"'Waiting' Is A Universal Story That Anyone Would Relate To"- Anu Menon On Her Upcoming Film!

By Aditi Patwardhan. Posted on May 19, 2016

Anu Menon's Waiting has had a good festival run & has managed to create a buzz on the festival circuit. The film features Naseeruddin Shah and Kalki Koechlin in lead roles and is termed by the director Anu Menon as an 'anatomy of grief'. The film narrates the story of two spouses who are waiting for their loved ones to come out of coma in a hospital. Though separated by age and experience, the two find solace in each other as they are going through the similar situation.

Waiting is Menon's third film - her debut feature was London Paris New York starring Ali Zafar and Aditi Rao Hyderi and then she directed a section in X: Past Is Present, which was a collaborative feature involving 11 Indian directors.. Menon has explored a terrain completely different from her earlier films in her latest ventureThe film premiered to positive reviews at Dubai International Film Festival December last year. Since then, the film has attracted attention across several festivals and has garnered positive reviews from critics as well as the audience.

The film is all set to release later this month (27th May) & the soulful songs, composed by Mikey McCleary, have already managed to win hearts. We caught up with Menon and talked to her about the film and her filmmaking process.

In the interview, Anu Menon talks about her transition from advertising to filmmaking, her inspirations, the idea behind the film, her process of filmmaking and how she directs actors.

You were working in advertising for about a decade. And then you decided to become a filmmaker and joined a filmmaking course. What made you take that leap?

When I was growing up in the early 90’s, there weren't so many courses and different options to choose from. If you were good in studies, you went on to do engineering. So I did what everyone does, I went to BITS Pilani. But then I realized that it wasn’t me, so I got into advertising. That was actually a big step for me.

Filmmaking seemed like a luxury back then. It looked like another world. When I was in college, even later in my 20’s, I thought maybe I was a storyteller. But I wasn’t sure. I spent about a decade in advertising and felt at one point that maybe I wanted to do this. To be sure, I did a workshop at NYFA and when I did the workshop, I realized that it was time to take the leap. I wanted to learn & master the craft first. So I decided to enroll in a filmmaking course. I did the filmmaking course at London Film School.

It was a magical time. I’d call that period a period of figuring things out, a period of experimenting with the craft. In film school, people make one or two short films usually, but I made like 5-6 short films! I wanted to try different things and that format allows you a lot of space. That’s how by the time I made my feature film, I had experimented a lot, tried my hand at different things. When you just take a camera and shoot, you know what works, what doesn’t work, you get an idea of it.

You cannot just follow the trend and make films. As a filmmaker, you need to know who you are.  And that way, when I came out of the film school, I was ready to tell my stories.

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Anu Menon With Kalki Koechlin On The Sets Of Waiting

What are your inspirations in life? What kind of films do you love and which filmmakers do you admire?

Well, I like different kinds of films. I’m not exactly a movie buff, so to say. I’m very instinctive with what I read or watch. I can watch a light rom-com and an Iranian film one after the other.

There are two kinds of filmmakers that I like. Someone like Sam Mendes for example, whose every film is different. He can make something like Revolutionary Road and then he also goes on to make a Bond film. He's someone who constantly pushes boundaries and makes different kinds of cinema.

The other kind are the filmmakers with similar sensibilities and skills. Like Noah Baumbach, Woody Allen and Sofia Coppola. Their films present a slice of life, a piece of reality. I also like the works of Asghar Farhadi, who takes you into that space, which is very intimate. His films are very intimate, where you get a sense of the characters perfectly.

These are the filmmakers whose work I follow. I can always watch a Woody Allen film and feel all is well with the world.

When it comes to Indian directors, there are different directors that I love. And I love different things about different directors. I love the finesse in Zoya Akhtar’s films. When you see her films, every scene, every shot is so well-crafted. I love that level of finesse. I love Vishal Bhardwaj for the intensity in his films. He just gives it all, you know?

Then there’s Imtiaz Ali. He’s one filmmaker, with whom I may not always agree. But I like that unpredictability. I get inspired by their work!

What was the idea behind Waiting? What was the writing process like?

The film’s idea germinated from a personal experience of mine, which had happened a long time back. But more than that, it was the idea of how two people react differently in a similar situation. Two people, who wouldn’t normally be friends, but get intimate due to this experience that they share- that's what intrigued me. I do like the idea of putting two different people together in a situation and see how they react. And I tried to balance off that drama in the film with humour.

