Alisha Tejpal’s Lata, at Sundance: “I want you to ask questions. I’m not interested in passive cinema”

Posted on January 30, 2021

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The 22-minute short, which is in Competition, focuses on a domestic labourer in an upper-class home in Mumbai.

Alisha Tejpal says, “My biggest question in Indian cinema across the decades, at least for me growing up in Mumbai, is the way domestic labour has been framed. How do I write a film about a domestic labourer, as an upper-class, upper-caste woman? What are the political and ethical questions, and how do I frame that story? I am not attempting to give Lata a voice because I don’t think it’s my place.”

In a series of static takes, we observe the world of Lata, to the extent that we can. An interview with the Los Angeles-based filmmaker, who is very clear that she is very much an outsider to her protagonist.

The film is about Lata. What made you decide you wanted to start with the election commission officer who comes to the house, asking about a member of the family Lata works for?

I wanted the audience to fall into a conventional narrative structure, where you introduce a character with this idea that you’re going to follow a certain event. And then, I wanted to take the detour to Lata, subverting the audience’s expectations. When we watch a film, we subconsciously choose to follow the dominant narrative and it’s always almost related to class and caste, both from our cultural conditioning and from our own personal conditioning. I wanted to break that.

Also, opening the film like this, I wanted to say that so much of the population that’s perhaps most deeply affected by change in governments don’t vote.

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