What are your views about the recently concluded International film festival in Delhi? Do you think that the attempts being made (particularly at this year's IFFI) to legitimise Bollywood is a healthy trend?
It was not any different from the previous ones. The positive and commendable thing was the effort on the part of the Government to put up a film bazaar where one could buy and sell Indian and other films and also get to know what is new in film technology. This area needs to be strengthened. Sale of films and updating of technology are very important aims of any international film festival.
There is this deep-rooted notion prevalent amongst the media, and to some extent in Government circles, that only the commercial Bollywood cinema matters. People from the media keep coming to you asking why the Bombay film industry is not there in good strength. As if Bombay constitutes the whole Indian film industry.
IFFI 2002 missed your film. Why couldn’t your film make it here when it did go to Venice and Toronto?
The film was completed late in the month of August only. The cut-off date for Panorama entries was 30th May. For competition the deadline was 31st December 2001.
What was the reception to your film there?
Excellent. The film seems to have become a favourite with festival selectors. Invitations from festivals, big and small, are pouring in from around the world. London, Nantes, Pusan and Rome in November alone. The film has already found distribution in France and Switzerland. Many distributors from the North Americas are negotiating.
There was some confusion in Kerala about the title of your film? Why?
'Nizhalkkuthu' is not a commonly used term. It means 'Shadow Kill'. People take it for the familiar 'Nizhalkkoothu' which literally means Shadow dance, something akin to shadow puppet play. I borrowed the title from a Kathakali play which deals with this anecdote in Mahabharata wherein Duryodhana engages a sorcerer to do in the Pandavas using black magic. Avoiding any direct confrontation, he kills their image and thereby the original too.
What can the viewers expect from Nizhalkkuthu? Would you tell us something about it?
Nizhalkkuthu tells the story of a Hangman in the pre-independent princely State of Travancore. It is set in the early 40-s and it talks about the moral dilemmas of our society. I have tried to invest it with a certain degree of timelessness and it should be a relevant film in the present times too.
Your film is being released in theatres abroad, particularly in France. When is this happening and why?
It is slated for release in France in early January next. My co-producer is French and the distributors over there liked the film and saw the potential for commercial release.
Why is your film still not finding any takers here despite the fact that your films have a history of faring better than films of the same genre?
The film just had its premiere in Venice on 6th September. No one in India has seen it yet. I have only started my search for a distributor now. From the enthusiastic response of the audiences in Venice and Toronto I get the feeling that the film should do well in an all India release- at least in the metro cities. I am sure some enterprising distributor will show up.
It should of course do very well in Tamilnadu and Kerala.
Why are Indian audiences still reluctant to pay to see such films in theatres? Why isn’t our country still not open to films like the ones you make?
The distributors are convention bound. They are averse to anything that is not in the trodden track. They follow a formula forgetting that the taste of an audience keeps changing.
What is the future of Indian cinema? Are you happy with the direction it is taking? Will the future have space for filmmakers like you? Is State television the only answer to filmmakers like you in India?
Even the commercial cinema is showing signs of change and it has ambitions of being part of important festivals. This, I think is a good sign. Inbreeding has been the bane of our popular cinema. Once its practitioners develop ambitions beyond the immediate peripheries things may start looking up.
My films are invariably shown in the cinemas and they bring back the major portion of the returns. Some
times even profits. I am not dependent on TV.
(A condensed version of this appeared as 10 Questions in the print issue dated October 28)