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Indian American actor and filmmaker Lakshmi Devy recently won the Gold Remy Award for Direction at the Houston International Film Festival, for her film 'When the Music Changes'. In an interview to The Quint, Lakshmi spoke about addressing rape culture in her film, the thoughts behind it and why she moved from medicine to filmmaking.
What does the win mean for you?
Honestly, I don't come from a line of filmmakers per se. And I kind of switched professions, cause I'm actually a doctor. Whenever I get any kind of acclaimed awards or any kind of recognition it helps reinstill the faith that I chose the right job. So it may be a weird thing, but that's the first thing I think, like "Ah, I did the right thing" because what happens is, especially with how we are raised, our culture puts us in a box where we have to do particular things. And when you step out of that box and you don't know whether it's going to work or not, looks like your entire life you search for reasons to say "okay, I didn't make a mistake." It's very simplistic. And the second thing is...I'm really happy with it because of course there's the joy of...the joy that I had making the film, I'm happy it is being appreciated and it does have an impact, because that's exactly why I did it, but even more than that I like getting these awards and recognition because it shows other people that they can do it too.
What was the thought behind ‘When the Music Changes’?
Multi-layered actually. It started off on a personal note, because I had an ex-boyfriend who just wouldn't pick up the phone. So, one day I thought that you say all these things, you don't pick up the phone, what if something serious were to happen and you didn't pick up the phone! Right? So it was that simplistic thought that kind of spiralled into you know...the storyteller in me, made it spiral into different things. I like writing things that people can really relate to. So this not picking up the phone, whether it's a man or a woman...there are just people like that, you know, who don't respond for the most part. I saw that it was so common. It prevailed all the time, and I'm like 'you know what? I want to talk about that'. Like when you just take people for granted, you see people pick up the phone, and other people they don’t answer.
You know, there are two types of individuals. One who sees his mother calling and doesn’t answer the phone, and the other who sees his mother calling and immediately answers the phone. So that was an interesting quotient to me...picking up the phone. But then another thing was you know, with what I have seen around here and our safety issues...the amount of assault of varying degrees that we always have to deal with and it's everyday...it's all day everyday and I wanted to be able to talk about that and about the different aspects that are involved in that, the honour quotient of course....and I wanted to make a film that people wouldn't be able to deny. Because, now we have so much of media, we read about the rape and assault cases every day. So, I ended up seeing a lot of people on social media who'd check these reports and say 'oh not again' and 'I don't want these negative vibes' and I'd think man, negatives vibes? This is life. But it's so much that people wouldn't even want to look at it. And it was easy enough for them to close their eyes and ignore as if nothing happened. So I wanted to make a film where no matter how many times you close your eyes or cover your ears, it's still there.
In the film your character is subjected to misogyny and rape. But as I watched the film, a question arose that why did it take an act of rape for her to realise the truth about her boyfriend when he has been projected as a misogynist and narcissist from the very beginning?
It's very simple. I've seen the narcissistic, misogynistic male plenty. And it's so common around you. You don't actually have labels or brands for them because that's just what it is, right? And people always ask "why is she with him? Isn't she a smart, capable, independent woman" and I'll say "yeah, she's smart but she's stupid" and that's life. Half of the time you don’t know why you’re there and that’s life. You make up excuses for your spouse and that's life. there are so many chances for so many of us to walk out and we don't, and thats's life. but unfortunately sometimes, and this is the truth...it takes an extreme cirsumstance for us to be able to take a decision. Sad, but true.
How have women received the film?
It's been tough on them, solely because...and it's so sad for me to say this...there's not one household in the country where a woman doesn't have a story. Go ask your mom, ask your aunt, ask your grandmother. Every one has at least a couple of stories on varying levels. So, it's so relative to them that, that it saddens me. In one way I like it, because maybe it will wake them up. But in the other way it's just sad.
You’ve acted, directed and produced the film. What was it like juggling all three roles and do you think you were partial to one of the roles a bit more than the other two?
I enjoy being an actor and director. I genuinely do. I think it's a niche that's kind of my thing. But acting, having said that, is the easier part. Which is weird for me to say afetr you see the film because it's heavy and nuanced. But that was the first craft out of everything that I knew I could do. I didn't know anything else, and I didn't even know anything about films. So the first thing I knew was acting. It was a part that I kind of had a hold on. Then of course came the writing, directing, which I genuinely enjoy. So it's kind of a step-by-step procedure. So once you get the writing out of the way, the writer takes a backseat. The director goes on. when you're on set the actor takes the lead...so you have to keep switching between the two which I really did enjoy. The producer in me takes a small dip on set, so I make sure I have enough backup watching everything because I can only manage the acting, directing part. Once the shoot is over, the producer is of course back on. So it's stage-wise and I give importance as and when needed. It's like having children, so whenever once has the board exam, the other two sort of sit and watch TV.
You’re a doctor. What inspired you to move from medicine to films and filmmaking?
I think I have always been a performer and a storyteller. I just didn't know it. I've been involved in arts and dance from a very young age. I didn't know about filmmaking. We watched a lot of films. It was like a magical world for me. But I never thought about the people involved in making it. All the women in my family are doctors, so I was like ok fine I'm going to become a doctor. And I love medicine. I didn't dislike the profession. I still don't. But once you get involved in things and when I started growing a little bit more and when I started getting these opportunities, and when you know that your heart and soul is really going towards that side, I don't think you have a choice. It's like you have to choose whether you want to be happy or not.
With the success that ‘When the Music Changes’ has received, do you think making your next film will get any easier?
I hope so. I really hope so. So that's the thing about being in films right...you're consistent unemployed. You're always out of a job. So I'm just hoping that after this film it's kind of impactful enough for me to be able to make much bigger and better impactful things. I'm very hopeful, and if not, I'll still find a way.
Are there any ideas in the pipeline?
It's COVID right now so shooting is harder than before. But right now, I've picked up these smaller projects to kind of keep myself entertained at the moment. I'm doing two music albums. One is in Tamil and Telugu and the other is in Tamil and Malayalam. One thing is solidly on my table is a Hollywood project called ' About Him' so that is meant to be shot in New York.
. Read more on The Indian American by The Quint.‘Seen The Misogynist Male Plenty’: Actor & Filmmaker Lakshmi DevyWhy Making Caste a Protected Category in the US is a Necessity . Read more on The Indian American by The Quint.