‘Sara’s’ pans in on not just the topic of a woman’s autonomy over her body, but also offers a different point of view
Director Jude Anthany Joseph confesses that he doesn’t set out to make a particular kind of film — read women-oriented. At the heart of his films, be it Ohm Shanthi Oshaana (OSO), Oru Muthassi Gadha, and his latest, Sara’s, are strong female characters who are individualistic. “I don’t see a gender difference; it is the story that draws me to it. I understand that the industry [Malayalam] sometimes has a tenuous relationship with female-oriented subjects. I don’t deliberately look for such subjects,” Jude says. Sara’s, starring Anna Ben, about a woman who doesn’t want to have children, dropped on Amazon Prime Video on July 5.
Sara’s, made for an OTT platform, has all the ingredients the audience has come to expect from a Jude Anthany film — a family entertainer, with a dash of comedy, romance, drama and a strong female character. Sara (Anna Ben) is not a pushover, she has dreams that extend beyond the conventional marriage which pivots on having children. She is an assistant director who dreams of directing her film rather than starting a family.
The film pans on the conflict she feels when confronted with the expectations of her family and the choice she makes.
“The topic is sensitive; it had to be handled carefully. I don’t deliberately go looking for ‘socially relevant’ films nor am I trying to tell a story that would set right society’s wrongs,” he adds. The film has been scripted by newcomer Akshay Hareesh, who is pursuing his Master’s degree in Medicine.
Jude’s is making ‘good cinema’, “that does well for everybody involved — the producers, the artists, technicians. One should be able to look back with pride a couple of years down the line.”
Ohm Shanthi Oshaana (2014), Jude’s first film with Nazriya Nazim in the lead, was a coming of age rom-com about Pooja Mathew (Nazriya). It catapulted Nazriya to the status of Kerala’s sweetheart overnight. With his next, Oru Muthassi Gadha (2016), he did something unheard of in commercial Malayalam cinema — casting a sexagenarian woman with no acting experience in a lead role.
He considers that film, ‘a lesson learnt’ but does not regret it. “At the time, I felt I had to do that film. I was asked to make it with an ‘established star’; friends in the industry warned me against it. I was advised not to be stubborn, but then it was a question of my creativity.”
When the pandemic struck, he was working on his film, 2403 Feet, based on the floods of 2018. Although filming hadn’t started, pre-production work came to a standstill due to the pandemic.
Sara’s is the result of his urge to do something creative during lockdown. “I put out a Facebook post asking people to send in stories or ideas. At the time, all of us were at home with time on our hands. The response was a staggering 1,300 emails, from which I picked seven and asked the writers to develop those into a script. Three responded and one of the people who responded was Akshay,” he says, of how he picked the script.
The script Akhay turned in was “a hero-oriented” subject, which couldn’t be shot in the current situation. That has been set aside for another time. Jude asked Akshay to instead write another for a ‘small’ film. “Co-incidentally, the idea for Sara’s came from a scene in OSO where Pooja makes faces at a kid because she doesn’t like him.”
The next was choosing the actor. “Obviously Nazriya came to mind. But since there is a sequence of Sara when she is in school, like in OSO, casting her would have led to invariable comparisons.”
He had his doubts about Anna being interested in the project, but the story, and the fact that he directed a film [OSO] she liked, got her to say yes. “This is a different Anna. It is a different Sunny [Wayne] too. I am happy with the casting, especially Benny Nayarambalam (as Sara’s father Vincent), bureaucrat Prashant Nair and Dhanya Varma.”
Shooting in the midst of the pandemic was a challenge, “but we stuck to protocols. Everyone on the set was tested repeatedly. Masks were mandatory, food was served individually, no sharing. These cost us, but neither the producers nor I were willing to compromise on safety.” They worked within the confines of the protocol — no wide shots, more close-ups and not too many crowded locations. “We shot in the Metro and stations. And we didn’t cut corners in terms of locations as it shows in the film.”
Sara’s is his first project for an OTT platform, “It offers freedom for the creator, without financial loss to the producers. If there is no certification, one doesn’t have to make compromises. The scope of the medium and its reach is great. Having said that, OTT and theatre will have their own places; one cannot replace the other.”