed to do, like public relations, and hosting people to watch our film. So there was this huge drill and I stayed for a month in LA, invested in all this, and we ended up spending a lot of money. This was our first experience and we didn’t know what to expect. But it was a wonderful experience for all of us to have met different types of people, and the exposure we got; and it’s a great networking space as well. So yes, it was a great experience overall.
I understand success is a journey and not a destination. But Is there any ultimate career goal or a dream to achieve?
No, I don’t think so. I feel I am a very ambitious person and I am not denying that. But you never know what’s in store for you. You can just hope that you have the courage to go forward with the type of stories you want to tell, and hope you find an audience that wants to watch it. Every film has a destiny.
Like I said, I never expected my first film to be received the way it was, internationally. And it went on to win 6-7 awards across the globe. And this was not expected when I was doing a small film up on the mountains with minimum crew. So I don’t think one can have an ultimate goal in life. The way I look at it – this is it, this is what I want to do in life, I am doing what I love and it makes me happy. Not many people get the opportunity to be doing what they love, and I am just blessed that I get to do it. And I hope that I can continue doing so.
You are an actor and a director. But coming to your role as a parent, how do you raise your little daughter?
When my daughter was very young, I kept her away from iPads, phones and television for the longest time, and now that she is six, I let her indulge in a little screen time now and then. I have seen children getting hooked to these gadgets at a very young age and I don't want that for my daughter. I for one grew up at an age where kids ventured out to play, explore and interact. So, keeping off gadgets was one of the key things I was very clear about. And I am glad I did, as because of that, she has taken up to reading, dancing and music.
Apart from that, as a parent, I don’t stress much and I don’t always dictate. I let my child be herself and make her own little choices in her own little world. I love listening to her; and she makes very intelligent suggestions sometimes which surprises me, hearing them from that young little mind. And she is a very loving and easy child, and so it’s been kind of easy to raise her. So, I just go with the flow in terms of parenting.
In the perspective of the world being male dominant, would you want to raise your little girl in any particular way?
I have an older brother. Our parents raised us to have similar dreams and goals. My father always made me believe that there is nothing that I can’t do that my brother can. He always made me believe that I could be the best in what I do, and similarly for my brother too. So, I think I was lucky for the way I was raised. I’m hoping to raise my daughter the same way – give her the same values and opportunities. I think we are privileged, and we are talking from a privileged space, and when you talk from a privileged space, you can talk for others as well. And in fact, one should speak for others, who are not as fortunate as you, who don’t have the choices in life that you have. I would like my daughter to understand her privileges and not misuse them.
How do you manage work, home and daughter?
I practise not to feel guilty, because that is what I think working mothers tend to feel and get stressed about. They feel since they are working, they are not spending quality time with their children. I did endure phases of guilt as well. But I have come to realise that I need to fuel my own soul, work, and be happy myself, to be a happy mother for her. So, my daughter understands that work is important for me.
When my daughter was very little, my mother would travel with me and my child, to various shooting locations, so that my child is not away or apart from me. But now that my daughter is going to school, she can’t miss classes, so there have been instances where I have been away from her for a couple of weeks. But then again, I feel children adjust better than parents. I think what is relevant here is not to feel guilty about your work, and not to feel guilty about being a parent who works.
How do you spend quality time with your kid?
Well, she likes to meet up with my friends who have children of her age. So we do that. She is a very friendly girl and loves to play with her friends. We also tend to do activities as a family together - reading, playing chess, and so on.
How do your spouse and in-laws support your growth and career?
Of course, they are extremely supportive and proud as well. Rajeev, my husband, is a filmmaker and cinematographer himself, and we have a hand-in-glove existence. We have been working together on all of my films. So we know each other’s work and what that entails. It’s a nice creative space where we share ideas and support each other.
Can you share a challenging moment in your life and how you overcame it?
I think losing my father was a big moment in my life. And I don’t think one ever gets over such emotions or tragedy in life. I have come to realise that I am him and he’s living through me. I realise that my brother and I have inherited certain mannerisms from my father. I realise he has not gone anywhere, but has just passed on his legacy. And that realisation is what makes me feel better about his loss, or makes me look at it in a different way. Otherwise, it was very difficult for me to get over that.
If you had the chance to change something you did in your life what would that be?
Maybe, a lot of choices. But I had to go through those in order to become the person I am today. There are so many things that have happened over the years in my life — like sometimes I think that I should have studied better, or I could have done this movie first, or I should have moved here — there are so many choices that one thinks should have been done differently. But at the end of the day that does not matter because you have to look at where you are today; good or bad, whatever it is, this is you and the choices you have made in your life brought you to this point. And you had to go through all that you did in order to get where you are today. I think it all works out and you come a full circle.
What is your success mantra?
Success is a very relative term. What success means to someone else doesn’t have to be success to me. I think for me, success, is basically living as long as you are healthy and happy with people you love around you, doing the kind of work you want to do. Because I don’t think money, or awards or honours define success; I think success is all in your head and how you want to play it. Just because you are in the rat race, it doesn’t mean you have to be like that; you can make your own terms and live by your own rules.
Any favourite inspirational quote that keeps you going?
When I was a kid, people used to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I used to say something new every time, depending on the mood I was in. And I remember one thing my dad told me and that stuck on. He said, ”If you want to be a barber, make sure you are the best barber in the town”. I didn’t understand its meaning then, but today I do. Whatever you do enjoy it and give it your best.
Who’s that one woman you look up to and why?
My mother, for sure, for so many reasons. I think I am what I am because of so many sacrifices that she and my father have made in their lives.
Hall of fame
- Acted in her first film Onnu Muthal Poojaym Vare at the young age of five in 1986, and won the Kerala State Film Award for Best Child Artist. Won several other awards as a child actor.
- Won Filmfare Award for Best Actress in the Malayalam movie Akale in the year 2004.
- First Malayalam short film Kelkkunnundo that she directed, won three International awards as well as the national film award in India in 2010.
- First directed feature film, Liar’s Dice, was India’s official entry for the 87th Academy awards (the Oscars) in 2015.
- Liar’s Dice also featured in over 60 film festivals and had its world premiere at the Sundance International Film Festival in competition. It has won around 6 international awards.
- The first Asian to bag the Global Filmmaking Award at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival 2016 for the screenplay of her upcoming film Moothon.
Also read: 5 Women And Their Inspiring Stories
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