Meet Rakhee Sandilya – Filmmaker of ‘Ribbon’ starring Kalki Koechlin

One of the earliest members of Women Making Films Community, Rakhee says she would one day travel to Ladakh on a motorbike. She and I collaborated during a film festival that WMF curated at Gauhati. Her feature-length documentary film ‘My Baby Not Mine,’ a film on surrogate mothers, was screened and received quite well. Fast forward a couple of years, she is now ready to release her debut Bollywood film ‘Ribbon’ with Kalki and Sumeet Vyas. The film has Rakhee as the writer/director, Neha Singh as the Casting Director, and Swathi Mondal as Producer.

In this interview, she shares her experience writing, directing and releasing her film ‘Ribbon.’

Q. Please tell us a little bit about your childhood, school, and interest in film studies. What were the artistic influences you had growing up?

My childhood was quite nice. I have always been fond of Hindi Cinema as my mother would watch them with extreme dedication and sincerity. At times we were forced to have dinner early because my mother’s film would be playing on TV. My dad, on the other hand, was into reading…so I picked it too and started writing short stories as a child. I had no clue how films were made, but I was fascinated by the idea of storytelling. Later on, I learnt the strength of visual storytelling, I was very drawn towards exploring this medium and finding my own language with my own conviction. I studied creative media which covers almost everything, but slowly I realized that I wanna tell my stories through my own visual interpretations which eventually made me a director.

Q. How important is film school education, according to you?

Cinema according to me is something that comes from your heart where you connect with emotions and leave the rest to the craft of the director…I may not be the right person to answer your question because I have unlearned a lot of things in the process of my film, and experimented with many new things. As we are evolving, films are also changing with time and the advent of technology that we have to constantly update ourselves with.

Q. Could you please talk about ‘My baby not mine?’ your feature-length documentary? What prompted you to make a film about surrogate mothers?

I read an article where a surrogate mother died during the childbirth and from there I started researching about them. I was quite shaken when I got into their world, which then led me to make the documentary. ‘My Baby Not Mine’ is a journey of four surrogate mothers expressing their feeling for the baby that they carry for nine months inside their womb. It was hard and there were many things that really affected me at that point in time.

Q. Please let us talk about your upcoming film, ‘Ribbon,’ how did it begin – tell us about your experience of venturing into Bollywood.

I have seen a friend of mine go through an unplanned pregnancy not willing to abort the child. It’s complicated in our society and there are too many things involved in every decision we make. Sometimes a small issue between a couple turns into a huge thing because of the way our families react to it. We are going through a massive transition where we are becoming more and more aware of our own self but at the same time, the Indian values hang like a ghost and keep reminding us that we cannot be so selfish. This constant battle is a real challenge of our modern age and for a woman in particular. While we emphasize a lot on women’s education we forget that we need support to go back to work after childbirth. We should stress on paternity leave so that the child would develop a connection with the father and share parenting. In an urban set up it’s a big challenge and I see so many women quitting jobs after the first delivery.

still from the film ‘ribbon’

My journey in Bollywood has been tough but sweet. While writing the screenplay I was so scared that what if I am not able to make this film, but now I feel good. I had a great team and we worked together as a unit. The whole film is shot handheld and my DOP Vikram Amladi would hold the camera on his shoulder for 12 hours straight, sometimes even longer. I have shot the film very differently and as a result, there are really very long takes and my actors would be really polite to go through the gruesome task. Everyone supported me and we really have made this possible together.

Q. Any interesting experience, funny moments that you wish to share about working with Kalki and Sumeet?

I loved the whole process of making this film. We spent almost a month in the workshop with almost every actor and rehearsed every scene, every moment of the film. Kalki was very particular about the way she had to handle the babies as we had to work with one who was just a few days old. She had learnt to change nappies, breastfeed the baby etc. There is a scene where the small baby pooped inside her nappy and Kalki said she will change it in the shot which was really very very good. Sumeet is a sweet-heart, he is so humble and such a gentleman.

Q. Could you name some of your favourite writers, directors, and films? Of the films you’ve watched, what according to you is the most memorable film with a female protagonist?

Hermann Hesse, Gabriel García Márquez, Virginia Woolf, Jane Austen, Emily Brontë, Charles Dickens, D H Lawrence. I am in love with Dardenne Brothers, Belgian filmmakers who make simple films but it is so layered that it stays with you for few days. I love all his films, I can watch it numerous times. Lorna’s Silence and The Child is my favourite these are such simple stories with so much depth. In his films, nothing is good or bad everything is grey and I love the way he explores the grey shade of human personalities.

I am so fond of Wong Kar-wai and Kim Ki Duk. They are very poetic and deep; every visual has its own interpretation and that’s what I love about the films. I also love Mike Leigh’s work, Stanley Kubrick, and Alejandro González Iñárritu. There are many female characters but to name one that has really shaken me from within is Erika Kohut a pianist, teaching music in the film The Piano Teacher by Michael Haneke.

Catch ‘Ribbon’ in theatres on November 3rd, 2017.