Published: 27th November 2018
Why the women behind indie film 'All About Michelle' need your support to tell their story today
With an almost all-women cast and crew, Apoorva Marur is crowdfunding to direct a thriller, for which she has also got on board women farmers from Zaheerabad who will shoot the movie
What a week it was for women in sports. Looking at 35-year-old Mary Kom, a mother of three, beat her 22-year-old opponent, Hanna Okhota, and clinch the gold at the World Boxing Championship, has warmed the hearts of many. Even more so because we know her backstory, thanks to the self-titled movie which won a National Film Award. Speaking of movies and women, there is a group of women from Telangana who are trying to break the glass ceiling when it comes to cinema.
All About Michelle is a co-production between Andforstarters (a communication agency run by Marur and her sister Deeksha) and Deccan Development Society and Pseudography
Helmed by Apoorva Marur, an all-women cast and crew, barring two members, are trying to make a movie. Let us tell you, that there are not many who can claim to have achieved this feat. Trust us, we googled it! And we haven't even come to the best part yet. The cinematographers of this movie are women farmers from Zaheerabad. How refreshing is that? We keep using the future tense because Marur is crowdfunding for the movie. They need Rs 25 lakh, more than half of which they have raised already. The final countdown has begun and if you want to see this dream of their materialise, you have three days to contribute and who knows, soon we will see their story on the big screen.
Figuring it out
Now, to understand what is going on behind the scenes while the crowdfunding is still going strong, we get in touch with Marur and bonded over how we love people-watching, especially at airports. "I check in two hours prior just to observe people, it's just so fascinating," she says sounding truly fascinated. And Marur does go to the airport often because she loves travelling, as most storytellers do. And through the ten years she has spent in production and with various creative people, she always knew she had a story to tell. And it was when she was bedridden due to a fall and had binge-watched all the shows that she could on Netflix and Amazon Prime, that she was ready to pen the story down. "I did start writing, but it wasn't with the intention of writing a movie script," says the filmmaker, but it turned out to be just that.
At the helm: Apoorva Marur, the director of All About Michelle (Pic: Vinay Madapu)
All About Michelle, the movie she wrote, is a whodunit. And as someone who has always believed in women empowerment, she decided to get on board only females. "All my cast members are women, but I did struggle with finding an all-women crew. My sound engineers are men," says the Hyderabad-based filmmaker. And the story of how she decided to work with women farmers warrants another chapter altogether.
Here come the farmers
Marur has worked with Deccan Development Society before, an agri-based NGO which has been working in this field since 1983. She knew some of the women farmers had not only travelled the world, but also had filmmaking experience. They travel to meet other farming communities and make short films on farming concepts. And this was the first time they were being offered a script which was different from everything else they had done in the past. "When I first travelled to Zaheerabad to meet them, they were hesitant because they had shot with very different cameras before. They had their reservations, but were confident that if they were trained, they could pull this off," recalls Marur. So after several deliberations around schedules (since the farmers look after crops), they agreed to get on board. "Films for them serve as a medium to reach out to other communities, both within and outside the country. So All About Michelle is something very different that they have agreed to take on and are excited about," says Marur, who obviously is quite excited herself. Marur recalls how she could see a mixture of curiosity and innocence on their faces as she narrated the script to them.
In this together: Standing (L-R) Deeksha Marur, Apoorv Marur. Sitting (L-R) Rajveer Kaur, Drishika Chander, Aneesha Dama (Pic: Vinay Madapu)
Right now, all Marur is focused on is making sure that the campaign she started on Wishberry comes through. Following up on promises of contributions and converting them to confirmed contributions is what she is concentrating on. And as we came to the last question we have for her, we hold our breath, and ask her about Plan B, just in case the target of the campaign is not met. "The film will be made, come what may," she says and we breathe easy again thinking about how the day the movie is out there for everyone to watch, will be a wonderful day for women in films.
To know more about the film's intent and to watch a short teaser, you can visit bit.ly/2DIJcJo
In conversation with the cast and the crew:
(Pic: Vinay Madapu)
Theatre artist Aneesha Dama, who was last seen as Neelu in Geetha Govindam, loved the entire idea of women empowerment which is one major reason why she agreed to play a role in the movie. A fourth-year architecture student at the Vaishnavi School of Planning and Architecture, the 20-year-old Dama says that a year back, architecture was everything for her. "But when I started acting, I discovered that I have a passion for it too. So I am trying to balance the two out. For me, they both go hand in hand," says the actor who was born in Belgaum. She has another two movies in her kitty and a play coming up in December.
(Pic: Anisha Alla)
Anisha Alla has played roles in Arjun Reddy and Pelli Choopulu and when she heard the script of All About Michelle, she agreed to do it almost immediately. This Hyderabadi went to Columbia College Chicago to learn theatre so she always knew that acting was her passion. She recently completed a permaculture design course and the women farmers who are on board know her teacher, which is why this film is extra special for her. She has also been working with smaller communities and trying to create an impact. "I've been travelling solo to smaller villages of India to get a perspective, which is why this movie struck a chord with me," says the 24-year-old.
(Pic: Vinay Madapu)
Drishika Chander holds a diploma from Actor Prepares, run by prolific actor Anupam Kher. She has been a part of plays, documentaries and is a model too, but All About Michelle is going to be her first feature film. "This is not just a movie, it has so much to say," says the young Hyderabadi, and she added, "I am actually honoured to be a part of this film." She, just like us, cannot wait for the project to start and is very excited to be associated with it. "Every time we all meet for reading, we get along like a house on fire," says an excited Chander.
When we talk to Narsamma, one of the farmers who is a part of the movie, she tells us how most of them did not have a TV while growing up and were not aware of cinema. They have no formal education, yet learnt filmmaking because the jobs they have as daily labourers is not constant. "I thought it will be difficult, but we were taught patiently. Now I enjoy filmmaking," she says, adding how they were taught all the technical aspects as well. Other women have been to Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and other countries too and have known the art of camera operation for more than ten years now. "When we started initially, our family used to ask us why we want to take it up. But now we have made so many movies that they are ok with it too," she says.
If you think this is a regular boy-meets-girl movie, think again. The movie revolves around Dr Avika Rao, who is suspended while she is in between her clinical trials on hydrotherapy as an alternative to anti-anxiety agents. She is accused of malpractices after the death of her third volunteer. The question is whether she is guilty or not
Out in the field: Farmers who will be working with Marur | (Pic: All About Michelle)
Why go to the crowds?
While it is refreshing to hear women farmers being involved in filmmaking, on the financial front, this has been a slight hiccup as producers don't want to fund a film shot by women farmers. Producers who have heard the script have recommended that the team choose someone who has delivered hits in the past. This could mean that they will lose the creative control over their film. Which is why they turned to crowdfunding.
To contribute, click on wishberry.in/campaign/