Roopa Rao grew up in a small town called Kolar for the first 12 years of her life, later her family moved to Bengaluru, but she admits that she is yet to become a city girl. Cycling in the fields, climbing the rocky hills, playing in the eucalyptus groves have molded a solid foundation for her to move about her life in the same carefree manner, but feet strongly attached to the ground.

Rao is a critically acclaimed filmmaker from Bengaluru and her recent film, Gantumoote, an intense coming of age, high school drama set in the same city in the 1990s, is now the 3rd Kannada feature film ever to be premiered at the New York Indian Film Festival 2019.

She recalls how movies have been everything to her family.“My dad lost his parents very early on and drew familial connections with movie stars to feel belonged, which got transfused in to me as a child. The silver screen always seemed more real to me and a part of me wondered why doesn’t life happen the way it happened in a film later only to realize films are a subset of life and not vice versa”.

She never saw the stories happening around her, make it to the big screen, even after watching thousands of movies across cultures and languages. So, she adds,  it was only eventuality that she got drawn to this craft and decided to pursue film making as a path.

The silver screen always seemed more real to me and a part of me wondered why doesn’t life happen the way it happened in a film later only to realize films are a subset of life and not vice versa.

“I feel it is not me who decides to tell a story but the stories decide themselves. Stories have a life of their own, and they choose a channel to get a shape and form and some stories happen to choose me. I just need to be open for them to happen through me, I know this sounds spiritual and to me it very much is. My stories come from my journey of life – not necessarily from my own life but things that I must have absorbed from somewhere, anywhere. We are anyway a bundle of memories aren’t we? When a story reaches out to me, I usually sit on it for a while to see what it does to me, and if it starts driving me crazy only then I attempt to make it in to a film”.

Gantumoote (Baggage) is told from the perspective of a teenage girl, something that isn’t usually the norm in Kannada cinema. Why aren’t women offered more meatier parts in the industry and what made her want to take the risk?

Rao feels that it is hard for a man to think of a story from a woman’s perspective, purely because he cannot, just like how she’d struggle to write a story from a man’s perspective. Even when a man attempts a story helped by a woman protagonist, his point-of-view as a man could invariably creep in.

Success of movies such as this will surely inspire more female filmmakers to make more and more films with female gaze.

She informs, “I had to risk it, somebody has to start, isn’t it? I couldn’t just stay frustrated feeling less represented. I feel the audience is very generous and matured, they will come and watch the film if they connect with it and my trust is in their judgment. Success of movies such as this will surely inspire more female filmmakers to make more and more films with female gaze. I feel.”

In 2016, Roopa won “The Best Director” award at the New York Web Fest 2016 for her web series – The “Other” Love Story which was the first ever same sex web series to be made in India. She had submitted Gantumoote for the New York Film Festival and after the jury review, the team received an official selection and world premiere opportunity.

“Recently we did a private screening of our film for the cast, crew, immediate friends and family. The way the film was received by them was a huge confidence booster. I am not apprehensive but curious for sure. As a writer and director, my process is done with this story, but as a producer I am waiting to see what unravels for all of us.”

In this digital era, access to stories from across the world is definitely opening our viewer’s mindset, this will enable our very own unique stories to be told and received.

Rao elucidates that patience and the ability to be present is the greatest quality for a director. She is currently preparing to produce their next venture from Ameyukti Studios, an independent production house, which she co-founded last year with her old friend Sahadev. She is also writing a short film about one particular incident that has been bothering her for two years and also writing a children’s feature film.

Indian film industries haven’t exactly done their part in empowering stories of women or marginalized communities. Does she see this changing in the future?

“Oh yes, it is absolutely changing. In this digital era, access to stories from across the world is definitely opening our viewer’s mindset, this will enable our very own unique stories to be told and received. Gone will be the days of ‘stardom’ in the near future, and an audience would want to watch films only to get a great movie experience like 3D/4D films or he/she would want to watch something that is absolutely relatable, anything in between will slowly die out. That’s what I feel.”

Photo Credit: Ameyukti Studios

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