Interview Hindi

That there are people giving you money to make a short film is mindblowing: Filmmaker Mansi Jain

In an exclusive interview with us, she spoke about the decision to make Everything Is Fine, and the joy of working with actress Seema Pahwa.

Shriram Iyengar

In Everything Is Fine, director Mansi Nirmal Jain explores the story of a middle-aged woman's search for her own rights. The film has already wowed audiences by winning the Audience Award at the Brussels International Short Film Festival last month. The win is remarkable as the Brussels festival is often a launching point for the Oscar campaign for short filmmakers.

Jain wrote the script as a thesis project for her writing course at Columbia University. The script immediately won her the Katharina Otto Bernstein Grant, and set her on the path of making a short film.

She also co-wrote and was associate director on Munish Bhardwaj's Moh Maya Money (2016), and also directed the acclaimed short film, Chhuri, starring Anurag Kashyap, Surveen Chawla and Tisca Chopra. The short was nominated to Jio Filmfare Awards 2018.

A screenwriting graduate from Columbia University, Jain is currently working alongside Sonia Bahl on a script based on Bahl's bestseller, The Spectacular Miss for Ronnie Screwvala's company RSVP.

In an exclusive interview with us, she spoke about the decision to make Everything Is Fine, and the joy of working with actress Seema Pahwa. Excerpts.

So, the film has been travelling quite a bit. How has the response been?

It actually went to NYIFF [New York Indian Film Festival], but it also went to Brussels International Short Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award for Best Film. It was pretty amazing. 

The story is very relatable, and we see it around. But to transform that into a short, is quite challenging. What was the reaction when you first pitched the script around?

It was inspired by something that happened in 2012, but that was a simpler situation. I added more conflict for the film. This film is a very dramatised version of a very small real incident.

Incidentally, this script was set in New York because I wanted to shoot there. The script ended up winning the Best Script award at Los Angeles Independent Film Festival, and it won a few grants. That's how I was able to make the film.

But something about it was not feeling right. Something was not ringing true to me. I met my thesis advisor before I shot the film. My thesis advisor was Andy Beinen, and he is an absolute genius. He is genuinely a savant.

When I was walking down Broadway, and I suddenly knew that I had to set it in India, and had to be honest to the world where the characters came from.

We were initially a little worried about what would happen to the grant because it was given for that particular script. It was the same premise, but the location and setting had changed.

We shot in Delhi in the middle of Diwali, and it gets crazy. Sometimes you don't have space to put a camera in the street. Somehow, we got through it.

You did have a fantastic artiste in Seema Pahwa to play out the role of a mother coming to terms with her own individual rights. She manages it so easily...

When I was writing it, I knew it had to be Seema. I thought I will approach her, and if she says no, I will approach somebody else.

There are things which I had written in sub-text, she would pick up on that. I wouldn't even have to tell her. There are so many woman I see, who are falling apart, but they are not allowed to fall apart. They have to hold it together.

To a little extent, it is inspired by my mom, obviously. Some of the clothes that she [Seema Pahwa] is wearing, are from my mom's closet. We did a lot of shopping, but it just didn't feel right.

Seema Pahwa

What was her reaction to the script?

She understood it, and she is a writer and a veteran. She genuinely is like a great actress. She understands character, and one of the best people to work with.

I want to make a feature version of the film I have written, and she would be the first choice to play the role. If things work out, that is...

In an age, when there are multiple forms of narratives/cinema flowing in from multiple platforms, what are the challenges posed by a short film?

There are challenges obviously, but there are also amazing opportunities. Just the fact that there are people giving you money to make a short film is mindblowing.

I keep telling my friends, you literally have to make a short film, and there is someone who will buy it or put in the production money. No reason to not do it anymore.

Everybody makes a short film today and creates an alternate industry.

The money is always going to be tight, and less than what you want. But right now, you can also get great actors to do it. There is no insistence on having celebrities, or a known face. You can just go with an actor you want for the character.

So, what else are you working on?
I write a lot, and currently have about 16 scripts in various stages of production. There is one I have written for Optimstyx, called Dilliwale Bhatias. Another is the feature length version of Everything Is Fine as I was telling you.

I am also doing the dialogues for The Spectacular Miss, Ronnie Screwvala's next production, with [director] Shashanka Ghosh. It doesn't have a title yet.

I also write for #NoFilterNeha, the show. We [Mansi and Neha Dhupia] became friends when we worked on Moh Maaya Money. I am also the writer and creative director of BFFs with Vogue. So it has been busy, and hopefully it will remain so.

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BASAFF (Bay Area South Asian Film Festival)