Sitting by a pond, their legs barely touching the water, two brothers are talking about school. The younger one is worried over a disgruntled Maths teacher who has asked to see his parents. He would get his Math paper only if he brought a parent. “He will fail me,” says the little boy, about six years old. The elder one – about 10 or 11 – comforts the younger one. “You said you have done well, right?” And the younger one’s reply comes naturally: “Yes, but he could rub off (erase) my answers.”
The adorable exchange in Malayalam, shot somewhere in the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram, comes from Indu VR aka Indu Lekshmi’s writing pad. She made a short film of it and called it Utharakadalassu, meaning ‘answer paper’. The film was previewed in the competition section of the Kolkata International Film Festival on November 13, and Indu is back home after her first solo trip in many years.
“I didn’t have to go with the film but I wanted to. The moment when the hall full of people applauded as the end credits rolled was just so soul-stirring,” she says, sitting at a restaurant in Thiruvananthapuram. This is the city Indu grew up in, studying in a girls-only school, going to an engineering college, and then working as an IT professional.
Indu used to write as a schoolgirl too. It took her another eight years to publish a book of poems, while she still worked as a software engineer at Infosys. Renowned poet Sugathakumari released that book – Riddles of Time – and asked Indu to write in Malayalam too. She did. The second book – a book of short stories – called Buddhante Punchiri came out in 2014. Indu was then on a break from work, having become a new mother. It is for her first born that Indu made Utharakadalassu.
Niranjan in Utharakadalassu
Niranjan, her six-year-old, (now seven) plays Manu in the film, which addresses the pressures that children faced at school and from friends. It also deals with another serious issue that Indu does not want to reveal right now.
“The idea came when I heard the story of my domestic help’s child who was rebuked for staying in the premises of her school at 4 pm, after school time. She was asked to bring a parent to school. Kids get scared when that happens. In her case, neither her alcoholic father nor her mother, who worked as a domestic help, could come. She was 14 and tried something drastic to get out of the situation,” Indu says, narrating a few more similar instances. A post by professor and writer Manu Remakant about his late brother has also inspired her, Indu adds.
She wanted to make a film, and have her son in the lead. “Call me selfish but I really wanted him to have a chance when I saw how cooperative and keen he was when he played a small part in my first short film, Alikhitham.”
Alikitham wasn’t a planned film. Those were days Indu had begun working again after her break, and by then, was a mother of two kids. There was a short film festival happening in her new company and Indu thought of writing a script. The idea of directing the film came to her after a conversation with an old friend who had turned filmmaker. “I asked Prasanth Vijay (director of The Summer of Miracles) if I could make a film if I just have a camera and an editor, he said I should give it a shot.”
Alikhitham is about child abuse and a pained father’s reaction to it. There was only one main actor, a willing colleague. Indu won an award for it at the short film festival. “For the first show of Alikhitham, the roar of applause was so beautiful. The high I got when I could see the film on a big screen followed by such an applause was addictive... It was the kayyadi (applause) and personal comments which gave me the courage to try a more complex narration,” Indu says.
Indu quit her job more than a year ago and started an academy to teach soft skills in Thiruvananthapuram. Not one to sit idle, she had also taken up the translation of actor-filmmaker Balachandra Menon’s book Ithirineram Othirikaryam. “It contained the stories behind his various films,” she says. The English version that Indu wrote – Start Action… Musings of a Movie Maker -- came out last year.
Indu with her kids, Niranjan and Nandana
Next, she wants to make sure her younger child – five-year-old Nandana – gets a bigger presence in a film she makes. Nandana had made a short appearance in Utharakadalassu. It certainly looks like a family package, especially when Indu’s dad Raveendran Nair, played the strict Math teacher in Utharakadalassu and her husband Kanakan turned producer for it.
But Indu is serious about her work. For a voiceover she felt she didn’t get right, she remade an entire sequence in Utharakadalassu with veteran actor Indran’s voiceover. “Such a humble man,” Indu comments.
She is now writing scripts for feature films, not willing to for a single day without work.