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Updated: April 13, 2012 19:49 IST

The Proust Questionnaire — People don't always tell the truth: Santosh Sivan

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The Proust Questionnaire is a fortnightly feature that alternates with the Saturday interview. These questions were most famously answered by the French writer Marcel Proust, whose personality-revealing responses came to define this form of celebrity confession. This questionnaire was administered by SARASWATHY NAGARAJAN

What is your idea of happiness?

Being with my son Sarwajit, alias Appu. Travelling, especially with Appu. He is full of questions and even a trip to the swimming pool is fun. He is all of four and his questions bring up things that I had forgotten.

What is your greatest fear?

Losing my passport when I am abroad. But seriously, it is the fear of losing people close to me.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

I don't think I identify with anyone. But I admire artists a great deal. Whenever I travel, I make it a point to see the originals of their works. Seeing a print or a photograph is not the same as watching the original work. I enjoy reading about them. I guess, now I would say it's van Gogh. Then there is Gandhiji. You learn about him, his life…

Which living person do you most admire?

I respect writers. It is difficult to name one person. But there is Ben Okri, Paulo Coelho, Michael Ondaatje. Then there are people I have met during my travels. For instance, I met a doctor in Orissa who was working with the Adivasis. I even made a film on him. I have forgotten his name but they are people I admire.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?


What is the trait you most deplore in others?

When they are not prompt on the sets for a shoot. That irritates me. When people are not punctual.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Buying antique cameras and trying to fix them.

What is your favourite journey?

Going through the Sunderbans in a boat. That is when you wonder what the real India is. Is this the real one or the one that you see usually?

Who is your favourite painter?

Rembrandt. And Caravaggio, because he introduced the third element of light.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Honesty, because actually, most people don't always tell the truth.

On what occasion do you lie?

To help a person get rid of his/her fears. For instance, during the shoot of ‘Asoka,' Kareena kept asking me, ‘Are there crocodiles in the river? Is it deep?' She had to go on a raft through the river. It was actually deep, but I kept telling her, ‘No, not it is not deep.' So that helped her overcome her fear and the shooting went smoothly.

What do you dislike most about your appearance?

I don't dislike my appearance. This is me. But others might feel differently. They keep telling me I should comb my hair. But that is their opinion.

Which living person do you most despise?

Some politicians, some industrialists. Actually, corrupt people.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

Actually. I got it from my father. It is a word that he uses a lot. So the moment I say that word, I feel at home.

What is your greatest regret?

Not learning music. I love music. I come from a family of musicians and my father is a good singer. An uncle of mine was a student of Semmangudi.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?

My son, Sarwajit.

When and where were you happiest?

In school. Money had a lot of value then. We knew how to get the best from the limited money we got. For Rs. 2, I would get an ice-cream. And how we treasured that.

What is your present state of mind?

Nostalgic, because I am in town for the reunion of our class from Loyola. We are meeting after 30 years.

How would you like to die?


What is your favourite motto?

I was teaching in Arunachal Pradesh for a year. Once, we were travelling through a thick jungle with some of my students. Suddenly, someone told us that two tigers had been spotted. So I asked these guys, “What do you do if you come across a tiger?” They said: “We run very, very fast and climb a very, very tall tree, very very fast.” So then I told them that I could not run very fast or climb a tree. Their reply: “When tiger comes, you run very fast and climb tree very fast.” So that is my motto. When the tiger comes, you run, climb… adapt.


Santosh Sivan is an internationally acclaimed cinematographer, director and producer. He graduated from the Film and Television Institute of India and was a founding member of the Indian Society of Cinematographers (ISC). He has won the National Award for Best Cinematography four times. His films as director include “Halo”, “The Terrorist”, “Tahaan” and the recent “Urumi”.

I completely agree with Raneesh. This feels not like 'The Hindu', more like 'ToI'. I wonder what made The hindu to Publish this interview. Just to fill the sapce. Dissapointed!!!

from:  Satyajit Kumar
Posted on: Apr 15, 2012 at 15:46 IST

Share the same agony as Vikhram. I am seeing quite a few articles on
Hindu these days where you need to read the whole story or scroll down
to understand the pivot of the article!! Hindu must also provide links
to websites of people, places, organisation, companies they talk about
in an article to make it more comprehensive.

from:  Vijay
Posted on: Apr 14, 2012 at 19:42 IST

@ Vikhram- It wouldn't have been necessary had you read the whole title.

@Raneesh- Your comment made me laugh out loud in the morning. Ever heard
of the Proust Questionnaire? Ever heard of Marcel Proust?

from:  Vrinda
Posted on: Apr 14, 2012 at 13:05 IST

I have been a great fan of your movie 'Halo' since the day i have seen it in DD-1.
I never found out who has directed it and now when I read your interview, I felt an overwhelwing desire to thank you for such a wonderful movie. I can never forget the emotion I felt when I have been watching the movie and I still get emotional with just the name of the movie.
Thank you :). I have been treasuing those moments all the while.

from:  Ramya
Posted on: Apr 14, 2012 at 12:54 IST

@Vikram: "The Proust Questionnaire — People don't always tell the truth: Santosh Sivan" - Did not the title say it all? or was the title updated after that comment?

There are certain interesting answers...but in general, the Proust , although interesting, doesn't seem to be comprehensive enough. A more detailed interview might have been worth a read... this just felt more like ToI, as Raneesh said. (Not in any way a derogatory remark!)

from:  Pasya
Posted on: Apr 14, 2012 at 11:40 IST

The way of interviewing to the person is good.I'm not a person to say this but i think if they ask some other questions which may attract -s the readers such as about the history of his life and what motivaties him to direct movies...or his ambition ...its my opinion that's all....and lastly i want to express my feelings that english language of hindu paper helps me to improve my english skills .....thank you so much sir....

from:  S.srirupa
Posted on: Apr 14, 2012 at 11:06 IST

@Ramesh, These questions were most famously answered by the French writer Marcel Proust, whose personality-revealing responses came to define this form of celebrity confession.- Well, the interviewer cannot ask anything else!

from:  Arun Sudarsan
Posted on: Apr 14, 2012 at 09:33 IST

I disagree with above comment... Well crafted , short, pleasant interview. Ended very well...

from:  Cecil
Posted on: Apr 14, 2012 at 01:45 IST

What a pitiful interview! The interviewer got the greatest chance to talk with a Genius. He should have extracted something out of him, useful in someway. Instead the questionnaire was the ones used with Actresses. Its human to love their children, parents and their near and dear. Its not something reserved for the celebrities. There are more important issues than the way someone thinks about how Santosh Sivan combs his hair! For some other news paper I wouldn't have complained. This feels not like 'The Hindu', more like 'ToI'.

from:  Raneesh
Posted on: Apr 13, 2012 at 21:16 IST

Had to scroll down the entire interview transcript to find out who (Santosh Sivan) was being interviewed. It doesn't help the reader when that features in the footnotes and keywords than in the title, does it. Is that your strategy to attract full reading?

from:  Vikhram Swaminathan
Posted on: Apr 13, 2012 at 18:57 IST
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