Here’s one storyline: A wedding videographer from a Kerala village taps into a network of friends and colleagues to make a film on tribals that wins the state award.
Here’s another: A rubber tapper and college dropout pledges his property, including his house, to take a loan, and banks on a crowd-sourcing initiative to make a film that wins the state award.
And now, the common thread: Shareef Easa, 32.
This is no film script, though. It’s the real story of Easa, whose debut full-length feature in Malayalam, Kanthan – The lover of colour, was adjudged the best film of 2018 by the state government in Thiruvananthapuram last week. Days later, Easa is back at the rubber plantation near his house in Kannur’s Chapparapadavu village, wearing his uniform — a latex-stained shirt and trousers, and a head lamp. “I have been a rubber tapper for the last 17 years… I don’t have any formal training in film-making,” he says.
“I usually get Rs 400 for tapping 200 trees, which is done on alternative days. This is only a seasonal job… But now, as the director and the producer of the best film in Kerala, I will get Rs 4 lakh. It is a relief because I can repay some of the loan,” says Easa.
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In 140 minutes, Kanthan speaks about the need for conservation and the film is set in a village of adivasis in Wayanad that is struggling to survive. Almost all the actors are adivasis who had never faced the camera before. Then there’s child artiste Prajith, playing the lead role, and well-known social activist Daya Bai, who is cast as his grandmother. “I depended on a five-member crew, all of them my associates in wedding videography,” says Easa, the son of P P Easa, a smalltime dairy farmer, and Asiya, a daily wage worker. The biggest challenge, he says, was the cost of production. “I took a loan of Rs 11 lakh after pledging both my properties: a one-acre rubber plantation and 12 cents on which my house stands. I also sold my video camera for Rs 60,000… the rest was sourced from friends as loans with amounts ranging from Rs 5,000 to 1 lakh,” says Easa.
On the way, he says, there were a few trade-offs, too. “A school teacher, Bindu Jayaraj, and a local welder, Sujayan Poovam, chipped in with Rs 1.9 lakh. We gave small roles in the film to Bindu’s son Akash and Sujayan,” he says. “The camera was handled by the owner of a photo studio in Taliparamba town. There was no make-up artiste… my wedding videography assistants were the crew at the location. It took us two years to complete the film. After mobilising money in instalments, we would rush to Thirunelli (Wayanad) for shooting. Except Daya Bai and Prajith, all the others in the film are tribals,’’ says Easa.
The flashback, he says, begins from school. “I used to closely watch dramas and cultural events during the local temple festival. In 1999, when I was in Class VIII, I made my first play, which was based on the Kargil war. After completing Class X, I enrolled for a higher secondary course through private study and continued to script dramas for local clubs and schools. The artistes were from nearby villages, mostly government employees, daily labourers and students and ordinary people,” he says.
“I had always been an average student… and during Class XII, I started work as a rubber tapper. Later, I joined degree classes, but abandoned them midway to take up a three-month course on videography and editing. Then, I purchased a video camera for Rs 1.1 lakh and started as a wedding videographer,’’ says Easa. It was around this time that he switched from theatre to film. In 2013, he made a short film Section 376, based on the Delhi gangrape of 2012; another short film, Beef was set against the backdrop of the ban on cattle trade; and Rear View was aimed at promoting road safety.
Then, it was time for Kanthan. “I wanted to make a short film on Dalit issues with the suicide of (Hyderabad student) Rohit Vemula in the background. It was meant to be a 10-minute film,’’ he says. However, a journey in search of locations changed the course of the film. “At a tribal settlement in Thirunelli, I saw how the language and culture was slowly facing extinction. That was when the theme evolved from Dalit issues to conservation of nature,’’ says Easa.
Kanthan was screened at the Kolkata International Film Festival in November 2018 as one of the 13 Indian films in the competitive category. However, it was rejected at the International Film Festival of Kerala last December. “Then, I took another loan of Rs 10,000 for entry fee and other expenses, and submitted the film for screening at the state awards,” says Easa.
Today, the hope is that the Kanthan story will get another twist. “My film has been sent for the national awards. I am waiting.”