Anjali Menon is not fond of labels. She's not a "woman" director, she'd like to be known as a filmmaker doing good work. Keeping to her style, therefore, the fact that Koode, her upcoming film, has several women behind the camera and in front of it, has not been tom-tommed by the team. Rather, Anjali Menon has made a statement by not doing so. They're in her film because they're talented. Period.
This makes the choice of these women even more tasteful. And all of them have the same words to say about their director. Anjali Menon is just "too good".
âNothing short of a visionaryâ
âOur director Anjali Menon is nothing short of a visionary,â says assistant director Chandrika Chandran, who started her film career assisting Mani Ratnam. Koode is the first Malayalam film she has worked on.
âDespite having some initial worry that the language barrier may be too wide, I soon found out that much like music, film has no language. It is about moments, emotions, and choices - something we are all familiar with.â
And then Anjali made it easier.
âShe has a beautiful way of living her scenes rather than just visualising them. She walks into the rooms the characters will inhabit in the scenes, and fills them with real life experiences and tangible memories. She is an instinctive storyteller, and has a great way of personalising each and every characterâs story, so that regardless of where in the world you grew up, you will always find a connection,â Chandrika tells us about her director.
None of them could take their place for granted.
âThough she made it a point to put together a crew that had quite a few women, she made it clear that no concessions were to be made specifically for us. We were each expected to earn our place.â
âShe wanted simple songs, not poetryâ
Shruthi Namboodiri, who wrote the lyrics of Koodeâs title song, was a last minute entry.
âIt is in April that Anjali happened to see my work â 'Baale' and 'Charulatha'. She liked Baale better and put a post on Facebook which was a huge recognition for me. I adore her a lot, and respect her,â Shruthi says.
So, when she got a call from Anjali to write a song, she didnât think for a moment before saying yes and that she will do it. However, she warned Anjali that she was not a professional lyricist. Thatâs all right, said the director, letâs see if it works.
And it did.
âAnjali was clear that she wanted a very simple song, not poetry. But words that even kids could sing along to," says Shruthi.
This was a bit of a challenge for Shruthi who was known for her out-of-the-box vocabulary in songwriting: âBut then it helped break the stereotype that I have been saddled with. People used to ask me why I canât use simple words.â
Shruthi wrote about 13 versions of the song. There were corrections made up to the point when the song was recorded. After the quick making of the song, during which she had not even seen Anjali in person, Shruthi says her respect and adoration for the filmmaker has only gone up.
'Casting wasn't easy'
Perhaps half the magic is in that name. Anjali was already loved for Bangalore Days. And for Manjadikkuru, her first, though that didnât enjoy the reach Bangalore Days did. For Pooja Pradeep, working with Anjali had been a dream. It is her first work for a film, partly doing the casting, and a little bit of branding too.
It was not easy hunting for new faces, especially the younger versions of the leading trio â Prithviraj, Nazriya and Parvathy. But they managed to pull it off. Subin â Prithviâs younger version â especially looks a lot like the star. âShe had told us how the characters should be, their personality,â Pooja says.
'It was like being at home'
Then there is Mitta Antony, the make-up artist who had gone through a lot of struggle in the film industry. Her opportunities were denied by people she considered to be mentors. The recognition for a woman make-up artist did not come easy. She could not get a membership with FEFKA because women make-up artistes were not recognised, even after the 2014 Supreme Court order lifting this âbanâ.
With a lot of trouble, Mitta had secured a membership from the CCMAA (Cine Costume And Make Up Artist Association), that would make her eligible to work anywhere in India. But even that didnât help. Until slowly, the industry itself began to see changes, and support came from all corners.
Sajitha Madathil spoke of Mitta to Anjali. And one day Anjali called her.
âShe has been so supportive. Not just her, the producer Renjith, actors Nazriya, Parvathy, everyone. It is like a dream project for me. It was like being at home,â Mitta says.
Among all the departments that Anjali pulled women in for, this must have been the rarest.
Choreography, costumes and more
But it doesnât stop there. For costumes and choreography, Anjali remembered the women she worked with in Bangalore Days. Brinda Master, who has been in the industry for 30 years and who choreographed the famous âMangalyamâ song in Bangalore Days, was happy to be on Anjaliâs sets again.
âIt was all misty in Ooty and I could not see anything,â she laughs. âBut I have to work as soon as I reach. Thatâs my way. It was a college where the dance song (Paranne) was shot. I love the way Anjali presents everything and I loved Littilâs camera work,â Brinda says. Sheâs talking about Littil Swayamp who did the cinematography.
Nazriya would fill the whole place with energy as soon as she came. And the singers including Siddharth Menon who appeared for the song were just âfantasticâ, says Brinda.
She has also worked on another song, a slower one, which begins slow and ends in a fight. âThere was no fight, Anjali and I were the fight masters.â The two make a great team. She remembers at the end of the Mangalyam song shooting, the whole unit had danced together, including Anjali and Brinda.
Anjali also remembered to bring on board Pampa Biswas from Bengal, who had worked with her for Bangalore Days. For costume design. âWorking with Anjali is a collaborative process. She partners you in every way. You can throw around ideas. It is a democratic process,â Pampa says.
Pampa Biswas and Akhila Menon
Koode costumes were not easy. They were shooting in Ooty and Anjali wanted her actors to be very comfortable. âShe did not want the clothes to stand out. I believe in that too, that the story is always important. Clothes and everything else is secondary.â So Pampa went for feathers and winter wear. Limiting, but working with layers always adds a kind of touch, she says.
Assisting her was Akhila Menon from Mumbai.
Set designers were again two women â Shrimathy Karthikeyan and Anjali Mandapaka. Shrimathy, an architect, turned to set design two years ago. Koode is her second film. âBoth the director and the production designer made it comfortable to work. Anjali gives out this positive vibe and we were all like a family living in this big house,â Shrimathy says.
And finally, Smitha Nambiar did the corporate communications and Shital Dedhia the accounts for Anjali. Mini Sarma from Dubai was the line producer.
It would be a whole different story to write about the women in front of the camera, Anjaliâs actors, beginning from three-year-old Meera who plays Nazriyaâs younger version to Nilambur Aysha, one of the senior-most artistes in the industry. But they would be seen and appreciated this week when Koode comes to the theatres.
Those behind the camera, whose faces we do not see but whose work makes the movie what it is, should just not be forgotten.