Rohena Gera wrote TV shows for GEC channels and was a part of a couple of commercial Hindi films as a writer. And after doing all this, she realised she did not like being a part of mainstream cinema or television. In 2013, she made a much-acclaimed documentary called ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It?’ and now, she is ready to release her debut feature film ‘Sir’ in India. In this interview, she talks about her first feature-length film which has won accolades across the globe at various film festivals, the inspiration behind making this film, working with Tillotama Shome, love for independent cinema and more.
The film is finally releasing in theatres. Was it always the plan to send it to festivals first and then, ensure a release in theatres?
I had always planned on releasing the film in India but since the Indian release rights were with me I needed time to work around a few things. I did not expect the film to gain so much momentum at festivals. We have travelled to so many festivals with the film and have received a positive response everywhere. The audience was so wonderful and supportive of our film. One thing happened after another. Releasing a film like this in India is also not easy. It is not a star-driven project. The film will release in India soon and I hope it is received well by the audience here.
You had stated in an interview that the character Ratna, played by Tillotama Shome, had to be very real. Is the story inspired from some real-life incident?
Ratna’s character is a combination of several people I know. I have been inspired from people who have worked in my house, my mom’s house and so many others. We live in a patriarchal society but a lot of women find a way to navigate through it. They do not let their circumstances stop them from moving ahead in life. The system needs to change but they continue moving forward without waiting for it to change. We need to celebrate this spirit.
You also said that the apartment is like a character in the film.
Yes. ‘Sir’ is a very concept-based film. The film explores this space where these two people are there. The space is very crucial to the film. It explores the dynamics between the two characters. It explores the idea of closeness and distance. The people who work at our house do their work quietly and do not utter a word but they realise what is happening in our lives. There are so many moments in the film where there is no dialogue but there are so many things happening around. The corridor between the man’s room and the kitchen is also a space which connects and separates them. The tracking shot connects them but a barrier is always there.
Was it easy to convince Tillotama Shome to play this part?
I was very nervous
when I sent her the script. I had seen her work in ‘Qissa’. She is talented but
also a very hard-working person. I really wanted her to play Ratna but at the
same time, I was nervous thinking that she might think I am trying to typecast
her. She read the script and loved it. She was very supportive after that. She
said, “I want to do this, this is my film. Please don’t give it to anybody else.”
She is a brilliant actress and a great person to work with.
You have written TV shows like ‘Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin’ and films like ‘Kuch Naa Kaho’ and ‘Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic’. You have also made a documentary titled ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It?’. Did it take a while to put your first feature film together?
It is very difficult to make your first film. The journey is not easy or linear. I have always liked working in the independent space. When I started out, I did not know anybody in the industry. I worked in Amit Khanna’s Plus Channel for a brief period of time. I was paid Rs. 3000 a month. I was doing post-production and other work. Then, I managed to get small writing jobs with Vinta Nanda and DJ’s Creative Unit. After a while, I realised I was not happy working in mainstream Hindi cinema. Then, I decided to take a step back and made a documentary.
Would you like to do something in the digital space?
I do not know. I have not thought about it. Actually, it depends on the story I want to tell at a particular point of time. Certain stories need a certain number of episodes and a longer arc. If that story belongs to that medium, would like to explore that space as well. A lot will depend on how the next project evolves. I just want to work honestly and do not want to be motivated by the wrong things.
What are you doing next?
I am still working on a couple of ideas. I have not finalised on anything yet. I will make films that make sense to me. After all these years of struggling, I found a lot of love for my film. So, I guess I will continue working honestly. Soderbergh once said “there is a lot you can accomplish if the social aspect of the business does not interest you.” So, I guess there is still a lot of scope for people like me who do not wish to adhere to the grammar of mainstream cinema.