On the road to a new frame

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By Sukant Deepak
New Delhi, June 3 (IANS) From a massive controversy surrounding the title of one of his film, ‘Sexy Durga’ (later changed to ‘S Durga’) which won the 2017 Hivos Tiger Award at International Film Festival Rotterdam to making the first crowd-funded feature film in Malayalam (‘Oraalpokkam’), filmmaker Sanal Kumar Sasidharan, whose last film ‘Chola’ (‘Shadows of Water’), which was screened at the prestigious Venice Film Festival last year, is now ready with with his latest film ‘Ah’r’ (‘Kayattam’).

Sanal, whose road movies (‘S Durga’ and ‘Chola’) have enjoyed critical acclaim and a cult following insists that the ongoing lockdown has served not only as a long-deserved break but also enabled him to complete his pending projects.

“I belong to the minority of people who have enjoyed this lock-down. Strangely, in the immediate days preceding the lockdown, I was much exhausted and had been operating from the film society office which had become home for the past several years. In this short period of a few months, I could finish some scripts which I had been wanting to write for several years now,” he told IANS.

Stressing that ‘Ah’r’, which also stars acclaimed Malayalam actress Manju Warrier as the protagonist is his favourite work so far, the filmmaker, who was a lawyer before turning to filmmaking and is part of Kazhcha Film Forum that encourages all-women film crews, adds, “This film is special to me for several many reasons. I have managed to incorporate certain cinematic experiments which I had been meaning to do for a long time. Of course, the movie has the presence Manju, a rare talent from mainstream stream.”

The entire movie was shot in the tough terrains of Himalayas. “During some scenes, we almost put our lives at risk,” he smiles.

Hoping to release the movie once the lockdown is lifted and theatres reopen, Sanal, who is already taking his script titled “Theeyattam” (Fire dance) to the next level feels that the post Covid world will see many more opportunities for indie filmmakers who are well-versed in working under stringent financial conditions.

He elaborates, “Nobody knows when theatres will reopen and how many people would be allowed at one time. Digital platforms have seen a tremendous rise in popularity during these days of lockdown and production houses are bound to get hungry for quality content. Of course, the budgets will not be as high as feature films, but this is surely going to provide an excellent opening for independent filmmakers. We will also witness novel ideas and different treatments when it comes to content.”

Talk to him about what attracts him to the ‘road’, and he smiles that it initially started started as a devise to make engaging movies without costly ingredients as earlier he was making films through crowd funding and with friends’ help.

“So there was huge constraints for resources like costly locations, mainstream actors and especially visually stunning settings. However, I always knew that a compelling movie must boast of of an interesting setting apart from its subject or or narrative style. Considering cinema is primarily a visual art, the eyes constantly search for interesting things in every frame. If you are just telling a story without appealing setting, the eyes will get distracted. Shooting a road movie gives you the advantage of getting that interesting canvas which constantly changes every second — free of cost. Roads were our primary homes till the pandemic. In a way, road movies also effectively symbolise social life for me.”

Now that his film ‘Chola’ is streaming on Amazon Prime, Sanal, who sometimes works with a bound script and at times completely improvises on the set, says that sadly the community who are well exposed to this kind of cinema, is not a big fan of theatres.

“I think that they prefer to watch such films in a more intimate setting. No wonder, I am getting such a huge response now. Though with the era of multiplexes, we thought that theatres were are back, but the popularity of OTT platforms have again started changing things, and those wishing to watch serious cinema do that in the comfort of their homes.”

–IANS
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