‘Language just a mode of expression, emotions are universal’
Life took a turn when she quit her Infosys job of six years to pursue filmmaking. Though she commits of not being sure if she had it in her to become a filmmaker, especially in the absence of “connections” in the film industry, Roopa Rao happens to be the writer-director of the country’s first same-sex web series, The “Other” Love Story.
Come May 11 and her first feature length film in Kannada, Gantumoote, will have its world premiere at the New York Indian Film Festival 2019. All due to her love for films which has been the only constant in her life.
We had a chat with the filmmaker who won the best director award at the New York Web Fest 2016 for her maiden web series.
You are the writer-director of the country’s first same sex web series. When and how did the idea strike and how did you go about it?
Well, it has been more than two-and-a-half years since we released The “Other” Love Story. I started working on it one and a half years before we released it so almost four years ago I made a pilot with my own little money, wanting to see if I can translate what I have written on paper to screen. The pilot episode looked decent and gave me clarity that we can actually pull it off. That’s when I started looking for producers or people to put in money to make this into a series.
I must have written the story almost a decade ago. The story was throbbing inside me to come out into the world; I pursued it like there was no tomorrow. A year later, we partially crowd funded on Wishberry, my friends and I, put in a bit of money and we started shooting, few days in to the shoot, Harini Daddala, our producer, came on board, she got to know about our project through the campaign. With her fantastic support we could finish the series and rest is history as they say.
A lot of people want to pursue their dreams but don’t have the courage to take that one step. How long did it take you to take that step?
I think courage comes with clarity and clarity didn’t come to me overnight. The seed that had seeped into me during my college days was too dormant for a few years during my Infosys days. I didn’t even know if I had it in me to become a filmmaker. I am from a very normal middle class family so quitting a job such as the one I had was not the best thing to do according to my family.
My love for films was the only constant but I knew only that wouldn’t pave the path. I was very lost. I am someone who will never seek out for direction or counselling. I wait for it to occur to me, and when it did, once the seed started growing because of various external and internal triggers, I had no choice but to pursue this path. I had to give myself this chance. I didn’t want to repent this when I grew old. I was already 26/27 by then. Every other girl my age was going about getting married while I resigned and went behind my undying madness for films. It was indeed a marriage of sorts, my truth that I embraced. Even after I resigned, I wasn’t sure, until I took that step in to that film school. A couple of weeks in to it and I knew I had arrived HOME finally. There was no looking back, I knew life or death, it had be here.
What was the reaction back home when you informed them of quitting a well-paid job and getting into filmmaking?
My elder brother who was my biggest critic up until then was surprisingly and endearingly supportive with this decision of mine and has been my pillar ever since. My dad was excited like a child, maybe I was living his dream too, he was a complete movie buff and maybe it was because of him that I developed such an intense love for films. My mom was worried but she eventually gave in and now I can see she can’t hide how proud she feels sometimes. My sister in law who joined our family about the time I was to start my film school has been a source of support and now my little niece is excited that I make films. I guess when the universe conspires, it also brings in a support system to sail through.
How do you feel when subjects considered taboo in your own country are applauded in other countries and you even go on to win awards?
If those awards can shine bright enough to start a dialogue in my own country, then it is as humbling as it can get. For me, the immense love that I received, our web series received is more than any award. If the subject were still a taboo, we wouldn’t be where we are today; we have crossed more than 60 million views on YouTube. And I still get a hundred of messages from all over India. All this is very heartwarming; some of the supporters have turned investors in our film production company, backing us to make more movies. This just shows we as a country are more than ready for the change. Not long before we will win awards for such subjects here in our own country too.
Tell us about Gantumoote…
Gantumoote is a Kannada film. My first feature length film. It is having its world premiere in New York on May 11 at New York Indian Film Festival 2019. It is an honour to be representing Kannada films at such a prestigious festival. Gantumoote (baggage) is an intense coming off age, high school drama set in Bangalore in the 1990s. It is a tale narrated from a girl’s perspective, which is fairly rare for Indian cinema, more specifically to Kannada cinema. It is a story of her struggles in understanding herself and the ever-changing world around her, educational pressures, bullying, competition over marks – all of it wrapped up in transcending journey of first love.
Do you think language acts as a barrier when it comes to presenting your creative skills in front of an audience?
Not at all. Language is just a mode of expression and emotions are universal. For me, language represents a cultural specification and that I think is more a creative enabler than a barrier. Nowadays, people are watching world cinema despite not knowing the language, we rely on subtitles and dubbing to understand the details but overall, we do get what the films are saying. Isn’t it?
Language could limit my reach in terms of audience base but never disrupts my creative expression. However, we are looking at dubbing our films in to a few Indian languages and some European and South Asian languages. If we succeed to make a connect then that may become a modus operandi to each of our films. Let’s see how it works out in that aspect.
Any plans to make a Hindi feature film?
Soon, hopefully. I do have a script that can be made in Hindi. Right now I am working on a children’s film script, may be after that.
What if your creative work doesn’t get good reviews (honest confession)?
I feel we have an audience for each story, despite that if my work doesn’t get good reviews, I will surely be upset for a while but knowing me, I know I will make that experience into a story and eventually a film.
Best of luck to Roopa!