Last year, Sanal Sasidharan was in the news for his fight against the removal of his movie S Durga from the Indian Panorama of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), Goa. This year, the Kerala-based director is back at Film Bazaar with his latest feature film, Shadow of Water (Chola), which has been acquired by the Hong Kong International Film Festival for world sales. In a free-wheeling conversation, he talks about Chola and the churning in the Kerala film industry.
There are similarities between S Durga and Shadow of Water (Chola). Was that a deliberate decision?
There is a little bit of similarity between the two. In Chola, a teenage girl runs away with her lover to a big city. A movie is not all about a story. You can play with the story. People may find some similarities between S Durga and Chola in terms of the basic plot — both have a fear factor and involve road trips. However, the treatment of these two movies as well as the subjects they deal with are different. Without interpreting the movie much, I can say that Chola is about mindsets. Prior to this, I made another movie, Death of Insane (Unmadiyude Maranam), which was more experimental in nature and has not been released yet. Making a movie is like a part of my life, like writing a journal.
Will you make a movie that is not political or makes a statement?
Chola is not as political as S Durga. The execution of Chola, its philosophy and politics are very different. Chola is more connected to people’s lives. My last movie, Death of Insane, is directly ‘political’. It was personal too. A filmmaker can explore the politics of an individual or the society. I like both.
You have also launched an initiative to support women filmmakers. What’s the status on that?
I’m part of the Kazhcha Film Forum that started the initiative with Niv Art Movies, which is trying to bring in support for women filmmakers. We are encouraging people to have all-women crew. When you have a crew which is male-dominated, the gaze is different too. We proposed this idea and have got some good subjects. They are at the writing stage. A Malayalam project, titled Pezha (Slut by Default), will be directed by Devi PV and Indu Lekshmi.
A lot of churning — social and political — are taking place in Kerala.
The political situation across the country is rapidly changing. I won’t say that Kerala’s politics is changing. Rather, its real politics is become more visible. When the Supreme Court verdict regarding Sabarimala came out, the reality regarding the mindset of the people of the state became apparent. Though it’s ruled by a communist government, their ideology has been a bit shaky and not fully adhering to the Leftist principles. They have made adjustments when required. The outcome is now showing.
Recently, actor Mohanlal said that #MeToo is a fad.
For years, he has been leading a car-to-carpet life, removed from reality. It’s not just him but all the superstars are living their images. It’s the society which made them stars and expected them to live out that image. Now, he is revealing this side of his image and calling it a ‘fad’. How can we blame him alone? We need to question ourselves about who made them a superstar. Also, why are we taking his views so seriously? He is an actor, not a writer or a serious politician.
But artistes are expected to take a stand.
Cinema should be classified as commercial and parallel. In commercial cinema, you care for the money you make. However, when popular artistes involved with commercial cinema share their opinion, the masses tend to take them seriously. This might harm the cause at times. A case in point is Dileep, who was guilty and arrested. However, after coming out of the jail, he acted in a movie which was a hit.
Do you see Women’s Collective in Cinema as an answer to change the power imbalance in the industry?
I have a question for them: Why are they not coming together to create art or cinema? Why are they not becoming a part of independent cinema? They want to be part of commercial cinema where the male brigade rules. Film personalities such as Anjali Menon, Bina Paul, Parvathy, Reema Kalingan and Revathy are capable of doing this. They are successful and talented. They can make movies without Mohanlal or other superstars. They can set up a parallel thing. When they make something good, people will definitely watch it.
Don’t you think efforts should be made to have a more inclusive industry?
Even as popular actors, producers and fan associations are holding the power, why can’t women artistes make their own movies. In Malayalam cinema, there is an atmosphere now where good content can succeed. There are several artistes who will come forward to support the collective. That apart, they can have the support of the Kerala State Chalachitra Academy and the government. They need to go beyond holding a placard.
Actor Parvathy said that she has been offered only one movie after she spoke up against misogynistic films.
I had approached her for a film, she never responded. As an artiste, she should respond and be open to the scripts that is being offered. If she doesn’t want to do it because she doesn’t like the script, then it’s another matter. You have to be genuine when you fight a cause. Why are you seeking opportunities from the opponents? Why don’t you make new allies?