Cinema

Heart of darkness

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Filmmaker Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s 'Ozhivudivasathe Kali' is about games people play in a corrupt and casteist society to prop up power structures and justify social prejudices.

Th e second movie is always the most difficult one to make, especially if your first film got off to a flying start. Filmmaker Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s maiden venture Oralppokkam won him awards and critical acclaim. And now, his Ozhivudivasathe Kali (An Off-day Game) releases today after winning him accolades and awards in several categories.

Based on a short story written by Unni R., Ozhivudivasathe Kali sees Sanal on a different pitch altogether. The story of five middle-aged friends picnicking in a picturesque, isolated locale on the day of the Aruvikkara by-election, explores the not-so-level playing grounds of our society and polity. The brooding woods and mysterious, swift flowing river seem to hint at the tragedy that is trailing the friends as they make merry by the riverside.

During the course of the 110-minute film, which mainly unfolds over a day, Sanal deftly takes on different kinds of discrimination that makes the games we play unfair to those who lack social, economic and political privileges. The apparently simple theme and buddy film is a layered work that uncovers the heart of darkness in the friends, and, in a larger context, in society.

The friends’ hypocrisy and social conditioning colour the conversation, showing up flaws in an alienated society where old habits die hard. As the movie progresses, deep biases, insecurities and prejudices come to the fore till it culminates in a terrifying violence of a mob, of the ‘mobocracy’. Baiju Netto (Dasan), Girish Nair (Thirumeni), Nisthar Sait (Dharman), Pradeep Kumar (Vinayan) and Arun Nari (Ashokan) play the five friends. Reju Pillai acts as caretaker Narayanan.

Shot in Peppara, a scenic place away from the capital city, Ozhivudivasathe Kali has been filmed by Indrajith, who also did the cinematography of Oralppokkkam . Itt is being distributed by none other than filmmaker Aashiq Abu.

Excerpts from an interview with the director.

You have written the screenplay of the film. How faithful is the film to the short story?

I have absorbed the spirit of the story and added characters and incidents to give it a visual narrative. For instance, Geetha, the only woman in the film, and Thirumeni were characters that I added to aid the story.

In the same way certain scenes and premises were added to define the characters and their personalities. Unni’s story unfolds in a hotel room while I have moved it to a secluded house in the hills, beside a river.

But we never had a bound script or a written screenplay. All the dialogues were improvised during the shooting.

In that case, how difficult or easy was it to make the film, considering that dialogues take the story forwards?

Prior to the actual shooting, I had several discussions with my cast. I introduced them to their characters, told them their stories and where they came from. Each role was sharply etched out for them, their background, their profession, family et al. So once the camera started rolling, it was easy for them to come up with their dialogues. Each knew how his/her character would behave, react and speak. We had long discussions on how we would peel off the façade off the men to reveal their real selves, what would hurt their ego, what would hit them hard, their political stand and so on.

So, for instance, Unni uses just a sentence to describe Dharman. He says Dharman supports the Emergency, adores Indira Gandhi and is a devotee of Lord Rama.

From that one line, we drew a complete portrait of the man, his foibles, political leaning and attitude towards gender.

So how did that help the film unfold?

I turned to our experiences to shape the narrative. What we have experienced, how we shape the experiences of other people, what shapes those experiences….That was my text to mould the characters.

The casting is remarkable. Abhija, who dons the role of Geetha, is the only known face? How was the casting done?

But for Abhija, all the others are newcomers to cinema. Some of them are active in theatre but that is about it. I depend on my intuition while casting. I have a clear picture in my mind about my characters, how they look and move. So it is not too difficult to find the right person. The actor who plays Thirumeni is actually my uncle. He has never acted before but he did a good job in his role.

Many kinds of prejudices are tackled in the layered work?

That was intentional. The way men perceive women, and their social and sexual overtures, the different attitudes towards authoritarian politics, caste, colour, democracy and social mores tumble out in the open when the drunken men lose their inhibitions and open up.

Is it difficult to find distributors for independent films? Your previous film was screened through many novel methods, including a ‘cinema vandi’, a kind of travelling theatre that travelled through different places to screen the film.

It is difficult to find distributors and theatres. Ozhivudivasathe Kali is being screened in some theatres that come under the Kerala State Film Development Corporation. But I don’t see it as a stumbling block to stop making my kind of movies.

What is your next film?

Sexy Durga is almost over. We will finish shooting in July. I plan to take it to the festival circuit before releasing the film in theatres. The film is about a woman and narrates her experiences over a night.

There were murmurs of unhappiness over the choice of the title for your film…

Why should there be? It is only a name. Such incidents bring to the surface certain hidden traits in our society, certain inhibitions and prejudices that are well concealed by a cultivated way of speaking and behaving. Unless you go against the current, such traits will never be exposed. A creative filmmaker must swim against the current.

That is where the unexplored places are. It is up to him to find and expose those Achilles heels in our society.

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2020 8:11:42 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/Heart-of-darkness/article14425910.ece

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