Penumbra, a short film by Ajayan Venugopalan of Akkarakazhchakal fame has been selected to be screened at the Short Film Corner at Cannes Film Fete
Ajayan Venugopalan may not be familiar to movie goers in Kerala. But for legions of Malayali netizens across the world, his name rings a bell, thanks to Akkarakazhchakal, Malayalam's first comedy show to be serialised on YouTube. Ajayan is the scriptwriter and co-director of the series that had viewers in splits with the antics of expatriate Malayali George Thekkinmootil and his ‘Americanised' family and friends. Now, Ajayan, a United States-based engineer from Palakkad, directs the short film Penumbra, which has been selected for screening at the Cannes Film Festival, in the prestigious fete's Short Film Corner (non-competition). It has also been selected to the Indian International Film Festival of Tampa. In an e-mail interview from New Jersey where he lives, Ajayan talks about the film…
Tell us a bit about Penumbra. Is there any significance to the title?
Penumbra is set in downtown Manhattan, against the background of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement. It narrates the tale of a stressed out financial consultant named Shashank, who is on medication for depression and insomnia, and his love-hate relationship with a free-spirited Indian OWS protestor named Krishna. While Krishna is vocal and strongly against corporate greed, Shashank is the complete opposite, reticent and one who wants to work within the system and climb up the corporate ladder. Soon the disparity of their ideals forces Shashank to call the relationship quits. However, he finds that he can't get over Krishna. The title of the movie represents the transition of Shashank (the moon) to Krishna (the dark one). The name was inspired by the waning of the moon where Shashank is ‘losing' himself to his dark side.
What was it about the Occupy Wall Street protests that inspired the idea?
OWS is a socialistic movement that brought American/World attention to economic disparity. Having grown-up in Kerala, we are taught and sold to the socialistic ideology. Living here in the United States, I realised that capitalism eventually creates a good amount of social-economical parity if implemented right. So it was an interesting political debate on how capitalism and socialism can co-exist.
Since Penumbra is about internal struggle, in a way between belief vs. bread, I figured OWS would be a good backdrop to set the story against. Being a Malayali, the protagonist is naturally politically inclined and these events unknowingly make an impact in his life.
How do you feel now that Penumbra has been selected to Cannes?
I am very excited to go to Cannes and meet fellow film fanatics. It's a great morale-booster for young filmmakers like me to experiment with concepts beyond the realm of commercial cinema.
Like Akkarakazhchakal, was Penumbra a collaborative effort by friends?
Unlike Akkarakazhchakal which had a cast and crew of fellow expat Malayalis, Penumbra's crew was quite an international team. Our cinematographer, Lukasz Pruchnik, and music composer, Milosz Jeziorski, are Americans with Polish origins.
Our editor Okke Rutte is from Holland and the sound guy, Sonam Gray, is from Scotland. The sound-mixing was done in India at SonikLava, Chennai. I am very proud that we did this movie with help of a handful of friends like Joe Joyce, Deepti Nair, and Jayan Joseph who played multiple roles to get the movie where it is today. I'm also indebted to my producers, Ranjith Antony, Suresh Nambissan, Silvester Noronha, and Valsala Sekhar.
And, finally, does being in the United States give you any sort of an advantage when it comes to getting films selected for film fetes and screened?
With digital photography, it's really an even playing field around the world now. But living in the NY area gives access to loads of talent from around the world.
Since cinema is a collaborative art form this is one great advantage to have on your side.