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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Dubai-produced tale of everyday sexism hits the festival circuit running

‘Everything is Fine’, a film about the place of middle-class Indians in the home, is picking up international awards

Producer Sasha John and director Mansi Nirmal Jain of 'Everything is Fine' 
Producer Sasha John and director Mansi Nirmal Jain of 'Everything is Fine' 

Dubai-based producer Sasha John and her writing and directing partner Mansi Nirmal Jain have gathered quite the all-star cast for their latest short, Everything is Fine.

The pair has started to pick up international awards for their efforts, with a Next Generation Audience Award at last month’s Brussels International Short Film Festival being the latest success for their work.

The movie, which tells the story of the everyday sexism faced in the home by middle-class Indian housewives, stars veteran Indian actress Seema Bhargava Pahwa (Ankhon Dekhi, Dum Lagake Haisha, Ferrari Ki Sawaari, making a rare appearance after semi-retirement from film, and the National Award-winning Palomi Ghosh (Dance to the Rhythm, Mukti Bhavan/Hotel Salvation).

The pair has also drafted in a quality team behind the camera, including Academy Award and Bafta-winning sound designer Resul Pookutty (Slumdog Millionaire, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) and cinematographer Jigme Tenzing (Hema Hema, Honeygiver to the Dogs).

So how do a pair of recently graduated, relative novice film-makers, attract such a storied cast and crew to their low-budget project? With apparent ease, according to John, who produces this movie, although she does write and direct her own films too.

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“A lot of it is based on relationships when it comes to these people, as they’re busy with their own work,” she says. “Seema’s role was written with her specifically in mind as Mansi and Seema have worked together before, so they had an existing relationship. The same with Resul. Both Mansi and I knew him, so we just said ‘come and make this story about Indian housewives that nobody wants to tell’, and thankfully he did.”

The film is timely, with the role of women in movies under the microscope like never before, although it has been in development for more than two years, when the producer and director were still students at Columbia University School of the Arts.

It seems appropriate that Everything is Fine deals not with high-glamour sexism in Hollywood or Bollywood, but the very typical sexism of daily life. Seema’s character is not the victim of any casting couch skullduggery or dramatic attacks, but the everyday simple acts of being under-appreciated, unheard and ignored.

The film is set firmly within Indian culture, although John says that, in her experience, its message is a global one. “We’ve screened it at festivals in India, in Brussels, in the US, and it seems to resonate in different countries just the same,” she says.

“People come up to us after screenings and say it reminded them of their mother, all over the world. Even when we were getting funding – the film was funded primarily by a Katharina Otto-Bernstein Film Grant. Katharina is a big, confident, powerful producer, but even she said it reminded her of her German mother. It’s very touching as a filmmaker when that happens, and it happens a lot with this film.”

Jain, who audiences may know as the co-writer and associate director of Moha Maya Money, a well-received noir feature now available on Netflix, agrees: “Everything is Fine is rooted in the Indian milieu but has universal resonance. It is about people who are hindered from standing up for themselves, for whatever reason – family obligations or social norms.

“We were fortunate to work with an exceptional cast and crew who give the film its real soul. This film is a tribute to every woman, and has a theme inspired by the true stories of many women – mothers, wives, daughters and grandmothers – before they are even seen as human beings.”

John is eager to get her message out to a wider audience – it’s a message that she says generations of Indian women have failed to talk about – so, as is the way with short films, she’s now on a treadmill of festival submissions and screenings.

“We’re looking to get to as many audiences as we can, and with shorts that’s all about the festival circuit,” she says. “We want to get to as many US festivals as we can. We’re submitting to festivals in the Middle East and waiting to hear from some. We want to go everywhere we possibly can so as many people as possible can see the film.”

John says that, with her own background in Dubai, a UAE screening is a must: “I’m really keen to screen it in the UAE because it will resonate there just as much,” she says. “I have family there and have lived there on and off for a long time. My main interest is telling immigrant stories, real human stories, and there’s a treasure trove of those in UAE that haven’t been told yet.

“I have a number of stories there that I’m in the process of developing that will hopefully see the light of day. People really love those kind of stories.”