Shaji N. Karun's ‘Kutty Srank,' starring Mammootty in the lead role, will be screened today in the Indian Panorama section in Goa.

It has been smooth sailing for Shaji N. Karun's ‘Kutty Srank' (Sailor of Hearts), right from its world premiere in Montreal and its Pusan outing. The only Malayalam feature film that was selected for the ongoing Indian Panorama at the International Film Festival of India at Goa, ‘ Kutty Srank' will have its Indian premiere today (November 27) and then go to the Dubai Film Festival.

Ace cinematographer-turned-director Shaji says ‘Kutty Srank,' enacted by Mammootty, is the story of a traveler who was at home in the waters of Kerala. Set in the mid-Fifties, the film unfolds through the eyes of three women – Revamma, Pemenna and Kali – whose memories resurrect the life and times of this man.

Superb portrayal

“Mammootty has come up with a superb portrayal of this enigmatic, multifaceted man who seems to go beyond religion and region. He even speaks in the three distinct dialects of Onatakkara, Kochi and Northern Kerala. Even his name ( ‘Kutty') does not give us a clue to his religion. ‘Srank' goes back to the days when Arabian traders visited the shores of Kerala for black gold – pepper; the ‘Sranks' used to pilot the ships into the ports,” explains Shaji.

As the three women's memories weave a picture of the man, the film also touches upon the trade links of the emerald State and its ties with countries and people, far and near. Colonial and post-colonial repercussions, its impact on society, economy, faith and culture are reflected in the film. It touches upon the ripple effect of Ambedkar's decision to embrace Buddhism.

“It was a period of great idealism. Revamma, played by Padmapriya, is one such youngster from North Kerala, who becomes a Buddhist nun to atone for, what she perceives, her father's sins. While Revamma meets him in Northern Kerala, Pemenna, enacted by Kamalini Mukherjee, meets him in Kochi where he is a member of a Chavittunatakam troupe and Kali, essayed by Sri Lankan actor Meena Kumari, encounters him in Travancore. The film progresses through the narratives of the three women, blurring fact and imagination,” says Shaji.

He points out that he was keen on having Anjuli Shukla as the cinematographer as he wanted a woman's perspective to bring alive the women's memories of Kutty Srank. P.F. Mathews and Harikishan have written the script of the story conceptualised by the director himself.

Shaji's directorial ventures include ‘Piravi,' ‘Swaham,' ‘Shyam's Vision,' ‘ Vanasprastham' and ‘AKG.' After his stint as jury chief for the international short film competition in Goa, Shaji plans to begin work on his next film, ‘Gadha,' starring Mohanlal in the lead.

“It is about a playback singer and her possessive husband who fails to understand his wife. Eventually, her dairy helps him understand her better,” narrates Shaji. He plans to make it as a musical, a first for the director.

Admitting that his work with Aravindan played a great role in shaping his outlook towards cinema and filmmaking, he rues that those halcyon days of Malayalam cinema seems to be taking a beating because of hackneyed and thoughtless attempts to imitate films from other languages.

“Fortunately for us, all our top actors have always supported good cinema but we need bold directors and script writers who will experiment and go beyond the beaten track. Most importantly, we need bold producers who will back those directors. In the Seventies, we had a producer like Ravindran Nair who had the courage of conviction to back directors like P. Bhaskaran, Adoor and Aravindan,” explains Shaji. A little wistfully he points out: “Till now, I regret, none of my films were produced by someone from Kerala. I had to find others to bankroll my projects. My next film will also receive some funding from French agencies.”

Shaji believes Malayalam cinema has to find its mooring to go places in world cinema.

Shaji N. Karun is jury chief for the international short film competition in Goa. He was one of the members of the five-member international jury of the 11th Mumbai International Festival, which included the likes of Paul Schrader, Jafar Panahi and Philippine filmmaker Brillante Mendoza. Shaji had honoured Theo Angelopoulos, renowned Greek filmmaker, for lifetime achievement in cinema, at a function in Mumbai. According to Shaji, festivals inspire him to aspire to make world-class films in Malayalam. “It shows me how far I have to travel,” he says modestly.