Oscar-winning documentary director Megan Mylan’s latest project is about a magic vegetable patch in West Bengal. The director of Smile Pinki-fame is back with a new film, After My Garden Grows, which tells the story of Monika Barman, a teenager from West Bengal, sowing the seeds of her independence in a tiny rooftop garden. It premiered at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival and recently, Kiran Rao and Aamir Khan hosted a private screening of the documentary which was attended by Farhan and Zoya AKhtar, Reema Kagti, Anupama and Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Kangana Ranaut among others.
We caught up with the director:
ELLE: Why did you choose to tell the story of Monika and her garden?
Megan Mylan: This partnership between the government of West Bengal and the non-profit Landesa to get young girls to cultivate their own little gardens is particularly smart. Monika’s life is already different as a result: she and her family are eating better, she’s saved money to get back in school, and she knows her rights — that it’s illegal to be married before 18, and that she has a right to inherit land. I like to tell stories that get at what we can do about our problems, and are not just simplified cheerleading.
ELLE: Is her new independence being seen as a threat to tradition?
MM: One thing that was important to me was that we not demonise Monika’s dad. I didn’t see a callous father eager to get rid of his daughter. I saw a man who didn’t feel he had options — tradition and economic realities dictate that he marries her off soon instead of waiting for her to be older, when the dowry price could bankrupt his family that is already barely making it. Once fathers see that they have alternatives, minds and lives change.
ELLE: Did the Oscar win (for Smile Pinki, 2008) change your life?
MM: It was incredible, especially because we were able to translate the excitement into some really tangible benefits for Pinki Kumar, the young girl in the film, and other children with clefts. It’s also very useful when you’re trying to get people to trust you with their life story. But it hasn’t been a total game-changer. I came home from the Oscars to a grant rejection and I continue to get them all the time. To make documentaries for a living, you have to love making documentaries.