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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 October 2018

Anu Menon’s new film Waiting explores the anatomy of grief

Waiting, which premieres at Diff, stars veteran actor Naseeruddin Shah – who will receive a Lifetime Achievement award at the festival – and actress Kalki Koechlin.
Waiting starring Naseeruddin Shah and Kalki Koechlin. Photo by Anu Pattnaik
Waiting starring Naseeruddin Shah and Kalki Koechlin. Photo by Anu Pattnaik

Waiting, which will debut at Diff this weekend, is the third film from Indian director and screenwriter Anu Menon. This is a far cry from her Bollywood debut in 2012 with the light rom-com London Paris New York – and the atmospheric X: Past Is Present – a collaborative feature by 11 Indian directors released last month. Starring veteran actor Naseeruddin Shah and actress Kalki Koechlin in the lead roles, Waiting is about a comatose patient that explores the anatomy of grief through its main characters. Menon, who is a London Film School alumnus, tells The National why the story is close to her heart.

Waiting has a very unconventional story. How did you think of it?

I had this story of two starkly different people isolated from the world finding comfort in each other, playing in my head for the longest time. Combined with one of my personal experiences, it took shape as the script of Waiting. It was a very difficult script to write. My co-writer James Ruzicka and I had to figure out what it means to be associated with a comatose patient, both emotionally and medically. James’s experience as a medical doctor proved really helpful in understanding the process. We finally arrived upon a story, which explores the anatomy of grief. That’s what I like to call it.

How was it working with award-winning actors Naseeruddin Shah and Kalki Koechlin?

Naseer has a very astute sense of observation and commitment. He was punctual and always prepared so more often than not, he gave his best performance in the first take. He never let his focus shift from the script. Kalki allows herself to be vulnerable. She is more porous and chilled out. In a way, there was a nice energy between them. Both of them were organised, committed and non demanding, which worked in favour of a film like ours, which was shot in a short duration of 35 to 40 days and on a low budget.

With Waiting, Suhasini Maniratnam makes her debut in Hindi cinema. How was it directing a well-known actor who has been a director herself?

Suhasini is very simple and honest. Right in the beginning she told us that she would only like to travel economy class. She was quite encouraging and supportive throughout the shoot. On her very first day, she brought sweets for the entire cast and crew, and bonded well throughout with our largely female team. With her experience, she also helped me with a few difficult scenes behind the camera. She plays Naseer’s wife in the film and has a very powerful role. When people watch the film they will know why we needed someone of Suhasini’s stature for this character.

What kind of experience can the audiences expect when they go for the film?

All those who have seen the film tell me it that made them go and hug their loved ones. It’s a very gentle and poignant film with no melodrama. It would make the audiences want to reach out to the leading characters and help them find their answers.

What do you think of the film’s debut at Diff?

I honestly feel Diff is the right place for us to begin. I really like the presentation of films at the festival and am quite happy about the red carpet debut of our movie and the lifetime achievement award for Naseer. Dubai’s refined audience will certainly enjoy our film.

You have made short films, documentaries and features. Which genre do you prefer the most?

I made short films and documentaries while I was in London Film School to build a portfolio and explore my strengths. Once I was out, I only made feature films. I’m still interested in the kind of stories I could tell through documentaries, but for now, I want to focus on feature films. The idea is to get a large number of people to watch my cinema and also earn a living through my work.

What’s next?

I’m currently writing and will be directing a film called Womaniya, which is about the friendship of two women set against the immigrant population in the UK. I’m considering a few other international projects as well. After doing two diverse films such as London Paris New York and Waiting, I was exposed to two different kinds of worlds that are healthy, exciting and satisfying. I’m trying to make the best of both of them.

Waiting (red carpet debut) is at 10.15pm on Friday, December 11, at Madinat Theatre; and at 9.15pm on Saturday, December 12, at the Mall of the Emirates. For more information, visit www.dubaifilmfest.com

artslife@thenational.ae