Featuring an all-female cast and crew, 'All about Michelle' is a dramatic Indian thriller shot in Hyderabad and Maldives, which delivers as riveting and revolutionary a story off-screen, as it promises to soon deliver to theatre audiences worldwide.
As the entire world faces a brazen female reckoning, marking the rise of, according to some, an 'Age of Women' - certainly, this humble crew from India has a carved out a role of its own to play in the story.
But that’s not really the narrative they are looking to establish here.
“We are a group of creative professionals - that just happen to be female,” says Supervising Producer Prathyusha Sharma, with a bright but determined grin. There is an unswerving strength behind her cheerful expression, but it is carefully hidden beneath layers of businesslike charm.
Seemingly a uniting characteristic among the lot, all hailing from vastly different backgrounds and even linguistic barriers, but each armed with her own story of endurance and courage.
Not a far throw from the movie itself. Titled 'All about Michelle', the plot revolves around an ambitious doctor conducting an experimental medical trial and explores themes of female friendship and the taint of jealousy as it follows the protagonist's eventual journey of self discovery.
Hard though it may be to believe, the plot is nearly equivalent to the narrative of its origin - written and directed by Apoora Marur as she made her own similar 'voyage', and to that of its crew, especially their three camera women - Lakshmi Amma, Manjula and Narasa Amma, who are all tribal farmer filmmakers from the Deccan Development Society. But more on that later.
"There I lay, one leg in a cast, prescribed to a non-negotiable rest and I had no choice but to face my demons", Marur said, her eyes betraying mirth her words did not.
It was a period of self-discovery that resulted in the penning of this story, a strong female lead experiencing a variety of trials and tribulations Marur herself had experienced.
The accident that rendered Marur out of action for three months took place in November 2017, on her way back home from Australia.
"[I] Watched every possible movie there is on Netflix, on Prime... anywhere anything, every series... Got so bored didn't know what to do. Eventually I thought you know, it's been a while since I wrote anything so I started writing - not with the intention of oh I'm going to make a movie script or you know, making anything out of it. " she said, describing how she then proceeded to show it to her father and as he asked her what she was going to do about it, "that was when the project came to life".
The movie 'All About Michelle' follows the journey of a female doctor that is being investigated after the loss of three patients during her clinical trial. As the probe takes place, the therapist goes through an introspective journey, questioning her own choices and intent in the process. She ends up travelling and trying to find herself along the way - which is how she arrives in the Maldives.
Although the film is categorised under the genre of investigative thriller, to narrate the flow of events the plot draws heavily from forensic linguistics - an area which Marur is particularly interested in.
"I think many women will relate to the tale. Michelle [the protagonist] goes through much of the same observations most other women do as well ... it portrays a side to female friendships that is not often accurately represented and carries a message that we hope will resonate to many".
The only part she grappled with, it seems, is the decision to direct.
"I searched and spoke to a number of potential directors but people kept telling me, you wrote it - you should direct it".
"Finally, I came to realize that it was not only something I could do but that I wanted to. I had such a specific vision for making this happen, and how it should be presented."
Once Marur took the leap though, things almost serendipitously fell into place and work to curate this first-of-its-kind women-oriented project began to take shape.
The core team decided to utilize these skills to play a dual role - produce a quality feature film and empower women from backgrounds that would never usually lead to cinematic applications.
The camera crew comprises entirely of members from the Indian agri-based NGO Deccan Development Society based in the state of Telangana, India, a grass-roots initiative that boasts numerous improvement programs and activities helping the local farmers.
Although DDS works primarily with lower literacy communities in order to empower locals and improve their livelihood, the talents of this unique film crew combined with their time-accrued expertise prove to be of a calibre that proudly competes amongst talented graduate film students.
As camerawoman Manjula, who hails from Hyderabad's Telangana district, explains, "I have studied up till the 7th grade. Only after joining DDS, was able to return and complete my education up to the 10th grade. I come from a family of 5 and my father left us at a very young age. It was around this time I learned of DDS.",
"DDS was forming small groups of women around villages and that's when Bayyav suggested I join the group and since I could write she figured I could help with note-taking during group discussions", she said. "Eventually, she suggested that I also learn how to handle a camera".
According to Manjula, it was following a visit by university researchers filming their work that the NGO realised recording their activities would be an effective means to share their knowledge, with one another other as well as among non-Telugu-speaking Indian and foreign communities.
"Our founders Vijayender Patil and PV Satheesh taught us to use cameras. We received training 4 days a month over a period of 6 months. Unlike professional cinematographers, we have different names for various techniques. We've named shots after the person that introduced it to us. Patel sir is a tall man, so for a top angle shot, we call it Patel shot. In this way, we’ve developed our own language for cinematography".
"After we'd learned how to video our efforts, our first journey was to Peru via London. We were astonished at how differently the people dressed from us! Since, we have travelled to Nepal, SriLanka, Indonesia, South Africa, Mali, Denmark and many more countries."
Excitedly, the Telugu camerawomen described one movie they produced on the dangers of "BT Cotton", which was translated into 12 languages and successfully achieved DDS' goal of banning of the product in India.
Having come far from their humble beginnings, this awe-inspiring film crew are now the proud creators of over 200 documentaries and have won a number of accolades whilst displaying their work across multiple continents.
Much of the story is set in Maldives because the country holds special significance to the writer-director.
"I've visited many times, fell in love with diving here. Wanted to showcase the real, authentic side of Bodufolhadhoo - a place I felt so welcome and at peace".
Marur didn't just choose the location because she missed the 'Sunny Side of Life' though, her intentions were focused on involving the local community and giving back to an island that had come to mean a lot to her.
"I wanted to depict an authentic side of Maldives, so instead of opting for a resort or a more conventional island for local tourism, I chose Bodufolhadhoo. Based on the week-long adventure here, this beautiful island that truly represents the Maldivian lifestyle has been a wonderful choice".
It's also been a special experience for their crew.
Camerawomen Lakshiamma from Nyalkal Mandal describes, "We are so happy to be able to visit the Maldives. We have never been around so much water. In our village, even the wells fill up only when it rains properly. But here, even taking a 2-hour boat ride in the vast ocean makes us so happy - its' really nice!".
Being surrounded by the deep blue open also brought about "technical changes" she adds, "What we take back from this experience is knowledge."
"While we may not require the use of makeup in the kind of films we make, we learnt about Focusing on DSLR, how to frame a shot and more. Particularly though, in this film, we were made aware of how to shoot underwater. Prior to this, we didn't even know there were special underwater cameras! We always thought water shouldn't touch our equipment and now we know differently".
Movie wrapped up, the cast and crew prepare to shake up the cinematic community this year, targetting an early 2020 release.
Regardless of how well the movie is received, however, the once-in-a-lifetime quality of the film's make-up resonates with each and every woman that contributed to it.
Lakshiamma simply and elegantly paints a picture of behind the scenes, "This world is a colorful one. We've learnt a lot throughout this project, but what we really enjoyed was the fact that this is being done entirely by women."
"They all really made us feel like we were a part of the team - everybody mixed well with one another. They've never looked down upon us for being illiterate or uneducated."
"At home, we will think of all the good times that we've had here with the team."
What better endorsement to seek out and catch this flick - a movie featuring women, by women, but for all audiences. The point is so much more than grasping the beauty of feminine creation, moreover, it is about appreciating the diversity behind the scenes and appreciating the remarkable energy that has been put into this special work of art.