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”.
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