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Interview Malayalam

Unmadiyude Maranam is a totally political film, a propaganda film even: Sanal Kumar Sasidharan

Controversial independent filmmaker Sanal Kumar Sasidharan speaks about his latest work, the issues it engages with, why he is never satisfied with any of his films and why it is important to look within.

Sanal Kumar Sasidharan. Courtesy: Habitat Film Club

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s latest film Unmadiyude Maranam, or Death Of An Insane, received a stupendous response at a screening on the opening day of the 14th Habitat Film Festival in New Delhi on Friday.

The experimental film is Sanal Kumar's fourth feature and follows Sexy Durga (2018), the only Indian film to have won the Hivos Tiger award at the 2017 International Film Festival, Rotterdam.

However, that film ran into trouble with the censors in India on account of its title and was unceremoniously dropped from the Indian Panorama at the 48th International Film Festival of India that year.

What followed was an example of the ways in which the state exercises censorship on art and artistic vision. The film was only released in theatres last year after the title had been truncated to the anodyne and quite senseless S Durga.

Sanal Kumar addresses some of these concerns in his latest film. Unmadiyude Maranam explores the power of dreams and what happens when dreams are censored in contemporary society. In an exclusive interview with Cinestaan.com, the director spoke about the genesis of the film and his ideas as a filmmaker. Excerpts:

How did the idea for this film come to you?

From the beginning I wanted to make something very different. In Oraalppokkam (2014) also I tried to do something different, but it didn’t come out the way I had thought. Every film I think, once you finish it, you find that it is not as good as what you had thought.

I was thinking of making another film, not something I had made like S Durga. S Durga also had no story, only a concept. I had no script, only six pages of points I had noted of things I wanted.

In the case of Unmadiyude Maranam, I had an idea of making something that says something about the political undercurrents, about current society and how it is going, and the future of this country. It is totally a political film, it is a propaganda film maybe… maybe it can be called an art film. I was making something to communicate what was going on in my mind about our country.

It is difficult to categorize your film, as you also said. It is abstract and there are elements of fiction interspersed with video footage. Did you have a form in mind while making the film?

I had a form. In the beginning [of the film], the title comes with smoke — that was the idea, it has no form. Actually, ideas have no form, they come and develop and turn into another kind of identity and when you realize that you have achieved a form, you find it growing into another space. I don’t think I had some form in my mind while I was making the film. In fact, I was shooting the film while I was travelling. Most of the visuals in the film were shot when I was travelling with S Durga, so I shot in Armenia, some shots in Europe, the Himalayas.

What has the reception of the film been like?

I really don’t know. I don’t believe people when I am present for the screenings because most of the time people hesitate to say what they feel. I don’t take it seriously when people say it is a great film because I feel people need time to 'get' the film. Not only for appreciating it, but for criticizing it also, it takes time. I also don’t take criticism that comes immediately [after watching a film] seriously.

It is okay for me. I am not happy with any of the films I have made. I know there are a lot of good elements, but I fail at some points to bring it out the way I had dreamed.

Sanal Kumar Sasidharan at the Habitat Film Festival. Courtesy: Habitat Film Club

So the film is not completely as you visualized it?

But it is okay because I am not that much disappointed even though I am not happy. Film is like that. It is not a one-man show. It is group work and besides people, nature is engaging in it, time is engaging in it, so most of the time, it is out of our control. So sometimes I feel it is magic. Sometimes something comes more than what you had imagined and you appreciate it at that moment and that is magic. And I feel that is the magic of cinema.

You are such a prolific filmmaker. We saw S Durga a year ago and now you are travelling with Unmadiyude Maranam and your next film Chola is also ready. Is it that your ability to make films cannot keep pace with your imagination and urgent desire to make films?

Really, I have a lot of ideas and I scribble them down. People say I should wait and give time before going to the next film, but I don’t believe in that. It is an organic thing, like walking, eating, it will happen. Sometimes something may not happen even if you try, so you try and if it is to happen, it will happen. That trying means you are thinking about it and your endeavour is to make something and you have a goal.

So you believe in destiny?

Maybe. It is not a godly thing, but a lot of things are connected. Everything is connected and maybe people are connected and ideas are connected and events are connected, so you cannot deny the connections. 

In this past year, several filmmakers have come out against the current government. You are one of them. Unmadiyude Maranam engages with censorship, the clamping down on freedom, and the stifling of ideas. Will your forthcoming works continue to address these concerns?

Actually, the issue of freedom and the supremacy of power does not come from government. It comes from ourselves. You are dominant in your family and the government tries to dominate you. It’s that simple. So unless you try to tell the stories of the individual, the last unit of society, you cannot tell the story of the political scenario.

There is no point talking about political undercurrents, you have to talk about the mindset of the people and you have to look into yourself. There are a lot of flaws in me and I need to see them. Maybe all artists observe themselves and express it. So I don’t think one always looks outside; one has to look within as well. In all my films, there is a viewpoint that looks into me.

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Habitat Film Festival