Dr. Shoma A. Chatterji interviews the filmmaker Sanjoli Malani, who has made a short film titled "CHAI-COFFI". The film revolves on a 60-year-old widow who embarks on a solitary expedition to a remote and hilly area in faraway Kerala. Her objective is to discover her true identity and reconcile with her own self, which she has concealed for many years behind her roles as a wife and mother.

Jan 30, 2024 - 18:51
Jan 30, 2024 - 18:57
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Image: Film Poster


Sanjoli Malani is a multidisciplinary filmmaker originally from India. She recently graduated with a Masters in Filmmaking from London Film School. While at school, she developed skills ranging from production to technicals i.e. lighting and camera assistance. Sanjoli works as a freelance artist as a spark, AD, gaffer, editor for short format content (music videos and short films) now. In a one-to-one, she talks about her lovely short film Chai-Coffi.


Why did you name your film Chai-Coffi?

Whenever we have guests over the first thing we ask them is whether they would like some chai- coffi. It marks the beginning of a conversation and an ice breaker. The same is with Lata, my aged protagonist of the film. Her conversation is with herself on her solo adventure and her coming to terms with a new “self” at the age of 60 which is also a way of discovering her new self. The reason she makes this journey is because her husband loved chai but did she really love chai all these years or she prefers coffee? The title also represents the simplicity of life and everything is always either/ or. 


What triggered your interest in becoming a filmmaker?

Growing up in India I was obsessed with Bollywood. One of my most cherished moments was watching a film in the theatre every Sunday with my family. My interests at school were also in dramas, plays, debates and extracurricular activities. So, I had to do something in the media/visual medium. When I chose to move to Mumbai I was certain if it's Mumbai it has to be the film industry. I have always been a visuals person and any story, incident I came across I remember it better because I visualised it first. When I first watched Krzysztof Kieślowski’s trilogy Three Colours: Blue, White and Red- it blew me. I was surprised to see how a single colour can dominate each frame and make a story more engaging and surprising. I knew then the best way to put any point across, is to show it more narrating it. 


What is your film about?

After her husband’s demise, Lata a 60 year old homemaker embarks on a solo trip to a tea estate in Kerala, leaving the comforts of her village behind for the first time ever. The film follows her extraordinary adventure as she navigates feelings of wonder, grief and surprises. The film takes a turn when she meets 12-year-old Mira who is carefree, independent and lives life to the fullest. Chai-Coffi is a heartwarming tale that weaves together themes of friendship, loss, courage and self discovery.




What is your directorial statement on your film?

This film is inspired by personal thought. My mother is a housewife and has been married for the past 36 years. Since I was little, I have noticed that her life just revolves around us, fulfilling our wants and needs, but when asked about her dreams and desires, she told me she had none. It forced you to imagine a life without your loved ones. Chai-Coffi, allowed me to nurture this thought into a solo road trip where Lata embarks on a journey to rediscover herself through her adventures and learns a thing or two about living in the moment from her interactions.


How did you decide on the casting of your two characters – the ageing Lata and the small girl Mira, who she befriends?

Chhaya Kadam is the actor who portrays Lata in my film. She was recommended to me by casting direct5or Shivam Gupta. I had seen Ma'am's previous work and after our detailed discussion, I felt Chhaya Kadam was a perfect fit. Shivanya Lachu plays the small girl. We discovered her two days before we began to shoot. We wanted someone from the region, who could speak both fluent Malayalam and Hindi. When I saw her video clip I knew this was it. I wanted someone whom I could mould into the character but was also herself, like Mira, and I think Shivanya as Mira was just perfect.


How did you actually direct the protagonist Chhaya Kadam considering  her age and her physical ageing?

According to my script, Lata was supposed to be much older than we had cast her for. But as we also knew that the location shooting would demand a lot of physical energy and stamina for her, we chose Chhaya Kadam who is much younger than my character who is 60. During my casting conversations I communicated in advance with Ma'am that it is both an emotional and physical heavy film with long travel hours, hikes, outdoors, and shooting with almost no cover. The role was an adventurous one which she wanted to give a try so that assurance from her from the beginning motivated me. 




How did you prep her up to play the character of Lata?

Chhaya Kadam already has a solid body of work behind her. She understood what I wanted. I opted for an action-led approach. Directing her was a collaborative process where I took her suggestions and what she was feeling naturally for a scene. We also shot the film almost in the order of the script apart from the bus and indoor scenes. So by day four, when we shot the final scene she was already in character. Another thing that really helped was a single costume which she wore right from the morning till we wrapped everyday till the last day of the shoot.


Looking back on the film, what is your reaction - as the director and also as its audience?

The film was a year-long journey for me and I had been with it for so long that I was ready to launch it to the world. Looking at it holistically and all the struggles that led to where it is today I am really proud of what I managed to achieve. My family and some close friends have been an incredible support and I am very grateful. I think for me it is a correct step towards direction but it is definitely a learning curve and beginning of another new adventure. The film translates exactly like the script for me. As an audience, I think it is a well packaged film. It has some lovely landscape and lovely music that just makes it all fall in place. 


Please define 'cinema' in your own terms.

For me, cinema is a spectrum of entertainment, good story, quality filmmaking and every film that has something for everyone. It makes me laugh, cry and above all make me think about it. The beauty of a cinema for me lies in the unknown. It's magical to witness how one piece of art has hundreds of different meanings. 


Where do you see yourself five years from now?

I would like to have directed my first feature in the next 5 years. 




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