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Time constraint may be one reason why only a few women take to direction, says Revathy

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"I'd like to dabble in both - acting and direction"

Revathy Menon, the National Award winning actress from the South who was seen in Hindi films like Raat, Love, Tarpan, Muskarahat and the Hindi dubbed version of Anjali, is making her debut as a director with Mitr-My Friend. The film is to be released all over India and the US on February 15. Mitr is based on the lives of the Indians in Californias Silicon Valley and Revathy's interest in the project was prompted by a question she was asked on her last visit to the USA why does mainstream Indian cinema have only characters running around-trees, while nobody makes films about the lives of Indian Americans and their feelings and challenges.

What prompted you to launch Mitr-My Friend and take on the role of director as well?

Priya who has written the subject works as an assistant to Mani Ratnam. She wanted me to make a telefilm based on it. But I did not want to waste it as a telefilm, which will have just one viewing unlike a film, which has longevity. Also I could vibe with the warm, heart throbbing characters, whom you otherwise find only in art films or parallel films. I had first asked directors like Mani Ratnam and Priyadarshan to direct my film but they hesitated because they felt I was not serious. So I took on the role myself. Earlier, I was very keen on assisting Santosh Sivan while directing Asoka, but by the time I spoke to him the film was half way through and it does not serve any purpose if you start assisting a director at that stage.

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Is it true that your film has an all women crew?

Yes. Though it was not at all my intention, it so happened that I ended up making the film with an all woman crew with the exception of Nasir Abdullah. The screenplay was by Sudha and Priya. Fowzia is the cinematographer who was earlier an assistant to the noted cinematographer P.C. Sriram. Bhavatharini, the daughter of music director Ilayaraja has given the background score. Prabha and Usha of Daffodils, who also doubled up as the sound recordist and manager of props and set design, designed the costumes and looks of the characters. Bina has edited the film and Thamarai has written the lyrics. Geetha, who had earlier worked with Sridhar of Media Artists, undertook her first independent assignment with my film. Part of the American crew too was female - Jolynn (Wardrobe), Kris (Craft Services) and Rhonda (Lights). Besides Beena, Thamarai, all the other crew members were working as chief assistants for the first time.

Do you think women have an edge over men as far as creativity or technique are concerned?

It does not matter at all or make any difference technically or creativity-wise, whether you are a man or a woman. What according to me is important is whether you are intelligent or talented. I am not a feminist and I have not made this film with an all woman crew to prove a point. It just happened. I want this film to click at the box office so that it would encourage more and more women to get behind the camera.

Have you tried your hand at direction earlier?


Yes. I had directed some of the episodes of Tamil TV serial Chinna Chinna Aasai, which was produced by my husband Suresh Menon who is a cinematographer in his own right down South.

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What is the message that you want to drive home through the film?

Through my film, I want to stress that friendship actually forms the foundation of any relationship. This is what I have learnt over the years. In a marriage you always expect the person to change the way you want them to. However you do not expect the same from your friends. Why does one fall in love with the person in the first place if one does not want him or her to be what he or she is? If the foundation of any relationship is friendship, and you accept your spouse as whom he or she is, it will last much longer.

Do you plan to take up more offers to direct?

I want to see how the audience responds to my film before I take up other offers to direct. Right now I am working in Tamizhan (Tamil) and Nandanam (Malayalam). In Thamizhan I play the elder sister of Vijay. Since the kind of roles which I want to do would certainly be hard to come by, I do not think I would be acting in too many films. I do miss acting. The problem with us in India is that though the country has so many problems which can be translated on the screen, we seem to be making only romantic films most of the time. The other issues are pushed to the background. The reason this new genre of Indian English films like Monsoon Wedding is interesting is that they set out to tackle contemporary issues from Indian society. You can afford to make experimental films and cater to a wider audience and not depend upon the conventional distributors.

Do you like to make art films or commercial films in future?

I always would like to direct good films and hope that they would prove to be commercial successes at the box office.

What was your experience as director? Why did you not act in your own film?

We worked together as a team. It was like a small family in which we knew each others emotions to the T and we stayed together. I did not act in the film because as an actress you are more involved with your character and your work and tend to get detached from the overall picture. Also I was very scared that since I was directing the film, I may not be able to concentrate on both tasks and end up giving a half hearted performance as an actress.

In how many languages do you plan to release Mitr-My Friend?

The film has been shot in English and Tamil but we plan to dub the Tamil portions in Hindi, Telugu, Malayalam and English and release the film all over the world. I Dream Productions and Columbia Tristar have come forward to release the film in India. We will be distributing it in USA on our own.

How many days did it take to shoot your film? What was the budget of your film?

We shot the film in 27 days in the USA and five days in India. It cost us hell of a lot to shoot the film abroad because we had to spend almost 2000 to 2500 dollars per day of shooting. Especially in California it was very expensive to shoot the film. We still managed to shoot the entire film in less than Rs. two crore. I have no regrets that we have gone over budget because in the first place I did not even dream that the film would become so big.

What went wrong as far as your stint with Hindi films as an actress?

I do not have the image of a glamorous heroine. I am happy with the kind of characters that I have been able to play in South Indian films. When I was doing Hindi films, I was very busy down South and not ready to explain myself all over again especially because there were a lot of things, which I could not do. I was not ready to wear revealing clothes because I knew they would not suit me. My mind set was not such that I could romp around in a mini. I am comfortable with whatever I am doing, even today There were a lot of offers but if you ask me what went wrong, I would say that when I started refusing offers which I was getting, automatically the offers stopped coming. That is the way the film industry functions.

