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Excerpt: Travelling with Santosh Sivan to his roots


With the thriller Spyder, starring Mahesh Babu and filmed by Santosh Sivan, being released, we revisit the ace cinematographer-director's advice to youngsters from the book, Directors’ Diaries – The Road to Their First Film.

Santosh Sivan. Photo: Rakesh Anand Bakshi

Rakesh Anand Bakshi

In the book Directors’ Diaries – The Road to Their First Film, ace cinematographer-director Santosh Sivan gives valuable advice to youngsters. As Sivan returns in his cinematographer avatar with this week's bilingual, Spyder, here's an excerpt from the book written by Rakesh Anand Bakshi. The film, directed by AR Murugadoss and starring Mahesh Babu, has been released in Telugu and Tamil today.

Excerpt follows:

‘Cinematography evolves so fast. Just like there is a new sunrise each day, every day a new technology arrives and that is why it is and will remain a challenging profession. Therefore, you need to remain a student, and if you do, your dedication will reflect in your work. The same holds true for film-making.’ — Santosh Sivan

A sneak peek at his past:

Born and brought up in Kerala; assisted photographer father Sivan Sanganer Nair during school and college years; graduated from the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune; directed first documentary The Story Of Tiblu in 1988; first films as cinematographer: Nidhiyude Katha (1986) and the Hindi film Raakh (1989); first film as director: Halo (1996). From his first film as cinematographer to his first film as director, it took him 10 years.

Rakesh Anand Bakshi with Santosh Sivan

I asked Santosh, "What would you like to share about your career or life so far, particularly with the young readers of this book for whom a longer stretch of life lies ahead?"

Santosh Sivan: Firstly, you have to believe in yourself. If you do not believe in what you want to do, no one is going to believe in you. Discouragement and frustration are bound to surface every now and then. Let them. You know what’s best for you. Your experiences are your best teachers. You have to be convinced that this is what you want your life to be. Whatever problems others might create for you on your chosen path, try to build on them and do not build a wall from it.

(Thinks) I will tell you about an incident in Andhra Pradesh while I was shooting The Story Of Tiblu. One day, while we were in the thick forest, the path tracker, a tribal, looked very worried after seeing something on the ground. He began to whisper something in the ears of his friends and then all of them looked worried. I asked them what the matter was, and they said the tracker had seen the fresh footprints of a tiger. I was petrified and asked them what we should do if we saw the tiger? They advised me, ‘Run very fast and climb the tallest tree because tigers cannot jump high.’

They could see I was very worried. I said, ‘We better go and climb the tree right away, because I do not know if I can run fast and climb a tree too.’ The tracker said, ‘No problem sir, when you see a tiger, you will learn how to run very fast, and you will also learn how to climb a tree very fast!’ This is what I kept in mind when I met John Malkovich, when I made The Terrorist (1998). I just jumped into the project without knowing anything about terrorism. I learnt to run and climb along the way (smiles).

Another lesson I learnt was, when I followed the route of the great river Brahmaputra: the deeper and wider the roots, the more value a tree had for the people who live there, because that tree would not get washed away. I now understand that it is our roots that will anchor us and help us survive when emotional storms hit us, like flood-hit trees. I also feel that not everything in life is visible and that everything has mystery. If you see a tree, its roots are hidden. A baby in the womb has gone through an entire life in the womb and the mystery of its earlier life, its hidden lifetime, is always there. We are just not conscious or aware of it. That is the kind of understanding I attempt to bring to my work. And last but not the least, I would like to tell any student of photography, cinematography, direction, or any artistic field: worship light (smiles).

This excerpt is part of a selection made specially for Cinestaan.com readers by Rakesh Anand Bakshi from his anthology on 12 eminent directors, Directors’ Diaries – The Road to Their First Film, published by HarperCollins India.