Directing Sexy Durga – An Interview with Sanal Kumar Sasidharan

Sanal Kumar Sasidharan is back in India after his glorious win of The Hivos Tiger Award at the International Film Festival of Rotterdam 2017 for his latest film Sexy Durga. The director of Oraalppokkam and Ozhivudivasathe Kali takes time to interact with us at The Cinema Resource Centre (TCRC).

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PC: Sanal Kumar Sasidharan FB page

Firstly, congratulations on this wonderful win! Was this kind of international recognition something that you had expected for Sexy Durga?

Thank you. I never expect anything except a good movie, while making it. But once it is made in the way I want to make it, I don’t hesitate to dream about its success. For me, film is not a local art. It has universal readability, so I naturally dream of international success. A dream is an expectation too.

How important are film festivals and these recognitions for an independent film maker?

Independent film makers are really very fragile in many respects. We have no stars, no money, no market and no popularity gimmicks. We have only a few openings through which we hope to reach audiences. One of the most important openings is film festivals. Film festivals play a great roles in bringing art house movies and indie film makers to the limelight. They are also important as they serve as forums for serious discussions about such films.

Tell us more about Sexy Durga and the team behind it.

Sexy Durga is an art-house movie that has many layers to it. It is very simple, yet complex. There is no ‘story’ in it. But you can attribute one to it though your experience of the movie.

Prathap Joseph, the cameraman did a good job with the many difficult camera movements the movie demanded. Murukan was the Art director, Harikumar Madhavan Nair was the sound recordist, and music was by Basil CJ.  Editing was done by me. Murukan and Basil CJ have been working with me since my first film.

For the role of ‘Durga’  I wanted an actress who was fearless about using her body and was comfortable with her physicality. Rajshree Deshpande seemed the perfect fit for the part., and was sold on our idea of her character and thus, became part of the movie.

All other artistes are mostly new faces or non-established actors. The main artists are Kannan Nayar, Vedh, Bilas Nair, Arunsol, Sujeesh KS. Byju Neto and Nistar Ahammed, who acted in Ozhivudivasathe Kali, also essayed roles in the movie.

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PC: Sexy Durga FB page

How is Sexy Durga similar to and /or different from your earlier films?

Sexy Durga is totally different in approach and the making from my earlier films. But all the films are socially rooted in the Malayali psyche.

Sexy Durga had no storyline or script. Most of the portions of the film were shot in midnight, in available light. The tough decisions involved in the making of the film gives it a unique feel.

From a lawyer to a film maker. How did this journey and the discovery happen?

I really only wanted to become a film maker since my childhood. But my family had a problem with my dream of becoming a film maker. My father was dead against my desire to apply to a film institute. So I was thinking about ways to infiltrate the film industry through the back doors. I approached several directors to take me on as an assistant director. Nobody was willing because I had no one to recommend me. Then I thought that if I had a professional degree and the kind of dignity that comes from it, people may accept my passion. But I was wrong. After my Law degree, I was forced to remain a lawyer. But I dropped the profession and escaped. I formed a film society named Kazhcha Film Forum and started making short films. In between, I worked other jobs, some of which I don’t even remember properly. In 2013, I made my first feature Oraalppokkam, produced by Kazhcha Film Forum, and that was the turning point

What is your typical pre-production process for your films?

Actually my films are simple for me. I don’t like much production set-ups, technical extravaganza and too many big artists in my film. I always wanted to keep the freedom and possibility to evolve even at a later stage of making. I don’t even like a concrete scripting process. The main part of my pre-production is dreaming and meditation. I think about the making pattern a lot. I rethink and rethink and keep all the options open. It may have its own drawbacks but I love it. Identifying location is the most important thing for me. Once I find a comfortable location, I feel relaxed. Finding actors is the next important step for me. If both are properly and satisfactorily done, I am sure that my film is done.

How much do you depend on your actors to take a scene forward and to decide the pace of the film?

I depend upon my actors a lot. Actually, I love to play with them. I put them in the location and let them freely do something. I only casually explain to them, so they may not even get a clear idea of what I have told them. In fact, I don’t even ask if they understand properly. But I make sure that they clearly know the situation and the political emotion behind the scene they are about to enact. Then I retreat and become a spectator. I get ideas as I see them acting out the given situation. I just shape it with gentle suggestions. It is like watching the movie while making it. I have a feeling that without my actors actively and freely engaged in the making, I can’t make a film properly

What are the release plan for Sexy Durga, or is it too early to talk about it? You and your team behind Kazhcha Film Forum took independent cinema to the masses with the concept of Cinema Vandi. You think Sexy Durga will also soon travel in the Cinema Vandi?

