Chat For filmmaker R. Sarath, cinema is his beautiful hobby

The office of director R. Sarath is a cozy little room that seems ordinary enough at first glance, much like the man sitting inside and chatting on the phone with a genial smile on his face. However, a closer inspection reveals a different picture. The sheer diversity of the material contained within makes one realise that the man takes his craft very seriously indeed.

An enquiry about his beginnings as a filmmaker takes one back to the early 90s, as he recounts how he directed a multimedia project based on the 12th century poem, Gita Govinda, giving him the opportunity to travel the country and interact with stalwarts like cinematographer M.J. Radhakrishnan and renowned scholar Kapila Vatsyayan while drinking in aspects of our culture from classical dance and music to various art forms. “That journey gave me a pan-India vision, as we interacted with artistes and dancers and practitioners of every major performance art. I was also fortunate to have worked with some great minds during the course of that project and we were successful in making it a multimedia project which was exhibited in Delhi, making it one of the first ventures of its kind. That was my apprenticeship,” he says.

This early exposure beyond the borders of the state seems to have seeped into all his projects over the years, as he tackled inflammatory subjects such as nuclear testing, the plight of government workers and crimes against nature and women through his films Sayahnam (2000), Sthithi (2002) and Seelabathi (2005). Also to his credit are the documentaries, The Painted Epics, during the production of which he discovered pictures by Raja Ravi Varma unseen by the public, and Bhumikku Oru Charamagitam, a short film based on a poem by O.N.V Kurup. His most recently completed project is the Shilpa Shetty-starrer The Desire, which ventured beyond the borders of the nation to tell the story of an Odissi dancer and her relationship with a Chinese artist. This year also marks Sarath's return to Malayalam films with Parudeesa.

A story-teller

Ask him why he has tackled sensitive topics in feature films instead of documentaries, he says: “The best way to reach the masses is through storytelling. While a documentary has immense academic value, it cannot match the ability of a feature film to reach the people and get them thinking about a message. In fact, I believe that only if a movie is made in English, Hindi and Malayalam does it receive the level of penetration it deserves.”

Despite not having any airs about the critical acclaim his movies have generated in the international film circuit, he is quick to praise the artistes he has directed over the years. “Each movie has been a different experience, while making Sayahnam, I saw O. Madhavan transform himself into the character of an old man struggling to cope with the changes within the country, while in The Desire I was astounded by the dedication displayed by Xia Yu (the male lead of the film), as he kept asking me for the opportunity to do another take and deliver a more believable performance. This perseverance towards improving their skills is something I admire about international actors and filmmakers. They keep reinventing their methods based on their own outlook towards life, making them philosophers as much as actors and directors.”

Need of the hour

He laments over the dearth of original material being made into film within the state even today. “Our films strive too hard to be larger than life instead of telling the stories of real people with real lives. Cinema is a medium which can be twisted into any form, whether it be grim realities or slapstick comedy. We need youngsters who are willing to realise this and create original ideas instead of borrowing heavily from existing source material. If this happens and we strive to have a more structured approach towards making movies, the industry as a whole will benefit, because we have no shortage of talented actors and directors. It all comes down to one thing – innovation.”

A lot of ideas and insights drive Sarath forward in his pursuit of making enriching cinema, which he considers his “beautiful hobby” apart from the job he holds at the Information and Public Relations Department of the Government of Kerala. He lives at Vazhuthacaud with his wife Bindu and two children, an existence easily mistaken for that of any respected government servant. “Our existence is at times very much like the protagonists of Sthithi, we all struggle irrespective of who we are!,” he signs off on a lighter note.

New project

His current project, Parudeesa, starring Sreenivasan, Shwetha Menon and Jagathy Sreekumar, is the story of a conservative Catholic priest (Sreenivasan) and his idealistic clashes with a firebrand verger played by Thampy Antony, set in a rustic village background. For the first time, Sarath has not penned the script himself, with the credit going to Vinu Abraham.