Walking the unorthodox path
We are inside a small empty auditorium. It is dimly lit, cold; and there is silence. She whispers "good stories always find a way of being told. That we do not choose tales, in fact they come looking for us. We are no more than a medium".
Suddenly, many characters come alive to mark their presence - from Peddlers, The Lunchbox and Zubaan. They decide to stay and hear our story, quietly. After all, Guneet Monga has been the creative producer of several fascinating and complex narratives that have etched their place in contemporary independent cinema.
Monga won the coveted Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject for her 2018 production Period. End of Sentence (directed by Rayka Zehtabchi). Period follows a group of local women in Hapur, India, as they learn how to operate a machine that makes low-cost, biodegradable sanitary pads to sell to other women at affordable prices. Monga insists this experience for her went beyond elevating and inspiring.
"I came onboard as the executive producer after meeting the ten 12- to 14-year-old-girls in Los Angeles and their teacher Melissa Berton. After hearing that many girls dropped out of school because they could not afford menstrual hygiene, Berton decided to identify a village they could provide the machine to [Hapur]. The story screamed to be told. Yes, I didn't have any second thoughts," she adds.
Speaking to Mail Today after the special screening of the film organised by Netflix, UNICEF, USAID and American Embassy at American Centre on May 2, Monga agreed that though the space for fiction shorts has opened in India, those looking out to make documentaries still faced major distribution hassles. "One thing is clear: online digital platforms definitely need a lot of good content, the reason we are seeing some major activity happening in the space of shorts. Though documentaries are yet to reach that space, we can be hopeful. Look at Wild Wild Country - India boasts of some incredible documentary filmmakers. They are bound to make their presence felt strongly soon."
Monga, founder of Sikhya Entertainment, a boutique film production house who crowd-funded films like Peddlers and Haramkhor, does not really believe in waiting for financers to ensure her movies see the light of the day. "We need to understand and be open to the idea that unconventional stories walk the unorthodox paths, even when it comes to financing. When you are crowd-sourcing, you don't have the apprehension saying - 'hey, the film may not earn money, but it is an honest one'." Remembering her years of association with Anurag Kashyap akin to going to school, Monga says he is the reason why she can call herself a creative producer. "Earlier, I was just a producer," she smiles.
The BAFTA-nominee, who was appointed as the voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2018, adds smilingly that being nominated and winning the Oscars the same year was a total grace. Talk to her about the opaque and haphazard methodology followed by India while sending films to the Academy and she asserts, "Yes, we really need education on which films to select and definitely more transparency. Movies which have made a mark on the international film festival circuit need to be considered." All set for a Hindi film starring Sanya Malhotra, Monga has also announced her first Tamil project Soorai Pottru with superstar Suriya.
"It's the thematic essence that matters, not the language," she says, smiling. The interaction concludes and the auditorium door opens But those characters refuse to leave.