Sanal Sasidharan’s first two films, Oralpokkam and Ozhivudivasathe Kali, got him a lot of recognition and praise at home, but his third film, Sexy Durga, propelled him to international fame when it won the Hivos Tiger award at Rotterdam. Suraj Prasad met him recently in New Delhi to learn more about his personal beliefs, and evolution as a filmmaker. Here is an excerpt from the interview, originally published in Issue 8 of Umbra.
Congratulations on winning the Hivos Tiger Award. This is your third film, and it is quite a streak. How did you get into filmmaking?
Thank you. To be honest, from the moment I started thinking about my purpose, I thought of a profession that gave me not just money but also a little dignity, like a doctor or an engineer. My father was very eager for me to become a doctor, but he was also an ardent fan of films. He used to take us to the theatre near our village almost every Friday to watch a new film. We were a poor family, with my father as the only earning member, yet he would manage to take us to the theatre. I remember watching my first film at the age of three.
I later expressed my interest in films, but that upset him so much that he suddenly stopped going to watch films. He really wanted me to become a doctor since I had polio. His experiences with the doctors at that time made him think highly of the profession. As I grew up, in school we played some games, enacted some movie scenes, and I was convinced of becoming a filmmaker by the time I left high school. This led to some troubles with my father, and he made me take the medical entrance exams which I failed. He told me to write the exams again, and I got into a degree college promising him that I would write the exams again the next year. So three years passed
and I was a graduate who couldn’t pass the medical entrance, after which I told him that I was going to Pune to learn filmmaking, which infuriated him. He asked me to leave and never return home. I was scared and not confident if I could survive alone without my family’s support. So I changed my plans and decided to study law just so that I could get some job, and perhaps when I was more confident, pursue filmmaking. I told my father about becoming a lawyer, and he was almost okay with that.
While I was studying, I was also thinking about making films, and by the time I was in my final year in law college, I went to assist a filmmaker on his film so that I could learn. It was my first film as an assistant, and it turned out to be his last film. It was called Mankolangal. I continued trying to make films, writing scripts and approaching producers whom I had got to know by then, but nothing seemed to work out. That is when I got together with some friends, and we decided to start a film society. The Kazhcha Film Forum was established in 2000-2001. Soon we were making some short films. The first one I made was with the help of those friends, and it was a sort of crowd-funded project. But the film did not get any success, and no money came back, so I felt like I was cheating people since the film did not make money, nor did it get any acclaim.
I kept meeting people, actors, producers, but no one seemed interested in the films that I wanted to make. This was a difficult time and about six years later, in 2006, I gave up and left Kerala, came to Delhi looking for a job, anything that could help me financially; I was willing to give up on all my ideas and ambitions. A year later, I found a good paying job in Saudi Arabia, and I thought: this is it, everything is settled.
As a filmmaker, you are also aware of the power of representation. How does cinema affect the concept of God and its representation? What role does it play?
It is almost like reflecting from a mirror, not necessarily representing. Maybe reflecting with a tint of your opinion. It is definitely not a plane mirror which could show things the way they are because they are filtered through the filmmaker’s gaze. It may not be true, it may be only a point of view. Forget about God, if there is anything that you look at and if you want to show it to someone, not necessarily by making a film but even otherwise, then too, you first find it, observe it and form an opinion about it, only then can you call someone and say, ‘oh, look at that’. The same happens with cinema. You have an opinion about something, about life, and you think that you have a different angle to look at it, only then do you start looking at it, shooting it, making it into something visually viable and then show it to somebody.
This reflection can also be negatively biased, but fortunately, there is not just one filmmaker or just one artist. There are many who are looking at the same subject from different viewpoints with different opinions, so collectively we can make an image or a representation which is actually true, or maybe nearly true. So I don’t think you can trust a single artist or a filmmaker, but perhaps collectively you can. That is why we need more artists and there must be all kinds of voices, all versions. Then only we might be able to come closer to the truth.
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