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A still from ‘Liar’s Dice’, a part road movie and part survival drama.
A still from ‘Liar’s Dice’, a part road movie and part survival drama.

Geethu Mohandas’s Liar’s Dice is India’s official Oscars pick

Geethu Mohandas's Hindi-language feature is India's entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category

Liar’s Dice it is.

Geethu Mohandas’s Hindi-language feature, starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Geetanjali Thapa, is India’s entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category for the 2015 Oscars.

It was the unanimous choice of a 12-member jury headed by eminent filmmaker T. Hariharan over at least 30 other entries, including the Hindi movies Shahid, Queen, Mary Kom, Mardaani and 2 States, Marathi titles such as Fandry and Yellow, and the Bengali productions Apur Pachali and Jatishwar.

The nomination is a huge boost for the low-budget independent film, which was premiered at the Mumbai Film Festival (MFF) last year.

Part road movie and part survival drama, Liar’s Dice is about the adventures of Kamala, her daughter, and a mysterious man the mother-daughter duo meet during their travels.

Kamala is looking for her missing husband, and is both intrigued and frightened by Siddiqui’s brooding character. It’s a small and intimate drama, with naturalistic performances and striking visuals, and its nomination as India’s representative at the Oscars proves that “you don’t need a big budget to tell a story," Mohandas said.

A Malayalam actor who made her writing and directing debut with Liar’s Dice, Mohandas shared the credit with her cast and crew, especially her co-producer, the Mumbai-based company Jar Pictures.

“I got lucky with a fabulous cast, amazing technical support, and a wonderful producer, all of whom came together with love and genuineness," Mohandas said in a phone interview from Kochi, where she lives with her husband and Liar’s Dice cinematographer Rajeev Ravi. “I wanted to tell a very simple story—and the simpler it is, the harder it is to narrate, but this is something Jar Pictures realized."

It’s been a superb last few months for Jar Pictures, which is run by Alan McAlex and Ajay Rai.

Liar’s Dice scored at the National Awards this year—Thapa and Ravi won in the acting and cinematography categories, respectively—and it has been shown at such prestigious festivals as Sundance, Rotterdam and Edinburgh.

Another Jar Pictures production, Killa, was screened at the Berlin International Film Festival, where it won the Crystal Bear trophy (given to movies aimed at teenagers of 14 years and above).

Liar’s Dice was released in Thiruvananthapuram on 19 September, will open in Pune on 26 September, and will eventually be exhibited across the country in November by PVR Pictures’ Director’s Rare label.

McAlex said he was “overwhelmed" by the nomination, but added that his work had only just begun.

“We will be talking to the Film Federation of India (FFI) members to see what we can do with the movie," he said.

FFI organizes the selection process for the Oscars every year.

The campaign to ensure that a film stands out amid the clutter requires time and money. The costs include paying for screeners to be sent to the hundreds of Oscar award jurors, ensuring publicity across media, and hiring agents to canvass for the film.

One reason the FFI was pilloried last year for choosing The Good Road over The Lunchbox was that the latter had stronger legs than the former in the US.

This year’s jury, whose composition remains secret, seems to have gone along with suggestions that National Award winners be given greater consideration over the others. Jury chairperson Hariharan refused comment.

Liar’s Dice might be a sound choice among this year’s candidates; independent film-makers across the map will cheer on Liar’s Dice’s nomination, and its selection will help the movie’s domestic box office reception, but its Oscar campaign might generate pressures that independent filmmakers like Mohandas and Jar Pictures are not equipped to handle.

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