Sanal Sasidharan: The Disruptor who learnt cinema by not learning
New Delhi, September 8, 2021
He says that the first ever Disruptor Award at the International Film Festival of Melbourne which he received recently is in many ways a support for what he has done so far in cinema.
"I was feeling quite low owing to the continued oppression towards my films from certain factions. Be it the direct attack on S. Durga (its renamed title after protests), which was the first ever Indian film to receive the Hivos Tiger Award at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, 2017, or lately the many conspiracies to ensure that my films are ditched. If films are denied the opportunity of being watched, what is the point making them? Frankly, I was seriously thinking of taking a break. However, this award has assured me that what I am trying to do in cinema has value," filmmaker Sanal Sasidharan tells IANS.
Interestingly, the director, whose Malalayam film 'Chola' premiered during the 76th Venice International Film Festival in the Orizzonti Competition section, shot his latest Malalayam film 'Ahr Katyattam', starring Manju Warrier on smartphones in the high Himalayas.
Sasidharan says that considering the inhospitable terrain and unpredictable weather, he did not want to get caught up in managing heavy equipment and wanted to capture instantaneous experiences, something which smartphones allow. "They have their own limitations though, but other cameras involve a time delay in preparations and it is pretty difficult to shoot in rain and snowfall etc."
Wanting to give the film a different tone and a feel of non-existent terrain, he tweaked colours and experimented with sound. "Language is another factor through which we can bring the feel of a non-existent landscape. So a language called 'A'hr Samsa' was created. It was used mostly for the songs in the film which run as a parallel commentary. It was an excellent experience for us all."
For someone in whose works patriarchy is a recurring theme, the director feels that it is like an iron cage in which we grow and carry throughout our life. "My attempt to shake it off, something that gets reflected in my films too." He says that sometimes it is conscious and other times it is not, but he does not consider it as a gender issue. "It is more psychological, cultural -- a partner of power."
A lawyer by education, Sasidharan feels that formally studying filmmaking would not have let him go freehand. "I learned many things because of not learning it through a channelised way. Now I am confident enough to make movies in the toughest of circumstances."
Talk to him about Malalayam cinema making waves internationally and ruling OTT platforms in India, and he says that it has a strong history with powerful artistic contributions to the medium, from time to time.
"We have strong films from makers like Adoor Gopalakrishnan, G. Aravindan, John Abraham, K G George, P N Menon, M T Vasudevan Nair, P Padmarajan, Bharathan and the list goes on... They have contributed enormously in different streams of cinema. Apart from that, we had a strong film society movement which nurtured audiences to appreciate strong and different content. So it is not unusual to see strong films from such solid roots."
The lockdowns owing to the pandemic proved to be a much-needed break for this filmmaker who is known for his road films. Not only did he get to spend time with the family but he also wrote two screenplays and finished work on a documentary he shot in Allahabad in 2019, besides almost completing the film "Vazhakku" (The Quarrel). Starring Tovino Thomas in the lead, who has also co-produced the film, the movie is about meaningless quarrels which make life unbearable.
Missing attending film festivals, the director feels they are the real platforms for artistic films and the audience feedback received there is paramount for a filmmaker. "I just hope that things spring back to normal soon."