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I make films for myself

FILMS ARE NOT MERE ENTERTAINMENT: Biju Damodaran believes they need to have a social comment and commitment  

Through the eyes of an eight-year-old boy, Bijukumar Damodaran makes us see and feel the disquiet that has been slowly churning in Kerala, and in most parts of India — garbage dumping in rural areas, the struggle for tribal rights, the politics of land eviction — for well over a decade, and how their lives are sucked into this hopeless whirlpool.

Films are a tool for social comment and commitment believes Dr. Bijukumar Damodaran. The doctor-turned-filmmaker’s first three Malayalam films — Saira (2005), Raman (2008) and Veettilekkulla Vazhi (2010) — a trilogy on terrorism, won accolades at the world’s film festivals for his treatment of the subject. His latest, Perariyathavar ( Names Unknown), which won the National Award for Best Film on Environment Conservation/Preservation and for Best Actor (Suraj Venjaramoodu) is being released by PVR Director’s Rare on January 9 across India.

Biju’s son Govardhan B.K. plays the young boy, and the film portrays a nuanced relationship between the lonely boy and his father, a sweeper who works with the city municipality and gets caught in the quagmire of garbage dumping in villages, of losing the roof over his head.

“A majority of the films made in Kerala are by middle-class people. No filmmaker wants to talk of tribal issues, land-related problems, which are real incidents happening in Kerala. But their story should also be discussed. Of course, it is tragic that such movies are not well received; even government theatres in Kerala are not screening such films.”

Biju’s introduction to world cinema came at the Kerala International Film Festival not so long ago, when he saw Turkish and Iranian films; before that he was writing and publishing stories. “For the first time I saw movies that were not for mere entertainment. It was my first exposure to international films. I was moved by it and then started watching world classics.”

Saira was based on an instance when a media person was attacked by communal forces. His second film in the series was Biju’s response to the Iraq war. “While my first film was on governmental terrorism, the second was about the kind of aggressive terrorism by global giants like America; about how one country can make another country a terrorist and attack them. And the third was about the human relationships terrorists have.” Despite a lukewarm response to his kind of serious issue-based cinema, what inspires him to continue making them? “I think I’m making films for myself. My inner mind thinks I need to react to issues. I’m not thinking about the market. And my producers, luckily are on the same wavelength as I am. Film is a tool for social commitment, and I do it with an artistic honesty,” he says. He also believes that there is a niche audience in Kerala willing to watch such films. “I don’t expect a large audience, but those with a certain amount of sensitivity will come, watch, I hope.”

It hasn’t always been this easy to get producers, though. After he wrote his first script, it took him five years to make it into a film. “No producer was interested in a newcomer with no experience,” he laughs a bit. A homeopathic doctor, he took on his government job as a gazetted officer. “My first signature was for my salary certificate to take a loan to make my film,” he laughs again. But after five days of shooting the film, he ran out of money! A common friend of his and the film’s cameraman offered to finance the film. Biju and his friends financed the second film as well. “From the third movie on, it was easy. Now, producers approach me, but you need to get the right producer who understands this kind of cinema.”

Biju is also vociferous in his dislike of the contemporary Malayalam film industry. “There are a lot of young people making films that are not at all content driven. They are all entertainment. They don’t have a political or social attitude. There are a whole lot of youngsters making art house cinema too, but the irony is that their films don’t get a release, an audience, or theatres, neither are they acknowledged by the government.” TV channels too don’t offer much solace, insists Biju. “Kerala must be the only place where the TV industry says, ‘It’s a good movie, it’s an award-winning film, so we don’t need to buy it’. It’s still a star-oriented film industry.”


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Printable version | Sep 14, 2021 2:34:27 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/interview-with-bijukumar-damodaran/article6768003.ece

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