Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s Chola makes a mark at Venice Film Festival 2019

Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s Chola makes a mark at Venice Film Festival 2019

Director Sanal Kumar Sasidharan's Malayalam film Chola, starring Joju George, Nimisha Sajayan and Akhil Vishwanath, was recently screened at the 76th Venice Film Festival.

Chola is helmed by S Durga director Sanal Kumar Sasidharan. (Photo: Sanal Kumar Sasidharan/Facebook)

Malayalam actor Joju George recently made heads turn as he wore a mundu, a traditional Kerala attire, while walking the red carpet of the ongoing 76th Venice Film Festival. He attended the screening of his film Chola (Shadow of Water) along with his co-stars Nimisha Sajayan and Akhil Vishwanath and director Sanal Kumar Sasidharan. Nimisha and Akhil also sported traditional Kerala attire.

“This has to be the first (and how cool) – mundu worn on the red carpet at #Venezia76. Premiere of @sanalsasidharan’s #Chola! (sic),” writer Aseem Chhabra tweeted while sharing a picture from the red carpet.

Besides the conventional fashion choice of the Chola cast, Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s latest directorial outing is also garnering a lot of attention at the prestigious film festival.

Sanal had earlier said that Chola will be an extension of his previous film S Durga, a controversial film that examined the gender dynamics in a patriarchal society. Even as the film bagged several international awards, including the coveted Hivos Tiger Award at the 2017 International Film Festival Rotterdam, it courted several controversies in India and did not get a proper theatrical release.

With Chola, Sanal Kumar Sasidharan is said to have closely studied the mental agony of a woman, who is controlled by a physically dominant male. “Chola attempts to investigate the entitlement of a man’s psyche on a woman, and a woman’s beliefs about men, in the aforementioned culture. The men in Chola try to dominate the girl, Janaki, either by offering pure love, or by conquering her physically and psychologically by sexual aggression. Yet she, who believes that men are her protectors, disciplines herself to stay obedient to dominating males. I hope these characters will give rise to a number of questions about gender dynamics in practice. As a man, I understand there are limits and biases to my understanding of the female experience, and I invite the discussion I hope this film brings,” read the director’s statement on the film festival’s website.


If early reviewers are anything to go by, Sanal has outdone himself exploring the claustrophobic nature of the theme, which also dictated his earlier films Ozhivudivasathe Kali (2015) and S Durga (2017).

Indian film critic Baradwaj Rangan, in his review for Film Companion, described Chola as “the third installment in Sanal’s oppression trilogy”.

“It is very much a companion piece to Ozhivudivasathe Kali and S Durga,” he adds. “Chola is Sanal’s finest film — or more precisely, it’s the fullest and most artistically realised version of the theme he’s been pursuing in his earlier films,” Rangan said.

In his review for Screen Daily, Lee Marshall said Chola is a sombre follow-up to S Durga, “which charts a village girl’s abduction and rape in harrowing detail, before veering into a strange dream territory tinged with folk tale elements in its final act.”

Marshall added, “Too much is left unexplained at the end of Chola for this ambitious, ambiguous fusion of social and magic realism not to feel like a botched attempt at feminist solidarity that, in its portrait of a resigned victim who develops a zombie-like attachment to her abuser, inadvertently plays into the hands of forces it sets out to oppose.”