International Film Festival of India 2016

A leap of imagination bridges miles

Writer Perumpadavam Sreedharan, CPI(M) Polit Bureau Member M A Baby, Shiny Jacob Benjamin, Baby Mathew and Paul Zakaria after the Screening of the Docu-Feature Film "In Return : Just a Book" by Shiny Jacob Benjamin, inspired by the Novel "Oru Sankeerthanam Pole" on Fydor Dostoevsky by Perumbadavom Sreedharan, in Thiruvananthapuram. Photo S.Mahinsha   | Photo Credit: S.Mahinsha

For Malayalam writer Perumbadavam Sreedharan, Russia came mediated through the words of Fyodor Dostoevsky.

From his teens, when he read Crime and Punishment over sleepless nights to his fifties, in 1993, when he started penning Oru Sankeerthanam Pole (Like a Psalm) on the 21 days in Dostoevsky’s life when he was writing The Gambler, Mr. Sreedharan did not have a glimpse of Russia. Yet, he carved the place out convincingly in his immensely popular work.

Now, 23 years after the novel was written, Mr. Sreedharan has travelled to St.Petersburg, the home town of Dostoevsky, which the protagonist Raskolnikov describes in Crime and Punishment as “a city of half-crazy people... there are few places where you’ll find so many gloomy, harsh and strange influences on the soul of a man as in St Petersburg.”

With Mr. Sreedharan was a documentary crew, to capture the strange influences on his soul as he encountered a place, which he had seen only in his imagination for decades. The docu-fiction In Return: Just a Book, directed by Shiny Jacob Benjamin, follows Mr. Sreedharan through the streets, the alleyways, inside the house of his favourite writer and amid his own characters, on his dream-fulfilling journey.

“I never felt like I was in a place I have never visited. It all seemed familiar to me,” says the 77-year old writer.

The film, shot in Kerala and St. Petersburg, has been selected to feature in the Indian panorama section of the upcoming International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in the documentary (non-fiction) category. Penning the script was another of Malayalam’s major writers, Paul Zacharia.

“I had imagined penning this to be an impossible task, but it has come together well,” he says.

Mr. Sreedharan’s book chronicles Dostoevsky’s affair with his stenographer Anna Snitkina over those 21 days, a period during which he was deeply mired in debt and was facing the prospect of a heavy penalty, if he failed to finish the book on time.

In the film, the scenes from the book are acted out by Russian actors, with Mr. Sreedharan sometimes walking dreamily through the scenes.

The initial scenes are set in the writer’s village in Kerala, where we see him going about his routine, taking the cow to graze, working in his fields and writing. It was perhaps meant to convey to us the leap of imagination that was required of this man, to write about life thousands of miles away.

“For me, it was a challenging journey with three writers — Dostoevsky who lived in the 19th century, Perumbadavam who wrote his novel in 1993 and Zacharia who wrote the script in 2016. It was worth the while,” says Ms. Benjamin.

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Printable version | Jun 12, 2021 7:01:28 AM |

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