'Aedan': Of love, death and other things

Sanju Surendran’s debut feature film, Aedan: Garden of Desire, bagged four Kerala State film awards (2017)—for best adapted screenplay, best cinematography, best sound editing and second best feature film. It bagged two more—for best director and best Malayalam film—at the IFFK (2017). The flush of critical acclaim, however, sits lightly on the filmmaker. For him, the important thing is to try and do something new, which he does with flair, in Aedan

Inspired by three short stories written by S Harish, the film does a tight rope walk between beauty and pain. As the narrative moves ahead through three macabre stories that intermingle, the visuals are overwhelmingly beautiful—the grey rain that lashes outside watched through a window of a warmly lit bar, the patterns that sunlight paints on the floor, the moonlit night with a faint Kathakali padam playing in the backdrop.

An underlying sense of morbidity lurks throughout the film. Hari is a failed writer, who settles a score with an old man, who he was friendly with. Neethu is a nurse and she finds love in the unlikeliest of hours, while bringing her father’s corpse from Bangalore to her hometown in Kottayam and Thambi, a well-known thug, is reformed after he meets Jesus Christ, with whom he even takes a photograph. The film, while balancing the surreal and the mundane, treads the troubled territories of human relationships.

'Aedan': Of love, death and other things

Sanju’s cinematic sensibilities have been shaped by his years as a student at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune. A student of legendary filmmaker Mani Kaul, Sanju says FTII opened his eyes to the medium of cinema. “I got to know myself. Because, there I learnt by doing things. It was an experience like no other.”

The script was co-written by Harish and Sanju with a few cinematic improvisations. Neendoor, a village in Kottayam, is where most of the film was shot. “The village is like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Macondo. It is peopled with characters and they each have their rich repertoire of tales.”

The film, which was distributed in 2018, explores the landscape of Kottayam—from the plains to the high ranges. Sanju’s technique, in true art-house tradition, is deliberately unhurried, utilising the camera to its full potential.

Aedan… took about a year to be completed. Though the shooting didn’t take much time, the planning and preparation did, especially sound design.

'Aedan': Of love, death and other things

It has been screened across Kerala and outside by various film societies and was recently screened at the Kochi Muziris Biennale under the Artists’ Cinema category. It would find itself on Netflix soon. Since it has no popular actors, a conventional theatre release was out of the question.

Sanju’s eponymous documentary on Koodiyattam exponent Kapila won him the National Award for best documentary in 2014. He does not treat documentary and feature film differently, but believes in a careful blend of the two genres—a delicate combination of fact and fiction. “The documentary, as a form, has evolved. Contemporary documentaries are now made in a story-telling mode.”

His next film would be an intense love story. “One of the most intense of them,” Sanju emphasises. It is in pre-production and the story has been independently developed.

As a filmmaker, his focus would be on contributing to good cinema. “The worst thing that can happen to a filmmaker is when he repeats himself. Reinventing oneself has to happen with every film.”

Aedan: Garden of Desire will be screened at the Children’s Park Theatre on February 17 at 5 pm.

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2021 10:13:22 AM |

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