The film industry has always been male-dominated: Shaji N Karun

The film industry has always been male-dominated: Shaji N Karun

Malayalam filmmaker Shaji N Karun on the myth that multiplexes promote indie cinema, why women should be on film juries and the universality of our stories.

Shaji N Karun, film director Shaji N Karun, cinematographer Shaji N Karun, IFFI, IFFI Goa, Piravi, Swaham, Vaanprastham, Cannes Film Festival, Indian Express 
With stunning choreography, Olu (She) presents the primal qualities of nature intertwined with the central character of Maya.

THIS year, the Indian Panorama (features) of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), Goa, opened with the surreal Olu (She), written-directed by Shaji N Karun. It explores the relationship of local painter Vasu and young Maya, who has been assaulted and dumped in the backwaters of Kerala. As mysterious elements keep her entity alive, the painter can hear her voice on full moon nights. A well-known cinematographer, Karun made his directorial debut with Piravi (1988) that received a special mention at the Cannes Film Festival. His next two directorial outings — Swaham (1994) and Vaanprastham (1999) — too were screened at Cannes. Excerpts of an interview with the 68-year-old at IFFI:

Shaji N Karun, film director Shaji N Karun, cinematographer Shaji N Karun, IFFI, IFFI Goa, Piravi, Swaham, Vaanprastham, Cannes Film Festival, Indian Express 
Writer-director Shaji Karun

Though Olu (She) starts with suggestions of brutalities on a young woman, it moves into dreamy space.

I never wanted to show the violence of rape. A girl is gang-raped and dumped in deep water but she still dreams of love. She even asks the painter if he can portray her dream. They share a platonic relationship — just like the sunflower and the sun. In the movie, I have tried to depict such imageries. Tell us about the underwater visual effects.
It took us eight months to complete the VFX work. Water is never still — we had to create effects of undercurrents, high tide and low tide. We have tried to show how fish gradually become friendly with her. All this had to be done in 3D.

As someone who has been making art-house movies for three decades, do you think we are more open to such work today?
Today, the release and promotions have become a strenuous exercise. Commercial cinema relies heavily on digital campaigns. Have you ever seen a movie’s content being promoted? It’s one way of killing small movies. It’s like supermarkets, when they came in, small businesses were affected.


The common belief is that multiplexes have given a boost to indie and small-budget movies.
Multiplexes were originally conceived for art cinema. However, it has proven to be a lie. We don’t get multiplex screens easily. Film production has gone up. However, if a big-budget commercial film wants 3,000 screens, it gets them.

You are someone who has worked with top actors such as Mohanlal and Mamooty. What’s your stand on the Association of Malayalam Movie Artists (AMMA)?
Cinema was made without such associations. After such bodies were set up, rivalry and oppositions have come up. The industry has always been a male-dominated place. Now, this issue has become a point of debate for the media. Women issues are debated in Kerala more than any other place.

Is the opposition against women’s entry to the Sabarimala temple going to die down soon?
There should not be any opposition over the women’s entry into the temple. In the olden days, the journey to the temple was hazardous and many men have lost their lives. Women stayed back to look after their families. That’s not the case anymore.

What do you think of the new filmmakers of Kerala who are doing interesting work?
Some years ago, work of some filmmakers was called ‘new generation cinema’. Now, it is called ‘new wave’. My favourite director Andrei Tarkovsky once said: ‘Cinema is a sculpture made out of time’. That’s something filmmakers need to keep in mind.

Your first three movies were screened and appreciated at Cannes. Why is it so difficult to repeat that feat today?
One of the tragedies of Indian cinema is that we make movies for the domestic market. The Europeans filmmakers, however, look at the international market to recover their money. Our stories are great and have a universal appeal. Our filmmakers should tell them instead of following the tried-and-tested formula.

Have present-day filmmakers become less political?
Cinema is a major tool to convey a message subtly. That’s also something great authors such as Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky have done. The realities they portrayed are still relevant. Such interpretation is what art needs and not money-making machines.

This year, the Indian Panorama (features) jury didn’t have a woman member. How can we increase representation of women in festivals?
There should have been a woman on the jury. It’s important to have women’s voices. But, women started working behind the camera very late. In future, the percentage of movies made by women will increase.