Sexy Durga is travelling all around the world now. It has just started leaving its footprints. Let it travel and come back. We will talk about the Indian release only after the censor board approves it without much harm. I want to release ‘my’ film, not the censor board’s film.

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Cinema Vandi at a venue at Kottayam, Kerala. PC: Kazhcha Film Forum FB page

What is your take on independent cinema in India?

Indian independent cinema is establishing its presence very fast. The world has started recognizing it. As more and more people started thinking about this alternative space, more and more films will start coming out  soon. I hope that we have a bright future.

Thank you for talking with TCRC. Before we sign off please let us know your opinion about the importance of preserving and archiving cinema heritage.

Cinema is history. It has importance not only in terms of art or commercial product. It has cultural importance also. It is very important to preserve our pathways to see how long we travelled and how difficult it was. It is very important that one look back to where  one came from. Thank you

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Screening of Ozhivudivasathe Kali (An Off- Day Game)

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The Cinema Resource Centre in Association with Ashvita events is excited to release the critically acclaimed film Ozhivudivasathe Kali (with english subtitles) At Escape Cinemas, Chennai on July 8th, Friday.

The film revolves around a public holiday where five friends meet in a resort deep in the jungles to spend a day drinking and merrymaking. They come from different backgrounds and professions, but they have only one aim – to enjoy life for one day and forget the everyday hassles. But, during the course of the day, the animal instincts within them come to the fore. To resolve the crisis and to end the boredom,they decide to play a game – a game played when they were kids. What happens when an innocent game for children is played by drunk adults?

The film was made in an unconventional way. Says director Sanal Kumar Sasidharan :

“The movie “Ozhivudivasathe Kali” (An off-Day Game) is based on a short story. I have not developed the story into a written screenplay or shooting script. The film is not the story; but it is my reading experience of the story. Making of this film was very interesting
because of the total absence of a written screenplay. Almost all the artistes in the film are new faces. Almost all the dialogues which you hear in the film are spoken by the artistes themselves without any specific written instructions from my part. I was just telling them
the situation, the history of each character and the politics behind the scene. The moment
we switch on the camera, the artistes turned into characters and started uttering their own
dialogues. The decision to go without script helped me to attain a raw and real looking movie”

Don’t miss this film this weekend. Book your tickets here: http://bit.ly/29kAjci

Watch the trailer of the film:

 

 

 

The ‘Epic’ Story of Indian cinema: Moving Beyond Hindi Films & Finding Aravindhan!

The ‘100 years of Indian cinema’ celebrations that are happening across the country is something that we at TCRC wholly welcome, notwithstanding the fact that a vast majority of them seem to interpret it as ‘100 years of Hindi cinema.’ Thankfully, there are voices out there calling for balance and recognition of the other film industries in the country as well. And among such calls, we found Salil Tripathi’s piece for Mint most refreshing.

He starts off by speaking about the influence of our epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, on our cinema:

Indian cinema has always been utterly reliant on the power of a narrative, and which narrative has greater richness than the Mahabharata? After all for Ved Vyas it is said, “Vyasochishtam jagat sarvam,” or whatever you find said in the universe, Vyas has said it before. It is that easy familiarity with the story—or what the critic Ashish Rajadhyaksha called the power of the epic, in his biography of Ritwik Ghatak—that makes Indian cinema so accessible to so many, in a country divided by everything—language, class, caste and faith—but united by the fascination for a good story.”

And then, he makes the argument that we’ve been parroting all along:

 I love Hindi films too, but you don’t honour a national phenomenon by glorifying only one-fifth of it.”

Salil’s roundup of noteworthy cinema from the South of the Vindhyas was particularly interesting:

Moving south, there is so much to admire in Kannada cinema: two of U.R. Ananthamurthy works stand out. Girish Kasaravalli’s Ghatashraddha (1977) is about the outcasting of a pregnant widow. In Pattabhi Rama Reddy’s Samskara (1970), Girish Karnad’s Praneshacharya is a flawed progressive Brahmin who tries to do right, but succumbs to passion and is consumed by guilt. Karnad’s own Ondanondu Kaladalli (1978) was inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s samurai films.

