Good news for film buffs in the UAE! A short film, Everything is Fine, starring Seema Pahwa and produced by UAE based filmmaker/producer Sasha John has won the Best Film in the Next Generation International category at the recent Brussels International Film Festival. It will now be screened in-competition at the 2018 New York Indian Film Festival tonight (May 10, 2018).
The force behind the film is Sasha, a Keralite, who grew up in Dubai, Pune and Mumbai before graduating from the Columbia University School of the Arts in New York. Her director and collaborator on the project is Mansi Nirmal Jain, also an MFA grad from the same university. Sasha, who is the daughter of ASDA´A Burson-Marsteller founder Sunil John, has previously worked on acclaimed films such as Ritesh Batra’s much-lauded The Lunchbox starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Irrfan Khan and Nimrat Kaur and Anurag Kashyap’s Ugly. She had earlier directed Jacob’s Pond, which won a standing ovation at its world premiere at the 16th New York Indian Film Festival.
Sasha John and Mansi Nirmal Jain
Everything is Fine too has won its fair share of laurels and prior to the Brussels honour, it had been appreciated at its screenings at the Lincoln Centre in New York and at an Indian awards ceremony in New Delhi.
With a running time of under 20 minutes, the short feature is a supremely sensitive take on patriarchy and subtle humiliation that women have to go through in their own homes. Seema Pahwa (remember the mother in Bareilly ki Barfi and Shubh Mangal Savdhaan?) stars as Asha, a middle class oppressed homemaker who arrives in Delhi to visit her independent, working daughter Natasha (Palomi Ghosh, seen as the daughter in last year’s Mukti Bhawan). However, she wants more than a vacation, she wants to leave her deeply unequal marriage and stay with her daughter. Why? Because she has a husband who doesn’t respect her and takes her completely for granted, crushing her small desires and being completely unaware of her individuality. Asha’s suffocation – a reality that most Indian women will identify with – comes through in very subtle scenes such as the one where she expresses her desire to go sightseeing in Delhi, only to be shot down brusquely by her husband who would rather visit his relatives.
A still from the film
When Asha tries to convey this to Natasha, the reaction from her daughter is shock and anger and denial which hurts her even more. She then takes a step that surprises both, father and daughter – again, nothing too drastic but powerful. Natasha is then gradually empathetic but has Asha already moved on? Does she even need a late understanding of her situation by her daughter?
The beauty of Everything is Fine is the way the makers have portrayed how patriarchy is ‘normalised’ in most households. This could be happening in any home in India. Asha could be any woman you meet in your neighbourhrood or perhaps your own mother or aunt! The average middle class interaction and behaviour – of parents visiting their working daughter, their casual conversations etc – are well captured. Of course adding tremendous depth to the entire scenario is Seema Pahwa, who once again proves her outstanding acting abilities. Warm, friendly, concerned yet deeply suffering inside, Seema brings the pathos of Asha beautifully.
The ladies behind the venture say the film may be rooted in a traditional Indian mileu but has a universal theme. Director Mansi Nirmal Jain, who was the co-writer and associate director of Moha Maya Money, a well-received noir feature now available on Netflix, says, “It is about people who are hindered from standing up for themselves, for whatever reason – family obligations or social norms. This film is a tribute to every woman, and has a theme inspired by the true stories of many women – mothers, wives, daughters and grandmothers – before they are even seen as human beings.”
Sasha adds, “It is a deeply personal film for me. We have tried to shine a light on the ever-pervasive issues of Indian middle class women being subjugated to subtle oppression in their own houses.”
The warm response it gained at the two screenings have now led them to plan to develop it into a feature film to be made in New York and India.