I co-wrote the film with James Ruzicka. We have written a lot of films together before. So we have our own process of writing. We discuss, we start writing and we get our first draft out as quickly as possible. And then we work on that draft. When you have a draft in hand, you have something concrete to build upon. Also, that makes you realize whether the film stands or not, if it's there. We ask a lot of questions to each other when we’re writing the film, like ‘what is the film about’ or ‘what are we trying to say’. It takes shape through these discussions mainly.

It certainly looks like a character-driven film. How did you develop these two characters? Did you also collaborate with the actors to work on the characterization?

Certainly. Kalki and Naseer Sir, they both had to work a lot on characterization. We held a workshop before the shoot, where we explored the characters together. It was about two three weeks of workshopping before the shoot. And then the shoot was about a month. Working with Naseer Sir was an incredible experience for me. And because I knew that he's a very particular, focused actor, not to mention so experienced, I was always better prepared. We worked out the nuances of the character together in the process.

There were readings, which helped us get the characters out.

Getting Kalki’s character right was the more difficult task. The way she speaks, the way she behaves- with all that we had to work for not making her sound like a bitchy person! Her character was very difficult to play on the screen. She's someone who's come with ideas of changing the world and sitting on a moral high ground; someone who thinks that announcing support to a cause on social media means you've changed the world! And from there, she comes to reality. Her character starts off as an anti-heroine, who gradually comes to find the courage and understanding.

In London Paris New York, you had in lead roles Ali Zafar & Aditi Rao Hydari. In Waiting, you worked with Naseeruddin Shah, Suhasini Maniratnam and Kalki. How did the experience differ while directing actors in these two cases, according to you?

Directing actors is pretty much the same actually. You have to develop a bond with them. When I was directing London Paris New York, even I was new. It was my first feature. While directing Waiting, I was more experienced cinematically. I was better prepared. Naseer sir is such a brilliant actor, that even I knew that I had to be prepared. I was extra-prepared every time. Kalki is more chilled out, she’s quite easy going. She allows herself to be vulnerable in the process and tries to find the depth of the character.

Every actor is unique, so even the process of working with them is unique as well. However what matters ultimately is the chemistry. How energies fall into places.

The song ‘Tu Hain To Main Hoon’ is a soulful melody and it seems to have captured the essence of the film. Would love to hear more about the music in this film & how you worked with the music director.

Mikey McCleary has done the music of the film. I think he’s one of the most talented composers we have. He just understood the film so instinctively and took the whole experience to another level with his music.

It’s just perfect when you’re on the same wavelength with your collaborators. When we composed Zara Zara, Mikey was working with Vishal (Dadlani) on some other project and so we thought let’s have him sing the song. And the song has come out so well in his and Kavita’s voice.

Mikey works a lot with Anushka (Manchanda). He’s very detailed with his work; very instinctive yet very detailed. When we heard it in Anushka’s voice, we could feel that everything had fallen into place.

How different do you think the reaction of the Indian audiences to the film will be than the kind of response the film has received at the international festivals?

The response abroad and in India has been very similar. We have had some screenings here as well. I think it’s a universal film, everyone connects to it. It’s not a blockbuster kind of a film, but it’s a nice package. The music is soothing, the performances are lovely. I don’t think it’s the kind of dark, artsy festival film.

How was your experience of finding a producer for the film? Do you think it has become easier to attract funding for films like Waiting, which are non-formulaic?

The film has been produced by Manish Mundra and Priti Gupta under the banner of Ishka Films and Drishyam Films. I had directed a part in the film X: Past is Present. That’s when I met Manish and he liked the film. He got me into contact with Priti and then she came on board.

I don’t think it’s easy to find a producer. You never know when it’ll all come together. Well, actually I think it’s easier to find a producer to one extent. But releasing the film is more difficult in India. We don’t have a proper distribution system in place here. The audience is ready, we simply need to work more at the back-end.

Would love to hear some experiences, impressions and anecdotes from the process, which you cherish.

Well, overall it was an intense experience, as we all had put so much heart and soul into the film. The process is full of anecdotes. We shot the film in Cochin and that was a great experience. And we had a crew, where there were 80% women on the set. Our DoP found out that she was pregnant a day before the shoot started. And she told us about it on the very last day of the shoot. It was an awesome process overall.


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