Sunitha Krishnan and Rajesh Touchriver’s debut Malayalam movie Ente is based on a true incident
Sunitha Krishnan cannot stop talking about Ente, her first feature film experience as a producer. The founder of Prajwala, an anti-trafficking organisation which houses victims of sex slavery, is 18 documentaries old. But Ente, meaning ‘mine’ in Malayalam, a film on the same subject co-produced by herself and her husband Rajesh Touchriver, is devouring her attention like a new-born from its mother. After all, it is an issue she has been tackling head-on for more than 20 years.
“Let me show you the pictures of my children,” she says grabbing her laptop from Rajesh who is busy trying to set things in order for a screening of the film for Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and 30 other politicians. Pictures move on the slide, of smiling girls hugging Sunitha, without whom they would lead unimaginable lives. “These are my youngest,” she beams at three cherubic faces on the screen, no more than three to five years old. “They’ve passed away though,” she adds, suddenly looking downcast, “They tested positive.”
A tale that had to be told
Perhaps that is why Sunitha felt Ente, a true story, had to be told. “I was witness to the incident 11 years ago. It transformed my life.” But challenges awaited the couple at every corner. The nature of the subject meant that not everyone was ready to play the male lead, which was finally portrayed by Siddique. “He had his own apprehensions but gave the role his all. When I saw the final version, casting him seemed like the best decision ever,” she says. Many big production houses dodged them too, leaving the couple to fund the movie themselves.
“We staked everything – our house, jewellery… I asked Rajesh many times if he was scared as he’s the one who always feels the need for financial security,” Sunitha says looking at Rajesh who is the director of Ente and handled the screenplay and script as well. “But he just said, ‘We are doing the right thing’ and that was that.”
Music director Shantanu Moitra volunteered to be part of the film, declining a fee. Shreya Ghosal sung for free too. Sharreth has composed a few songs. Sunitha, whose short film Of Freedom & Fear is still screened in colleges as part of AIDS awareness classes, says she would have considered making Ente in Hindi too, if she could have afforded it. Aiming for a commercial release by July-August, Sunitha is in talks with distributors. “Either way, we will bring Ente to the people,” she says, speaking for Rajesh who has suggested a road show if all else fails. “This is the digital age after all. Nothing is impossible.”
They should know, considering what Sunitha’s line of work usually involves: rescuing victims from brothels, often in the most hostile environments. “I hear victims say they don’t need help every other day. But once they see their lives change for the better, they stay.”
Many awards and recognitions have come her way over the years, but Sunitha’s greatest joy came from “her children” after they attended a private screening of Ente: “After the crying and hugging, they rang up Anjali Patil, the lead actor, and I heard them say, ‘Didi, you did justice to the story of our lives.’” Other guests called up saying that they were haunted by what they saw. “That was my intention,” Sunitha explains. She adds: “I wanted people to ask themselves how safe they were and who was to take responsibility. People ought to know that issues like this and incest are not okay. But I wanted it to be fit for family viewing too.”
The movie, a full two hours complete with a soundtrack is “a family thriller,” she says, quickly switching to universal wife mode and nagging Rajesh to talk more. A shrug and a smile later, he says, “We’ve told the story to touch upon the emotions of viewers but without the skin-show, despite Ente having ample scope for it. The second half is fast paced as that is when the mystery unravels. We are merely telling a story about a perpetrator and a victim who have their shades of grey. But we aren’t judging anyone.”
Threats to Sunitha’s life have been plenty. But there’s no stopping this firebrand who says the situation in Kerala is similar to that in Andhra Pradesh where the film was made as Prathyayam, also set for release: “We cannot thank the State government and police there enough for their support.”
Cases from all strata
Sunitha, whose expertise is regularly sought by foreign governments, is currently a consultant with the Department of Social Welfare in Kerala. She says cases come from all strata here: “Even more so from the middle and upper classes. The victims are usually a mother and a child. Trafficking happens later, as the abuse begins with incest. Again, Ente address the need for us to create a counter-culture, where it is the perpetrator who leaves the house and not the other way round.”
The word vacation does not figure in Sunitha and Rajesh’s lives. “We got married in January, 2006. Two hours after we tied the knot, we were back at Prajwala,” Sunitha says, her hands never too full to save another life. “We are married to our mission.”