Cinematographer-director Santosh Sivan, whose Inam passes censors, talks to Sudhish Kamath about the making of the film

Santosh Sivan is a relieved man. His bilingual Inam (Ceylon in English) has been cleared by the Censor Board and given a U rating. The ace cinematographer-filmmaker of multiple National awards spoke to CinemaPlus after a private screening of the film.

Was he afraid how the Censors would react after Madras Café was banned in Tamil Nadu?

“Not really. Mine is a very different story and we had researched it well. So we were prepared to answer any questions because whatever we have shown in the film is based on real incidents. There are newspaper clippings and YouTube videos about most of these events,” says Sivan.

The human side of the conflict

Having seen the film, one can tell that Sivan’s focus is on the human side of the conflict, not the political. He succeeds in having the audience on his side by putting us right in the middle of the civil war of 2009, through the eyes of its special protagonist (played by Star S. Karan, an actor with Down syndrome). This unique perspective strips the film of any ideological bias.

However, Sivan is likely to find Tamil sympathisers on his side since Inam is sympathetic to peace-loving innocent civilians caught in the middle of the war. “When you see the war through the eyes of the special child, what will you make of it? I haven't really tried to say anything controversial,” he says.

Casting a special child meant being extra sensitive to his needs. “I am not a patient man at all, but this film taught me a lot. Because if I am not patient, he won’t shoot for three days. So I had to keep that in mind and shoot according to his mood,” reveals Sivan.

This unique challenge also meant that he could not go for too many takes. “So we shot with three, sometimes four cameras. So I had a lot of choices. Digital cameras in the times of war have an interesting feel to them. They take you right to the centre of action,” adds the filmmaker, who largely shot the film guerrilla style, recreating parts of Sri Lanka in Kerala with great credibility, especially because he had a lot of experience shooting a documentary in the island.

The film begins with a nod to The Terrorist showing us flashes of Ayesha Dharker... But it is not really a sequel, clarifies Sivan. “That was a story told from a very different perspective. This is set many years after that.”

The leading lady of Inam Sugandha Ram is a revelation as Rajini, an orphan child who has to escape to safety. She does remind you of Ayesha Dharker’s earthy appeal with minimal make-up and her dusky good looks. “Sugandha had played the role of the make-up artist in Tere Bin Laden and is Roadies Raghu’s wife. She is an excellent actress and has an interesting face. Nobody could have done what she has done here,” Sivan explains his unique choice.

Veteran actor Saritha has turned in another powerhouse performance as ‘Tsunami Akka,’ also based on a real character who took in orphaned kids.

“I also wanted director Stanley for a role, but I finally went with Karunas because he could also sing. So I named his character Stanley. Karunas has done a serious role for a change, he is not his usual comic self here,” he adds. “Karunas has also sung a song but I had to cut it short.”

While the Tamil version is a little over two hours including songs, scenes for comic relief and the making of the film over end credits, the English version, edited by T.S. Suresh, is much tighter.

It is difficult to believe that it is the same filmmaker who doubles as the director of photography for commercial films such as Thuppaki and Suriya’s next with Lingusamy. “That pays for this. Whatever I earn there, I spend making these films,” he laughs.

But he continues pushing the boundaries by introducing new technology to the mainstream. “We recently did a test shoot with Red Dragon in 6k resolution and with the prototype of the new Optima series of lenses from Angenieux. I was the first in the world to use these lenses, thanks to my association with the American Society of Cinematographers. Next, I want to start a new film in January. Maybe after Inam’s release,” he signs off.