IFFK needs cleansing, people piled up like old files, says Sanal Kumar Sasidharan
Sanal Kumar Sasidharan has been one of the flag-bearers for Malayalam indie films for a while now. His latest movie 'Chola', starring Joju George and Nimisha Sajayan, is gearing up for its theatrical release. The movie which was screened at the Venice Film festival also made news in Kerala for its withdrawal from Kaleidoscope section of IFFK. The filmmaker who thinks of himself as a product of the society opens up to mathrubhumi.com about issues with IFFK, finding his subject from within the society, WCC and 'Chola'.
You have withdrawn your movie ‘Chola’ from the Kaleidoscope section of IFFK. In 2017, you had withdrawn ‘Sexy Durga’ as well. What went wrong this time?
I did not plan any of this, in fact I was not even interested in submitting ‘Chola’ for the festival. Based on my previous experiences with them, I knew that we were not going to get an official selection. Yet we submitted ‘Chola’ only because of the insistence from my producers.
But once the official selections were out, a lot of directors called me expressing their dissatisfaction with the selections. I told them directly that I am not interested in voicing out my opinion. What’s the point in expressing my opinion if there is no hope it would bring about a change. I found the whole exercise unconstructive.
Meanwhile, there were protests from various quarters and a group called ‘Reform IFFK’ was formed. When they contacted me I told them that I can express my protest in my own way but I did not want to be a part of the group. I feel that groups, in one way or the other, tend to develop interests of its own. Hence, ‘Chola’ was withdrawn from the festival as part of this protest and I informed them about my decision as soon as I received the mail regarding its selection in the Kaleidoscope section
You mentioned that such issues started to emerge in IFFK only after 2015...
I think it started with the success of Sudevan’s movie ‘Crime number 89.’ It bagged the state award for the best film and second best actor. It was after that Independent movies started making a mark. The success of such movies has managed to challenge mainstream commercial cinema because of its making style and extremely minimal budget. I think the movie was made at a cost of Rs 5 lakhs.
This became a problem for the authorities associated with IFFK as most of them are not really spokespersons for independent or art cinema. They are interested in exploiting the commerciality of cinema and experience the riches that it can bring them. I have observed that such people tend to label these independent movies as worthless. It happened with my ‘Ozhivudivasathe Kali’ and with Shanavas Narani puzha’s ‘Kari’, which I thought was an excellent film. But unfortunately neither IFFK nor its juries saw the film and as a result it was not able to register a mark in the history of Malayalam cinema. I happened to speak out against this on a couple of occasions and none of my movies were screened in IFFK after that.
Fundamentally, there is a clash of understanding that is causing a lot of these issues. The people associated with IFFK and Chalachitra Academy don’t seem to know how to approach cinema as a medium. That is what happened after 2015.
What do you think is the way forward for IFFK?
All institutions have to be cleaned up at some point of time. Just like there are piled up files, we have people who are piled up here. They think of these institutions as their ancestral properties. It is evident in the case of the artistic director and also in the jury selection process. We need to kick them out first.
No festival has the same people running it for more than three or four years. At the end of the day, all of us have personal interests, but these personal interests should not influence the festival in any way. So it’s important to have new people. But that is not the case here. IFFK is completely run by people of personal interests. It’s a great disservice done to this institution. I don’t know how long it can go this way.
You have said that ‘Chola’ was inspired from Sooryanelli rape case and also that you consider yourself as a product of the society. So when something like the recent Walayar rapes shook our society, how does that influence you as a filmmaker?
Firstly, there has to be something ‘extraordinary’ in the incident that has to strike for it to be made into a movie. In this particular case (Sooryanelli case), I could not fathom how a group of 40 men was able to take a girl to different places and rape her for two months without any kind of intervention from the society. I was curious about what caused the girl to remain silent despite being abused repeatedly. Through ‘Chola’, I was trying to explore these aspects.
In the context of Walayar rapes, there are allegations that the left intellectuals in the state have chosen to remain silent. Some even said that this is hypocrisy from their part. What is your take on it?
Our politics has been hijacked by party politics. So our opinions are not just our political decisions but that of the party politics. This is part of the electoral politics. There is a genuine fear that personal opinions made public can cause the public to vote for or against a political party. This happens because there are a lot of people in our cultural domain that avail the various benefits offered by political parties. We know who these people are. I don’t want to give any names here.
It is very much reflected in the workings of Chalachitra Academy, in the selection of Juries and in conferring the title of ‘Cultural Icon’ to some individuals. So in order to safeguard these positions of privilege, they maintain a convenient silence at times or they express their outrage selectively.
That is why people are asking them if they would have reacted the same had it occurred somewhere in North India. That is an element of genuineness in that as it sheds light into the pretentiousness of some of these individuals. This pretentiousness is dangerous, however, small it may be, as it can cancel out the larger truth that they represent. It could even affect the credibility of cultural workers and artists in the future, which is a dangerous space to be in.
Is WCC’s position is justified in committing to issues only pertaining to cinema?
Ever since its inception, WCC claims to be an organisation that seeks to protect women’s rights in cinema. So naturally they might be thinking that they don’t have to respond to issues happening outside their domain. But it’s like a college batch that alienates itself from the rest of the college and thinks only about its welfare. It should not be the case.
Cinema is so closely connected with the society and the politics of cinema is even beyond party politics. That is why good cinema manages to stand the test of time irrespective of how the politics of the state changes over time. Look at Andrei Tarkovsky’s cinema, it is still relevant in Russia despite the radical change in their politics. That is because those movies were not based within the temporality of their politics.
Our cinema and cinema organisations are limited by their adherence to the politics of their time. WCC is a single entity, AMMA is another entity, so is FEFKA. They are like different households not concerned about the neighbourhood. It’s only natural that this is happening but I’m not sure if this is what is needed.
There was a time when film societies were very much active in Kerala. Do you think they have lost a bit of their purpose over time?
When Adoor sir started the film society movement, it was something new to our society. Today they are well established organisations with an established audience base and some having their own theatres as well.
Unfortunately, they have become institutionalised. There isn’t much being done to justify its existence today. Many film societies today are known by the individuals associated with it, unlike before. Ideally it should be these film societies that has to protest against what is happening in IFFK as the establishment of the festival is connected to the film society movement in the state..
Famous editor Walter Murch once said that the digitalisation will eventually lead to a more ‘personal’ form of cinema. ie, at the creative end a single person will be able to handle all the technical departments involved and the finished product will be distributed via streaming platforms to an individual sitting in his/ her living room. Since you direct, edit and sound design your movies, what is your take on this?
Definitely, the technical aspects of cinema are not beyond one’s reach now
We can even develop a film in our own computers, shoot it using a mobile phone. The only thing is that one should have a basic skill, which can be gained with experience.
Another thing is that we can make the film on our own way and how it suits us. Typically, a movie is made after we bring all the technicians on the same page. But here that is not the case we don't have to depend on anyone. Financially also it can be helpful by bringing down the cost of production. Just like writing a poem, it almost becomes a personal creation.