In 2015, Hari M. Mohanan, 32, cycled through the southern states of India for 80 days, covering about 5,000km. He was not trying to break any record. Hari is a filmmaker and his “breakaway ride”, as he called it, was to screen his short film, Invisible Wings.
Using just his Facebook page and word-of-mouth publicity, he conducted 356 screenings, small and large, at IT companies, colleges and various other forums. He said that he chose this method because it matched the story he was narrating. The 10-minute documentary in Malayalam is about Vijayan and Mohana, the globetrotting sexagenarian tea-seller couple from Kochi, who were featured by THE WEEK in the March 26, 2017 issue.
“Nowadays, films are just sent to festivals or uploaded on YouTube and Facebook,” Hari told THE WEEK. “But I wanted to ensure maximum reach for this film. I wanted to see for myself how people reacted to the story of these ordinary people living an extraordinary life.” Apart from the organised screenings, Hari also held more than 1,000 impromptu screenings from his laptop for individuals and small groups he met on the way. “I remember that even people who did not understand the language and could not read the English subtitles were motivated. They kept asking me whether these tea-sellers have any other source of income. It was a rewarding experience to see the reactions to my work.”
The YouTube video has garnered about 1.68 lakh views so far. On January 8, 2018, Invisible Wings won the best documentary award at the second Jio Filmfare Short Film Awards. The jury comprising Karan Johar, Nikkhil Advani, Onir, Nitesh Tiwari, Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari and Shakun Batra announced the winners after three months of appraisal and scrutiny. Other winners included big names such as Neeraj Ghaywan—national award for best debutant director for Masaan (2015)—whose Juice was adjudged the best film, Jackie Shroff (best actor, male) and Shefali Shah (best actor, female). But Hari is not at all overwhelmed with the company he finds himself in. “I never get excited about such things. This is not something I do to win awards.”
What excited him most about this award was the timing of it. “If our work is true, we will get rewarded at the right time. We heard news that I had been shortlisted for the award on the day before my mother had to undergo a biopsy test. She told me that she was not scared about the test anymore. And after I won, the biggest joy for me was to see the pride on her face.” Hari hails from Thrissur, Kerala, and stays with his father M.P. Mohanan, 67, who worked in putting up decorative tents for functions, and his mother Usha, 59. He has a younger sister, Sreemol. His interest in filmmaking was sparked when he was in Coimbatore for an electronics diploma course, after his 10th standard. Possessed by the dream, he went to SAE Film School in Chennai in 2003. After passing out, Hari assisted in some movies like Chinthamani Kolacase with director Shaji Kailas.
“Then I stopped assisting films,” said Hari. “When I came into the medium, I was trying to find my feet. The realisation that the medium is very powerful came later. After 2010, there was a paradigm shift as digital penetration increased.”
Invisible Wings is his first independent short film. “Though I had heard about the globetrotting tea-seller from Kochi, when I first went to his shop, I was fascinated by the photos [of his travels] on his wall,” said Hari. “It was such a contrast to his shop.” He said that many people are stuck in one place because of their fear and that is where Vijayan’s philosophy attracted him. “Though many stories had come out about him, they were from the periphery. I am not interested in that kind of story-telling. That is why I decided to make the short film.”
When THE WEEK tried to contact Vijayan for his reaction to the award won by the short film about him, it was learned, not surprisingly, that he is on yet another foreign trip, this time in Dubai.
Hari is now busy with his next project Kocharais, which will be his feature film debut. “It is a movie starring kids,” he said. “I feel it is a movie that is very much required now." He said that films which make people think about life are the need of the hour. “Kocharais is a film that should happen now. If it happens after five years, it will not benefit the viewers. It is related to the lack of playgrounds in the city. People told me such films have come out. But I don’t care about that. The viewers should feel the message when they see the movie.”
The pre-production work is almost done and Hari is looking for producers who understand his vision. "It is very important to have producers who give you absolute creative freedom," said Hari. "Of course, profitability is a big concern. Creative freedom and box office collections should go hand in hand. I am very clear that my movies should be watched by the masses, because the idea we are trying to communicate should reach them. This is more important than any award."