Further south, in Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Elippathayam (1981), the rat trap becomes the metaphor of the patriarchy of a closed society. His earlier film, Swayamvaram (1970), told the story of a young couple marrying against their parents’ wishes, moving to another town to start their life, and the inevitability of tragedy befalling them, and the determination of the young woman to cast her own lonely furrow. Another great film was G. Aravindan’s Oridathu (1986), which showed the transformation of a village’s life, and its people’s relationships, with the arrival of electricity. And the sheer melody of K. Vishwanath’s Telugu classic Shankarabharanam (1979).”

It’s not everyday that one finds a mention of G Aravindhan in a feature-style story about Indian cinema. Hailing from Kottayam in Kerala, Aravindhan was a cartoonist who later became a filmmaker. His debut film “Uttarayanam” was released in 1974 and won the National Award for the Best Feature Film on the 25th Anniversary of India’s Independence. Said to be be one of his finest films, “Uttarayanam” was set against the Independence movement and spoke of the opportunism and hypocrisy that existed during the time. The film is considered to have a played a key role in shaping the parallel cinema movement in Kerala.

Given below is Shaji Karun’s documentary on Aravindhan. Shaji is a National Award-winning filmmaker who used to be Aravindhan’s cinematographer. Shaji’s debut film “Piravi” (1988) won the Caméra d’Or – Mention d’honneur at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival and his 1994 film “Swaham” was the last competitive entry from India to be selected at the Cannes Film Festival.

 

Prem Nazir in MT Vasudevan Nair’s “Asuravithu” (Malayalam, 1968)

The Kochi edition of The Hindu recently carried an interesting piece on “Asuravithu”, a Malayalam film that was released in 1968, in their Blast From The Past column (click here to read that story). “Asuravithu” featured Prem Nazir and Sharada, and was directed by A Vincent. The film was scripted by the famous Malayalam author MT Vasudevan Nair, a Jnanapith awardee for his overall contribution to Malayalam literature. Interestingly, MT Vasudevan Nair has also won four National Awards for Best Screenplay, which continues to be the most by anyone for that category. The film “Asuravithu” is based on his novel of the same name.

“Asuravithu” is set in an Indian village in the 1960s and revolves around the life of Govindankutty, played by Prem Nazir, the youngest son of a proud Nair tharavadu (joint family). Prem Nazir is considered to be one of the all-time superstars of Malayalam cinema and the breadth of his filmography is astonishing. He is said to have played the lead protagonist in over 600 films. He has acted with over 80 heroines and acted in 107 movies with just one heroine (Sheela). He is a recipient of both Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri awards.

The film also had some lovely folk melodies tuned by K Raghavan, of which our favourite is the song “Kunnathoru Kaavundu.” Do check it out!

JC Daniel: Father of Malayalam Cinema

We at TCRC are always scouring the internet for interesting material on the origins of the regional cinemas of South India. And the internet never ceases to surprise us. Recently, we chanced upon CinemaofMalayalam.net, a website that had a separate page on JC Daniel, the man who wrote, directed and produced the first ever Malayalam feature film.

The movie, titled “Vigathakumaran,” was a silent film and was released in November 1928. In fact, the Kerala state government’s award for lifetime achievement in Malayalam cinema is called the JC Daniel Award, recognizing his efforts in starting up what is today one of India’s most interesting film industries. Interestingly, Daniel was a dentist who showed keen interest in martial arts. He is said to have been an expert at Kalarippayattu and is reported to have written a book about Indian martial arts in English before he ventured into cinema.

English: A short note on Vigathakumaran

A still from “Vigathakumaran,” the first ever Malayalam feature film (released in 1928). Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Given below is a Malayalam documentary on the life of the director JC Daniel.

There has also been quite a bit of controversy over when “Vigathakumaran” was released. While many acknowledge it to be 1928 (including those such as noted Malayalam film journalist Chelangatt Gopalakrishnan and Yves Thoraval, author of “The Cinemas of India”), a photocopied version of a handbill announcing the release of “Vigathakumaran” in 1930 by producers Travancore National Pictures has been circulating on the internet of late, an artifact whose source is yet to be confirmed. Blogger CineMatters has written a detailed post about the 1928 v/s 1930 controversy here for the blog Old Malayalam Cinema. However, there is no dispute over the fact that “Vigathakumaran” by JC Daniel was the first ever Malayalam feature film.

TCRC has, in its archives, memorabilia from various Malayalam films that have been released over the years. Seeing this page on JC Daniel compelled us to revisit some of the old material and we’re working on the digitization of the same. So, do revisit the TCRC blog for updates.