Acting or direction - what would you now continue to do?

As far as acting is concerned, it will depend on the kind of offers I get. As far as direction is concerned, it will depend upon the kind of subjects that I receive. I think Id like to dabble in both.

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You seem to be very calm and cool like a cucumber. What is the secret behind it?
Secret? - This simply means I act very well.
I am always boiling inside anxious about doing things.
I must say that I have been lucky in many ways. I have goot good parents parents who gave me the freedom to think and do what I wanted. They have always given me their suggestions but left the decisions to me. They have laid the foundation for my mental strength.
Not only my parents - My husband and my husbands family also support me strongly in all my endeavours.
Even in films,I had the opportunity to work with the best of directors and subjects. God has been very kind to me so far.
I suppose, the foundation is very important and laid by the parents. And then the choice of of building up the charecter is up to the individual.I guess, I have used the freedom pretty well.

How was it acting with your husband?

Suresh and me - oh God! I have never felt so conscious with anybody else. I used to forget my dialogues.Even crying, smiling or saying something romantic was very difficult with him. We share a different kind of relationship. We used to take the work home, analyse and criticise our performance in each shot. It was different and I enjoyed working with him.

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Where do you stand in politics?
I contested as an independent in the 96 election for the Lok Sabha.The reason was that I wanted to make a difference.The only way you can make a massive difference is through politics. Politics is part of everybody's life - right from your drinking water to your employment - everything is governed by politics. I felt that there is no point in simply grumbling that that politics is bad and stinking. If want a change we need to act. We all -especially the youth want to see a change.We all know that our country could be better.But none of us know how to make it. Many of us try in many different ways. I tried politics.Then I realized that it is tough for an independent candidate.Hence I wanted to take some time to learn the nuances before getting into active politics.As a politician the responsibility is very high.Your decision affects millions of people.I need to prepare myself to take such sort of respensibility. Once I am confident that I am ready, I'll definitely bounce back.I do not support any party generally. I supported the NDA alliance in the 99 elections just because I thought Vajpayee would make a good Prime Minister. If I like to support someone I would do so as an individual.It is like voting for the person you trust.This does not affect others.
 
So have you concluded that only party politics can survive in India?
Definitely party politics is the only thing that is now surviving in India. But there are individuals in parties who are making a difference - like Saradha who became an MP. She is making a lot of difference in her constituency. I definitely believe that an individual needs a support from a party to make a difference. But it is not the party that is making the difference - it is the individual. I am still not ready to abide by the policies of the parties. That's why I am still independent.
 
If given all the power in the government - of a Mudhalvan kind, how would you like to change India?
India is such a large country that you really can't make a change overnight. It cannot be done just by the head of the government. Ofcourse, the initiative should be from the head.Then it runs down to his office bearers to the lowest counselor in a village. And again individuals should have interest in the country. In the US, every individual takes the interest in segregating the garbage. Such simple things by the individuals help the smooth running of the government. After all, government is run by us and for us.This Mudalvan kind of a scenario is a fantastic dream. I wish we could do that but that is not the reality. Overnight changes are impossible. I think first you have to bring in changes like Mr.Chandrababu Naidu. He educated all his ministers into computers - he is spreading what he believes to every person.
 
What specific aspect made you to enter politics - Corruption, illiteracy, poverty ?
Actually what made me feel really terrible is the basic needs of human beings in our country - water, shelter and food. Even these are not being met. Needless to say about hygiene and medical facilities. The poor people who trust and give their votes are taken for a ride. They are so confused. And our country is not that poor that we cannot chanalize our food. There are granaries where they have thrown away tones of food because it is rotten and there are thousands of people who are starving. So what is happening? Why can't you delegate power? Being in politics, do whatever you want - make crores of money in whichever way u like - under the table, over the table, anywhere under the roof, over the roof. But remember that you have promised the people that you would do your duties.If not something outstanding, at least do your duties. Give them a better way of life. That anger was what instilled me to go actively into politics. If u take a job, do it well, otherwise why do u take it up?
 
You are in the advisory committee of Sevalaya. What is your contribution?
Basically there are a few organizations I am involved in. Sevalaya is one of them. It is an orphanage and they are doing very well. What I like about Sevalaya is they have started their organization in a small little village in the outskirts of Madras and they are not only uplifting the quality of life to the students in their orphanage, but also bringing awareness in about five or six villages around. That is their motive and that is what I like. They are not thinking about only their institution but they are thinking about the villages and about more people outside. Banyan is an organization that works with mentally ill destitute women. They are not just bothered only about their organization, they are bothered about the society as a whole. They help so many organizations, they bring organizations together and work with them.The same is with Vidhyasagar, a school for children with cerebral palsy. It's a part of the Spastic Society of India. So they work with children who are spastic. They have so many branches in the villages all over Tamil Nadu. Ability Foundations who work with the government implementing the Disability Act. Especially accessibility all over the city, slowly spreading towards the country. Then of course integration of abled and disabled from school level to your college to your work area and not segregating them into groups. - even though you can't hear you can work on computers. You don't need to hear in order to be a software engineer. The office atmosphere should be such that they accept that person and they communicate with you in a way that you can understand and not segregate.This kind of an attitude change is what every organization I am involved with works on. Basically I work with them as a volunteer some time - most of the times in the fund raising activities and spreading awareness. Because fortunately or unfortunately when an actor or actress talks about a cause it reaches more people. So I am just utilizing my popularity to talk about a good cause.