Experiences and memories from Megha Ramaswamy’s formative years growing up in Pune, crashing rock concerts, imagining she was a bird and generally being a clumsy teenager have found their way into her feature debut What Are The Odds? Starring Yashaswini Dayama, Karanvir Malhotra, Abhay Deol, Manu Rishi and Priyanka Bose, the whimsical musical captures a day in the lives of two teenagers in Mumbai. What Are The Odds? is being streamed on Netflix.
The film is a departure from Ramaswamy’s previous works, which include documentaries on acid attack survivors (Newborns, 2014) and the final days of Mumbai’s popular music score Rhythm House (The Last Music Store, 2016). Excerpts from an interview.
What is the idea behind ‘What Are The Odds?’?
The idea came to me around 10 years ago, when John Hughes had passed. I was sad because so many of his films, like 16 Candles and The Breakfast Club, were such a huge part of our childhood. I started thinking that no one is making films about younger people. If they are, then older people are playing younger people.
Soon after that, I met the brilliant young Shreya Vaidya. She was 17 years old at that time. I asked her to help me write the dialogue because I wanted the film to be relatable.
How much of the film is autobiographical?
It’s a feminine film coming out at a time when narratives about women and their bodies are so hardcore and are made by men. What Are The Odds? is a little film about a little girl. I do have a strange mind and Vivek [Yashaswini Dayama’s character] is a lot about me. I have a relative named Vivek and we were always mean to her.
Every character is like someone I have known – someone who is brave and feisty but socially awkward, someone who merges into the surroundings. I wanted to be a bird and as a kid I have tried to fly off my balcony and broken a bone. So this is a true story but it is also exaggerated – an imaginarium that I got to make thanks to the support of my technical team, especially the production designer, cinematographer, music director and costumes.
The whimsy and tone are reminiscent of a Wes Anderson film.
I am whimsical. I have been called quirky and weird as a child. If I am that, then my work should also be that. This is a dreamscape with room for everyone, including the whimsical. When Wes Anderson does it, it’s wow.
In India, this is a great time to explore everything. There is fluidity in the way the film has been lensed too. I wanted that light look with beautiful tracking shots and a muted palate. We also have snow, which is consistent with the hyper-reality that I love creating. I have made films on music stores and acid attack survivors, but this is also a side to me.
How did you cast the film?
I follow a lot of independent musicians. One day I chanced upon a YouTube video of this girl playing the ukulele and I knew we had found our Vivek. She was just so right because she has this generous spirit and warmth and clunkiness and intelligence and was so comfortable with her body. She trips and falls, just like me.
I got Karanvir through casting director Tess Joseph. Karan is charming and balances out everything evenly. He’s gracious, sincere, polite and hardworking.
I had seen a mockumentary/documentary on people obsessed with furniture to the point that they become furniture. I showed this to Manu Rishi and he took it to another level with Rimpu. When he is dressed as a tree, he became a tree. He was hilarious.
And what about Abhay Deol?
The film wouldn’t have happened without him. It’s completely his backing.
I had gone to him with another script but it occurred to me that I know him so well, so why not ask him to do this film? He loved the script but he wanted it to be cast appropriately, not just because he was producing. It also turned out that little Yash had the biggest crush on him. So what you see in the film is all real – she was really awkward around him.
Like Abhay, Priyanka and Monica [Dogra] also stepped in to support a film about a bright, clunky young woman who wears her brain and heart on her sleeves. She’s normal, smart and insensitive. There’s something right about her, there’s something wrong about her. That’s the beauty of childhood. I want kids like this to have that normal voice, to make a film with hope, magic and dance.
Since this is a musical, tell us about the soundtrack.
Sagar Desai’s music is the backbone of the film. We have the same taste in music. We both love David Bowie, punk rock, ’80s synthetic sound, rock ‘n’ roll and disco. I wanted to make an English film with English music that was sincere to the music scene I was a part of. I wanted it to sound real, like rock ‘n’ roll music from India. All the tracks are original and the actors have sung their own songs.
Your next feature is also about children.
Yes. Reshma Shera, which was at the Berlinale Co-production Market, is about a little girl and her dog.