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Article English Malayalam

These two women directed a film together without meeting once

Uma Kumarapuram from India and American filmmaker Nicole Donadio made the Malayalam-English film Across The Ocean while being on different continents.

Keyur Seta

It is normal for two or more filmmakers to collaborate and make a movie. Abbas-Mustan is one name from commercial Hindi cinema that springs to mind. But what if two filmmakers decide to co-direct a film without meeting each other even once? Indeed, what if the two are on different continents entirely?

Such is the story of Indian filmmaker Uma Kumarapuram and American filmmkaer Nicole Donadio. They collaborated to co-direct the Malayalam-English movie Across The Ocean without meeting each other even once in the flesh. Uma Kumarapuram, who hails from Kerala, narrated their story during the screening of their film at the ongoing LIFFT India Filmotsav in Lonavala. 

Kumarapuram and Donadio became friends on Facebook after the former was impressed with the latter’s work. “Nicole had made a parody trailer of The Wolf Of Wall Street (2013) titled The Women Of Wall Street,” she said. “It was on gender disparity. I found it very interesting. On an impulse, I messaged her. She was a bit shocked to get a mail from India. She replied and we got chatting. After three or four months of chatting, we thought of doing something together.” 

Uma Kumarapuram in conversation with Mita Vashisht and Riju Bajaj at the LIFFT India Filmotsav

Across The Ocean narrates the story of two women, Nila (Apoorva Bose) in India and Holly (Anna Jaller) in America. The film is a parallel narration of their respective stories. Nila is eager to visit America while Holly is fascinated with a chance of visiting India.

Kumarapuram and Donadio shot the respective stories of Nila and Holly independently in their hometowns. “We shot and then sent the files to each other across the continents. We used a bunch of apps and softwares and websites to communicate and edit,” said Kumarapuram.

The technical crew had a similar story. “Our third editor is in Kerala and our music composer is in Los Angeles,” the director said.

The two filmmakers never met during the making of the film. “During post-production we were all connected by the internet. There were daily chats, discussions and Skype calls,” said Kumarapuram. 

Kumarapuram and Donadio did meet once, but it was more of a casual meeting for a day when the latter was touring Japan and India with her boyfriend. “She came to my home. We spent a day together. I just showed her my family and surroundings, so that she gets to know how a Kerala middle-class family looks. We did speak about the movie, but it was already in progress,” she said, adding they have not met after the film was completed.

Asked how they managed such a feat, Kumarapuram said, “Necessity is the mother of all inventions. We really wanted to make a movie. We knew the techniques. And we realized that digital technology has made the process very democratic and easy to manage.”

She believes what they have achieved is rare. “There have been a couple of documentaries that have been filmed in similar fashion, but no fiction film has been done this way,” she said. 

Despite the two parts of the film being shot on different continents, there are various moments in the film that are interlinked. For example, the scene of Holly about to close the boot of her cab leads to Nila closing the boot of her car. The two had planned this. “We were talking about that from pre-production onwards. We knew which frames were going to be inter-cut,” said Kumarapuram.

The funding of such a film did pose a challenge to the two. They approached a few producers who felt this was an impossible task. Finally, Donadio and Kumarapuram got onto crowdfunding platforms Kickstarter and Wishberry for making their respective portions. 

Kumarapuram is based in Kerala while Donadio lives in Los Angeles. The two characters of the film are also women hailing from the same places as their directors.

When we asked Kumarapuram if the two characters are biographical, she said, “It is an amalgamation of many people I know. Same for her also. I have certain parts of Nila in myself. As a child, I was eager to go to America because everyone else was. Then there are prospective grooms from the US looking for a girl in India. I thought what if I grow up to be one of those girls? That’s how the character of Nila was formed.”

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