December suits Vidhu. Three Decembers ago, she was sitting on the floor of a house in Thiruvananthapuram talking about her first ever film Manhole when she got a phone call. Manhole had just been selected for the competition category of the International Film Festival of Kerala that year, making her the first woman from the state to win the honour. Three years later, Vidhu Vincent is waiting with her second film, Stand Up, to release it on a Friday in December, soon after another season of the IFFK is over.
“If we release it earlier, the movie will have to be removed from theatres in Thiruvananthapuram during the IFFK week,” Vidhu says, sitting in her apartment in the city, a little relaxed after days and months of running around with Stand Up.
It had not been easy.
For someone who won many honours for her first film (Manhole won a few prestigious awards at the IFFK), you’d expect it would not be too hard to find a producer. But there was a point when Vidhu and her scriptwriter Umesh almost gave up on the idea of a second film.
Rajisha and Nimisha in Stand Up
But when the two discussed, at length, about another issue that deeply worried them, they just had to make a new film. Manhole too had been about a cause – manual scavenging, despite the laws against it. Stand Up comes from the attacks on women after they reject someone’s advances or break off a relationship. Two award-winning young actors – Nimisha Sajayan and Rajisha Vijayan – agreed to be part of Vidhu’s film. Nimisha as Keerthy, a stand-up comedian and Rajisha, playing Diya, a friend. Supporting male characters are played by an actor called Venkitesh, who plays Nimisha’s brother, while Arjun Ashokan and Divya Gopinath play Nimisha’s friends.
“Umesh and I went from one stop to another. We travelled to Mumbai and back. It is a survivor’s story that we want to tell through the film. And what I have for record is Manhole, not a mainstream film. So producers were not keen to pick up the new film,” Vidhu says.
Vidhu and Umesh were also not ready for compromise. “I’m someone who has fought for minimum wages for all. I had to ensure everyone in our team got paid. But there are a lot of games played, and we realised art is a bourgeois game,” says Umesh, who was earlier doing his research in law at JNU.
The idea for Stand Up came from the experiences of people around him. “I have seen how men would use the idea of ‘revenge porn’ to get back at a woman they loved after she breaks up with them. They’d circulate naked photos of the woman and humiliate her. Then there are also other kinds of humiliations on the basis of caste. I had a friend – a Dalit man – who was afraid to tell a woman he liked her because she was a Brahmin. He was more afraid that she might humiliate him for his caste than the possible rejection,” says Umesh.
Vidhu’s life as a long-time journalist also contributed a lot to the script that Umesh wrote.
B Unnikrishnan and Anto Joseph come on board
A producer who had come forward earlier withdrew after the 2018 floods caused him some losses. Nimisha and Rajisha had already given their dates for June-July 2019. Vidhu just had to find a producer soon or she wouldn’t be able to make the film with these actors any time soon.
Vidhu Vincent on Stand Up
That’s when she remembered that director-producer B Unnikrishnan had sent her wishes at the time the first look poster came out, and asked her to call if she needed any help. “I called. He heard me out and said I shouldn’t be running around so much for an amount like this (the budget planned then was Rs 1 crore). He tried to connect me to Viacom but they needed more time to come on board. In the end, Unnikrishnan connected us to Anto Joseph. They agreed to produce it together for a budget of Rs 1.5 crore. For us, it was like winning the lottery!” Vidhu says.
Controversy regarding WCC
When it was announced that Unnikrishnan would be one of the producers of Vidhu’s film, a controversy broke out. Cinematographer-director Prathap Joseph wrote a post wondering how Unnikrishnan, who had made a film with Dileep in the lead (Kodathi Samaksham Balan Vakeel), could be producing a film directed by Vidhu Vincent, an active member of the Women in Cinema Collective (WCC).
Dileep is one of the accused in the sexual assault of a woman actor in February 2017, following which a bunch of women from the film industry had formed the support group WCC. Vidhu has been an important member of the WCC.
“If I refuse to work with anyone who so much as smiled at Dileep, then I’d have to stop working altogether. It is very clear what my stance is and I have told Unnikrishnan too that even in the future, if I have any disagreements with his stance, I would voice it. During the audio launch of Stand Up, Unnikrishnan spoke about it too,” Vidhu says.
In his speech at the audio launch, Unnikrishnan spoke about WCC and how both he and Vidhu had once come together for a channel discussion as representatives of different groups. “We are both aware that there should be conversation and friendship between different groups. It is difficult to see eye to eye but now we, representatives of men’s groups, have made a move to meet the other side. You should ‘stand up’ on your end, we will make the move and we will be with you,” he had said.
He added: “Both Anto and I see Stand Up as a most important film in our career. We are not the films we make, our politics go beyond that. Stand Up is a correction of some of the mistakes that Anto and I have made, as part of Malayalam cinema. You need money to make all such films. This money comes from the kind of films Anto and I have made – like Madambi or Pramani or Ganagandharvan. We will have to keep making politically incorrect films to make money for films like Stand Up. But you (Vidhu) should be politically correct with your films.”
Another poster of Stand Up
Actor Mammootty too was present at the launch. He too made an indirect reference to the different groups existing in Malayalam cinema and the need for all of them to come together, implying that the WCC and the Association of Malayalam Cinema Artistes should cooperate.
Vidhu says she had clearly told both Unnikrishnan and Anto Joseph that her film does not have male leads, it is two women who take the story ahead. Despite understanding the risks, both Anto and Unnikrishnan came on board without a second thought. Nimisha, in her short speech at the audio launch, thanked both the producers for coming forward to take a film directed by a woman.