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Capital punishment is State-sponsored murder: Jiju Antony at Habitat Film Festival

Jiju Antony's directorial debut, Eli Eli Lama Sabachthani? (The Forsaken), delves into the psyche of violence and examines the city in all its darkness.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Jiju Antony’s directorial debut Eli Eli Lama Sabachthani? (The Forsaken) is a hard-hitting film that explores the nature of violence and human psyche. Produced by the film collective Kazhcha Chalachithra Vedi (Kazhcha Film Forum), the film is edited by Sanal Kumar Sasidharan and has been screened at festivals across the country.

The film was screened as part of the 13th Habitat Film Festival in New Delhi and was appreciated by audiences who engaged with the themes that the film explores.

The director and writer of the film, Jiju Anthony, spoke to us in an exclusive conversation at the festival. Excerpts.

Jiju Antony

Mumbai appears in the list of credits in your film. The city is a character in your film but do you attribute a lot of violence to the kind of lives that we live in the city?

I could have made this film in any city and in a village also, but as a filmmaker I get a lot more opportunities to tell the story convincingly in the city. For example, while we were shooting in Bandra, we had certain scenes where the dance-bar girl was actually the protagonist’s love interest.

For that we went to bandstand to get some pictures against Shah Rukh Khan’s house, Mannat, which is a popular selfie spot for couples. 50 metres into the beach, there were girls between 20-25 years, doing their daily chores with a bucket. So, there is such wide economic disparity within a very small geographical space, which creates frustration and anger. This is something I won’t get so easily in a village. So, while I could have made this film anywhere, I get so many more opportunities in the city.

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There was another scene where the boy escapes from the orphanage and we needed footage of the boy wandering in the city, so he was on the highway, at a truck stand, a railway station and nowhere did anyone turn to even ask him what he was doing alone at that time of the night. This kind of opportunity I won’t get in a village.

You’ve examined violence and its effects on the psyche wherein you’ve even looked at the desensitization of violence through cartoons watched by children. What led you to explore violence in your film?

I do not come from any film background but sometimes some things inspire you and my wife and I discussed why do children become violent. They are not born with violence so who is responsible? So, that is what I am trying to explore because it is us, it is society, our living environment.

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Us as socially determined beings...

Exactly. The initial title of the film was ‘My fault’ or ‘Mea Culpa’, which is another biblical reference and that’s where the movie was developed and this to me is nothing but society, the city. But, when I was about to announce the title, there was another Malayalam film announced with the same title and from the poster I felt that it was a very similar theme as well. Then I thought I’ll change my title to the one it is now, The Forsaken.

So what did Mea Culpa turn out to be finally?

They didn’t complete the film and the work stopped midway!

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You also said that you are against capital punishment and you wanted that to come out through the film but the deeds that the protagonist commits in the film are heinous and bestial. Capital punishment is for such rarest of the rare crimes.

What we need to do is not punish them but save them somehow. I do not have a solution, but I know that this is not right because aren’t we doing the same thing as what we are punishing these people for. That is why I have termed it as murder. That is why I showed it as murder. Because it is State sponsored murder. How different are we then? Why are we repeating the same crime that they did? What they need is help.

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You’ve experimented with narrative, form, colour in your film. Being a first-time director, how did you intertwine all this?

This was probably the only way I could have done the film. If I would have done a father-mother-child together, there is no film in that, no appeal in that. This is the only way I could narrate the film and after that all the experiment with colour, etc., fell into place organically, it was not superimposed. There are so many small things and instances in this film that as a filmmaker I don’t think I can surpass this film in terms of the writing.

Related topics

Habitat Film Festival