Aabhaasam, with its unique cast of actors including transgender persons, has already triggered a controversy. While filming in Bangalore they had used buses that had pictures of leaders like Gandhi, Jinnah, Godse and Ambedkar painted on them and the one with Jinnah apparently ran into hot water with the BJP in the state. Cops were called and the director was summoned to explain the situation. Of course, they had to wrap up the shoot earlier than planned. We caught up with director Jubith Namradath, who is making his big directorial debut with Aabhaasam. He lets us explore at length, the space he is in and the cinema that matters.
Your FB bio is pretty long. From call centre employee, web designer, software engineer to now film direction. Was cinema always the final destination?
Even when I was working in the IT sector, I used to write short stories on my blog; mostly social and religious satires. In 2009, Sidharth Bharathan after reading a story called Tryambakam, called me to write his film. The film didn’t happen but it was an opening and I quit my job and started making short films.
Your short films I noticed are all unconventional, be it the title or the theme…
It was not intentional. My first film was Naalu Mazhapaatakal (4 Fireflies), made on a budget of 50k (money chipped in by two friends). Then I made Democracy a lyrical short film which turned out to be very popular. But my next one, ChuvarChithrangal, went right over people’s head. Then I got an offer from a Bollywood director, Shine Krishna, an associate of Anand Kumar who did Delhii Heights. But it fell through. My film for Sainik School, Athmam was selected at the Vibgyor film festival.
A bus journey was the trigger for Aabhasam I heard…
After my short films, I was sure I wanted to make a feature film. And coincidentally Modi Sarkar came to power, leading to enough fodder around to make a social satire. Then I took a bus journey from Kannur to Bangalore during which an incident sparked something and reminded me of my second short film Democracy. That’s the only short film I thought found some acceptance among the public. After a dozen script revisions, I pitched it to many producers and most of them turned it down.
What was putting them off?
Why such a film was the main question. For us, it was a hassle enough to convince them that this is a film.
Then a chap who produced a Sanskrit film was convinced by the project. Talk about the irony...
Yes, it was during last IFFK that I met Sanju who was there for his Sanskrit film. The irony didn’t escape me either. But by then I just wanted to make this film somehow. Kamal introduced me to Rajeev Ravi and he let us use their banner.
Sheetal Shyam, the transgender social activist plays a key role in your film. They havealways been a dicey depiction in Malayalam cinema.
Yes, their figure, body language and mannerisms have always been exaggerated in a comical way. We didn’t want any such perverted depictions. When it comes to social satire, they can’t be ignored. Sheetal was chosen as she is an activist and her inputs were invaluable for the character.
Rima Kallingal and Suraj Venjaramoodu. Were they easy to convince?
I have known Rima from the days of Nidra. I wanted someone who has a serious take on such issues. The story is chaotic; there are a lot of perspectives. She believed in such politics and I think most of my initial discussions were with her. Initially, Suraj thought this was a comedy film but once convinced, he was on-board in no time.
What is the cinema you grew up watching?
It’s a tricky question. But I would say I was fed on the usual mainstream fare that my age group grew up on. But once I started writing, my perspectives changed.
Who exactly caused that change?
I was fascinated by John Berger’s essay on art criticism, Ways of Seeing. It is a documentary series where he talks about dealing in art forms with irresponsibility. At the end of the day, are you being irresponsible to the art form? You can’t control how people perceive it. They look at it from their own experience. You don’t create a character because you just feel like creating it; there are deeper layers, politics and dimensions to it.
And inspirations back home?
KG George is a huge inspiration and I loved his PanchavadiPalam and Yavanika. I also like the work of Rajeev Ravi, particularly Njan Steve Lopez.
Right, so do you see a lot of intolerance being showed to cinema these days?
Yes, but the positive side is the voice of resistance that comes up. There is no such thing called an ideal world. So this kind of helps in creating a balance—fascist theory with resistance. When you suppress one idea, more ideas sprout up.
Your thoughts on the stringent censorship guidelines?
Censorship is senseless. As long as you have no answers for what we watch at home or on our mobiles, you can’t bring restrictions to cinema. It’s like shutting our eyes at the world. As long as perspectives are open, such restrictions are preposterous.
Is it a great time for a new chap to make his film in Malayalam?
I think there is an audience for every kind of cinema. This year alone there have been a lot of new directors making their debut in our cinema. There is a sense of reliability in new names than in established ones.
An army of social media film critics have come up. Does it worry you?
Of course, it’s my first film. I am tensed. As for critics, you can’t control such things. As long as you realise it’s a different standpoint, it’s fine. Write only after watching a film - that’s my criteria.
Quite a lot of filmmakers have made their ire against film critics openly known, maintaining that the writers have no ethics that back up their theory.
All that is humbug! When a filmmaker talks about ethics, aesthetics and politics we can ask them the same question regarding what is being shown in their film. It works both ways.
Aabhaasam is ready to release in January. How would you sum up your journey?
A feature film is like centre stage; the world seems wider and judgement more. When I made a short film, I was in my comfort zone. Now I am stepping out of it. Whether I am happy or not will be decided on the day my movie releases.
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