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The world through my eyes is just as colourful

Dileesh Pothan writes: The scope of our vision is significant too. The colours we see are so different and beautiful. We see the lives around us more closely because we are denied many colours.

Written by Dileesh Pothan |
Updated: April 17, 2022 9:38:01 am
A still from Pothan’s Kumbalangi Nights. (Facebook/Kumbalangi Nights)

All through my childhood and teenage years, I noticed some inadequacies in my vision. For instance, when I picked up a dull-coloured shirt, others would call it bright. But I never knew I was colour-blind. My ‘inadequacy’, I presumed, had to do with how I saw certain colour combinations. I just told myself that my colour sensibilities were a little different from everyone else. After being associated with a few film projects as assistant director, working on some television productions, and making short films and video albums, I joined a film institute in Kochi as faculty. I was about 28 years old then.

At the institute, I was asked to help with the admission process. Some lecturers on the panel insisted that we also make arrangements for a colour-blindness test while selecting candidates. We put up some colour boards and I was given the responsibility to spot the colour-blind candidates.

That is when I realised that I was colour blind.

I realised the problem but I knew nothing about it. So, I started reading up. Since I was also an aspiring filmmaker, I was nervous about my future.

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Once it became known that I had colour blindness, people around me also became curious. They would show me things and ask me about its colour. Even now, some friends ask me in jest, “What is the colour of this shirt?” For me, however, it was less about not recognising a particular colour and more about the realisation that I may be seeing a different world.

I was told my problem is with Red and Green, among the most common forms of colour blindness.

Then, I came across a report that said that even British-American film director Christopher Nolan is colour blind. It came as a huge relief. The fact that an internationally celebrated filmmaker was also colour blind gave me immense confidence.

So when the Supreme Court issued an order directing the Pune-based Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) not to exclude candidates suffering from colour blindness from its courses on filmmaking and editing, I welcomed it wholeheartedly.

The petitioner — a student who was denied admission to FTII’s Diploma in Film Editing course in 2015 after he was diagnosed as colour blind — had also cited Nolan’s example.

Looking back, I feel that if I hadn’t known about Nolan, things would have been far more challenging for me emotionally in the early part of my career. My transition, from suspecting that I had a problem with my vision to thinking that I had ‘lesser’ colour sense, to finally understanding that I had colour blindness, was slow.
The SC order said that “colour blindness is not a form of blindness but a deficiency.” So true. I would say that there might be a problem in my vision, but not in my sensibility.

Shyju Khalid, a renowned cinematographer, once told me, “While we see a largely dull world and all the dirt around, maybe you have a graded vision.” In films, colour grading refers to curating colours carefully to convey an atmosphere, emotion and style.

However, at times, the condition does make me conscious at work. To counter it, I have developed an immersive working style, engaging deeply with cinematographers and designers to avoid any conflict.

Until the recent Supreme Court order, I didn’t even know about the FTII case. When a prestigious institute denies admission to a colour-blind aspirant, it ruins the dreams of many. More importantly, it makes someone feel inadequate or unqualified.

Now, however, we know that there are many colour-blind actors and filmmakers. I believe that the scope of our vision is significant too. The colours and patterns we see are so different and beautiful. In a way, we can see the lives around us more closely because we are denied many colours. The Supreme Court order said, “Art is non-conformist in character…” Very true. The perspective of colour-blind people should be welcomed as the influence of cinema on people is also different and relative. I would go as far as to say that being colour blind is not an inadequacy but an extra advantage for a filmmaker. That’s how I see the apex court’s order.

Pothan is an acclaimed director, producer and actor, associated with Malayalam films such as Kumbalangi Nights and Joji. As told to Arun Janardhanan

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