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Habitat 2019: In my stories, only the darkness lets one see the light, says Sanal K Sasidharan

Sanal Kumar Sasidharan, who presented his latest film Unmadiyude Maranam (Death Of An Insane) on the opening day of the 14th Habitat Film Festival, spoke on filmmaking, censorship and his own career.

Sanal Kumar Sasidharan in conversation with journalist Amrith Lal. Courtesy: Habitat Film Club

Yatharth Vohra

Characterized by a typical director-like black beard, a sombre soreness and yet a constant smile, Sanal Kumar Sasidharan managed to please listeners and the interviewer at the 'In Conversation With' segment on the second day of the 14th Habitat Film Festival with his thoughtfulness and witty responses.

The exchange was full of revelations, with senior journalist Amrith Lal prising valuable opinions out of his interviewee. He pointed out that Sanal Kumar liked to work with the same cast and crew, which is how he can produce films at low budgets.

The response surprised most people, when Sanal declared that filmmaking is a simple process, at least now. Some movies have even been shot entirely on an iPhone. He admitted to being 'vague' at scene descriptions, which necessitates a 'mental connection' between the director and his artistes, possible only when he chooses people from within his friend circle, he reasoned.

Unlike many others, Sanal Kumar is not formally trained in filmmaking, and disclosed that his family was not supportive of him working in cinema. Prodded again by an audience member with familial questions — of their acceptance of his work and celebration of his success — he became evasive and pacified the crowd by saying he was happy and has two children.

Sanal spoke of his rollercoaster ride — from founding his film society in 2001 to making short films to his work in Saudi Arabia. Nothing seemed to work out until he began writing his blog, where he posted three poems a day and made numerous virtual friends, who encouraged him to pursue his dreams and enter the industry.

Sanal Kumar Sasidharan. Courtesy: Habitat Film Club

Amrith Lal questioned him about his heavy reliance on crowdfunding to make his films, dubbing him a 'product of social media'. He joked that the director is a threat to the Malayalam film industry because he has considerably brought down the average budget, to a range of Rs15–25 lakh per film. Sanal confessed that people had advised him to inflate his costs so as not to cause problems for his next film's budget, but he said he found no reason to do so.

The debate on censorship is close to his heart. His S Durga (2018) was originally titled Sexy Durga, for which reason it was dropped from the International Film Festival of India. Thus, his views on the subject are quite firm. When the topic was introduced by Amrith Lal, Sanal Kumar said he believes any censorship goes against constitutional values. According to him, a progressive society emerges from free speech.

In the end, Amrith Lal, associate editor at The Indian Express newspaper, praised the filmmaker's ability to bring dark elements into his films, progressively intensifying with each film. To this, Sanal replied, "While rowing a boat, we need to move the oar backwards. That's why in my stories, only the darkness lets one see the light."

Related topics

Habitat Film Festival Censorship