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Interview Malayalam

KIFF 2017: 'Important to do what we can without worrying what we can achieve'

Padmakumar Narasimhamurthy, director of the much-loved A Billion Colour Story, speaks about his film and his hopes and fears for his own son.

Director Padmakumar Narasimhamurthy. Photo: Kazhcha Film Forum

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Padmakumar Narasimhamurthy’s A Billion Colour Story (2017) features a sensitive, precocious child who lives a regular, carefree life. As social circumstances begin to change, his family has to deal with living in an increasingly polarized world where religious intolerance begins to cast a shadow on their happy lives. The film offers an engaged view of the society we live in, asking for greater tolerance and harmony among communities.

Padmakumar's film received stupendous response from the audience. Many members of the audience were moved to tears while others congratulated the filmmaker and thanked him for making the film. They appreciated the deep bond between the child and his parents shown in the film and some of the themes in the film resonated deeply with the audience.

In a conversation with Cinestaan.com, the filmmaker spoke about the current situation in the country and the significance of a festival like the Kazhcha Indie Film Festival (KIFF). Excerpts:

Your film received such fantastic response and the audience really connected with it. Has this been the reception everywhere the film has been screened?

It’s always emotional to see such a response. It has been unanimous across four continents. We have got the audience award at almost all the festivals that we took the film to — Palm Springs, LA, London, France, it has been like that, but more than that people have really resonated with it. I think it is rare for a filmmaker to have people come to him and say, “Thank you for making this film”, which is very heartening.

We see that response for your film here also, as parents seem to have really connected with it. And while your film addresses the growing intolerance in the country, at its core it is about a father-son relationship.

Yes, in the end it is a father-and-son, parent-and-child relationship. I think it’s a question in the minds of every parent on the planet, that what is the world my child will inherit. I have worried about it ever since my son was born because we have brought him up without a religious fibre in his body. We have told him that everybody is the same, everybody is good, find the good in people. And, increasingly, I worry that that may not be the survival technique for him on an increasingly polarized planet. But we don’t want him to change. He is now 14 and he is a gentleman with no trace of racism or sexism or communalism, nothing, because he is pure and he just loves playing his games, sports, music, and his parents. And I just wonder what’s going to happen. What if something were to happen to me tomorrow?

How much of the film was personal? In the morning you spoke of it having been made on a frayed, shoestring budget and putting in your own money.

Putting in my own money is the only bit that has some resonance in the film.

What about the bits where the filmmaker [in the film] is asked to change almost everything about his film as he is trying to get funds?

No, I didn’t face that. I’m very lucky that way because I made this film, screened it for a couple of people, and then it went to Busan. It got picked up from there and I started getting invited to all the festivals. So I did not go through a financial struggle as such, though I put in everything I had.

Did you think of approaching people for funding? Or were you very clear that you wanted to fund it yourself?

I was very clear that I didn’t want to waste my time getting funds. Part of it was also that because my son was in it, I wanted to chronicle and capture him the way he was then. He was 12 when we shot the film. So if I had gone to a producer he would have asked me to use particular actors etc, which would have lengthened the process, which I did not want. I had a lot of friends — the main lead in the film is an FTII [Film and Television Institute of India] graduate and a fantastic actor. A lot of people who volunteered to be part of it really believed in the project, so I had those things and I had to spend on production, which I did and made it happen. 

Well, your son is fantastic in the film.

To his credit, he is also playing a character that is not too far away from the way he is in real life. And think about it, his father was directing and shooting the film, so that comfort is there, and I am also not an intimidating father. So there was no problem at all for him.

The film is from the perspective of a child and the ways in which a child perceives the world, understands it, and engages with it. You have also offered nuanced ways of looking at India, religion, and understanding what’s going on currently through a child’s eyes, so have you shown the film to children?

I have shown it to children, a hall full of 12-year-olds, and the response has been amazing. There is nothing more that I would like than to take it across to schools and even colleges. I have had a tremendous response from colleges, so I would really like to screen this for youngsters. I don’t know what will happen with the older generation, as so many of them are so set in their ways.

I feel your film has resonated with like-minded people because so many of us are depressed or frustrated with what’s going on in this country, and while we know there are like-minded people, we seem to have descended into a state of despair.

They say this in Buddhism that you have to either let other people’s light overpower your darkness or make your light overpower other people’s darkness and that’s really what needs to happen. Right now, there is more darkness than light and I think somewhere the light has to grow or at least spread. What you are saying is absolutely right, that there are a lot of us out there but unable to find a voice maybe. We are also giving in to the darkness where we are saying, well, what can we do?

My next film is about a similar thing. It’s set in Sri Lanka amidst the Tamil-Sinhalese conflict, but it’s again a metaphor for the same thing.

Your film is also very important in the context of the conversations we have been having at the festival because these are films that weren’t picked up at several festivals and we wouldn’t get to see them otherwise. Tell me how you came on board the Kazhcha fest.

I met Sanal [Kumar Sasidharan] at the Indian Film Festival of LA. I saw Sexy Durga and told him I would be lying if I told you I liked your film because it made me so uncomfortable and made me sit on the edge of my seat. We got along from that moment and my film won the audience award there and he told me then that he will make sure my film is seen in Kerala in many places. In fact, around that time my film was the opening film at the National Film Festival of Kerala at Kodungallur, where it had great audience response, but that was that.

But Sanal said we should hit the road and show the film everywhere and he is a person I really believe in. He is an activist, I am an activist too, but he is very strident and I am a big admirer of that, so when he told me about the festival and wanted my film, I said of course, you don’t even have to ask.

And what do you think of the conversations we are having at the festival where all of you have come together and are changing the rules of the game?

I don’t think we should delude ourselves that it’s the beginning of a new wave or a huge change, but it is incremental and it’s important for us to do what we can without thinking about what we can achieve. That is how I made this film too. I thought I could make this film. I had no clue where it is going to go and what I’m going to do with it. I am approaching my next film also like that. With all the awards this film won, I’m telling myself it’s beginner’s luck. It’s first time lucky.

But that’s not being the optimist you just claimed to be!

No, I feel that one should always underpromise and do every damn thing you can. So I’m going to really work hard on it and hope that it turns out okay. There are lots of issues with this film technically. I hope to get the technical aspects right with my next film. I am almost afraid of committing to success. I think I can just do the work and hope it turns out fine. I will do everything possible to ensure it turns out true to the vision, but whether people like it is a matter of luck.

Thank you and all the very best for your next film.

Related topics

Kazhcha Indie Film Festival