Interview Malayalam

Meet Ramabhadran B, the filmmaker behind the short documentary Thankamma

The young independent filmmaker from Kerala speaks with about his crowdfunded short documentary, Thankamma (2016), that is travelling the world.

Photo: Ramabhadran B

Sonal Pandya

A simple, inspirational Malayalam documentary, Thankamma (2016), of under 15 minutes, has journeyed across the globe. Made by a 22-year-old soft-spoken independent filmmaker, Ramabhadran B, the heartening film is about a determined nonagenarian who ferries the people of Alappuzha, Kerala.

Thankamma review: Make way for the ferry-woman

The documentary was screened in the National Competion section at the 15th Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF) on 29 January 2018. Ramabhadran B spoke with about his journey as a filmmaker and how he made the sincere film, the money for which was crowdfunded from his institute.

Ramabhadran B initially got his degree in Physics, but realized the field wasn’t meant for him. “I’m a beginner in films. After doing BSc in Physics, I thought this is not my place,” he said.

He gave a written exam for the KR Narayanan National Institute of Visual Science and Arts in Kottayam, established by the government of Kerala. He completed his diploma in audiography in one of the first batches of students at the institute. In 2016, the talented artist also created a sound installation of a dog waiting for its master during a flood at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.

Thankamma (2016) was shot over six months as he was pursuing his diploma at the institute.

“This was not my project really. It is an independent crowdfunded film. Parallelly, I made this film when I studied. It was crowdfunded by friends and faculties at the KR Narayanan National Institute of Visual Science and Arts, around Rs10,000,” he explained.

"We used it for equipment rental. The technicians were all my friends, I didn’t pay them. The only expense [we had] was for our daily consumption for food and the payment for the old lady Thankamma. That was it,” he added.

He was inspired to make the documentary after reading a report in a newspaper on International Women’s Day (8 March). “She had a different attitude. She ferrys a boat, not for the money. She gets from Rs10 to Rs50. I think she only wants [the basics] – tea or soap,” he stated.

Photo: Ramabhadran B

The short film on Thakamma seems to have struck a chord across the world. Ramabhadran B said that MIFF was actually the 15th film festival where it was shown. Prior to this, it has been screened at Canada’s Concordia Film Festival, Venice’s Ca’ Foscari Short Film Festival where it screened in the International Competition section, and Bulgaria’s Early Bird International Students Film Festival. It was also previewed at the Alamat Party, a small side section of Venice Biennale.

He shared that the 91-year-old lady,Thankamma, was happy to be the subject of his film but was a bit confused about the overall success of the film nationally and internationally.  

Unfortunately, after the film wrapped, Thankamma had to give up on ferrying passengers due to a leg injury. She now lives with a nephew and Ramabhadran B is still in touch with her.

He continues screening the short at various film festivals and tells that he “wants to try scripting a fiction feature film. I have already done short fiction documentaries. The next dream is feature films."

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Mumbai International Film Festival