It is organised chaos at the autorickshaw stand in front of Kairali theatre. A movie is over and people rush to get autos. I enter an empty auto bearing an International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) flex which belongs to Sreekumar. I tell him my destination – Kalabhavan theatre. Sreekumar says that the auto needs two more people before he can head for the aforementioned destination. As I wait for the required number to fill the auto, I begin chatting with the affable Sreekumar.
He tells me how for the last few years, organisers of the IFFK have been providing free transportation facilities to the delegates of the festival as there are more than a hundred films screened in 11 theatres. He says: “Each year, the organisers pick and choose a couple of autorickshaw drivers in and around Thampanoor to provide transportation for film aficionados from one theatre to another. These autorickshaws bearing IFFK flexes wait in front of the theatres.”
While last year, there were 24 autos for the purpose, this year there are only 15 autorickshaws, he says. As a result, there is a lack of transportation for the delegates. “There are many delegates who are unfamiliar with the city and the language and such transport facilities are useful for them as they take them safe and sound to the theatres, which are spread across the city. We make sure that the delegates’ ride is comfortable as it is our (festival and auto drivers) reputation that is at stake.”
So, has he chauffeured any celebrities in his auto? “None that I have recognised. A fellow auto driver got to drop filmmaker T.V. Chandran to Kalabhavan theatre the other day though.”
Sreekumar has been an autorickshaw driver for the last nine years. The man who resides at Thampanoor was working at a shop near his house before that. This is Sreekumar’s first year as part of the IFFK. While his day as a regular auto driver can start and end at any time he pleases, his day as a driver for the fete starts at 8.30 a.m. and ends at 9.30 p.m.
Soon two more enter our auto and we are off to Kalabhavan. On our way Sreekumar says, with a grin: “The other day, we watched a foreign film, with Chinese actors, for free as part of the fete. I have no idea what the name of the movie was though. The setting was surreal so I don’t know what the movie was about.”
So, will we see him next year? “I don’t think so. Apart from Mamu, who is two years old at the fete, most autorickshaw drivers do not repeat working as part of the IFFK as they feel they are running their vehicles at a loss. We earn only Rs. 850 a day whereas the mileage and cost of diesel is much more for us. I don’t think I will return next year unless the organisers meet our expectation in terms of payment,” he says dropping us off and zooming away.