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|August 22, 2000||
'I wanted to change Western opinion of Indian films'
In mythology and, more specifically, in the intense relationship between Arjuna and Subhadra, Shaji N Karun found the core theme of his national award winning film, Vaanaprastham. And Kathakali was just an eloquent means of "self-expression".
WithVaanaprastham, Shaji Karun aimed to change the Western opinion of Indian cinema. And he claims, with pride, that he did it. A conversation with the film-maker:
How did you arrive at the concept of Vaanaprastham? What made you concentrate only on Arjuna and Subhadra?
Arjuna for me is someone who isn't aware of his abilities, but is used by others for those very abilities. For example, Krishna. But the battle of Mahabharata was won because of him. So there is an identity crisis there.
And though Arjuna was married to Panchali, his relationship with Subhadra was different. It had a deeper, philosophical element to it. Though Subhadra and Arjun had never met each other, they knew each other through letters, through people. Both were exceptionally intelligent. Subhadra, for her part, was a woman with a strong concept of right and wrong. The two deeply respected each other. Their son, Abhimanyu, was immensely intelligent, too, having heard the story of the Chakravyuh while still in the womb. Intelligence, here, had a philosophical connotation which appealed to me.
I had to convey that in two hours -- a very difficult task. It was a complex film and a total challenge for me. It must have been difficult for people to understand, too. The Western audience had no clue who Arjuna or Subhadra were. I wanted them to understand our philosophy, our mythology. For them, this kind of dance form is called 'mime'. For us, it is a kind of self-expression.
What was their opinion of the film?
They want to probe everything they don't understand. That was a blessing for me. The audience was small, but whoever came, understood what was said. I aimed to change their opinion of our films. And I think I managed that.
I am sure in another ten years, everyone will be aware of all the kinds of films. Even the so-called regional ones. Cinema is a universal language, after all.
How was it working with a French crew?
Difficult. They don't understand our lights, our stories, our climate... It was difficult for me as a cinematographer, so I can imagine what they must have gone through. In fact, Santosh Sivan came in halfway and shot the rest of the film.
Mohanlal is a totally different person. If Mohanlal were any other commercial actor, he would never plunge into a film like Vaanaprastham. He knew he was going lose money on this film, but he still went ahead with it.
He is a collector. He collects a lot of curios. He is very philosophical, and that came in handy here. Basically his attitude of good and bad is totally different. That's why he wanted to make this film.
You never had any doubts about him considering he wasnít a Kathakali dancer?
Not at all. I have a lot of confidence in him. He is completely committed to his role. I've worked with him before as a cinematographer. I found that he is aware about other areas of film-making. He would make suggestions not from his point of view, but from that of the film, which I found very interesting.
He took up Kathakali as a challenge. People were sceptical about his image -- he is a superstar. But he is an actor, too. I still believe I haven't been able to exploit even 50 per cent of his talent in Vaanaprastham. He has rare grace -- that made my job easy. When a singer has a beautiful voice, that's half the job taken care of.
What is your next film about?
I plan to take the germ of T Padmanabhan's short story, Kadal (sea), for my next film. The woman in the story does not understand why her husband doubting her. It's all in the mind.
I remember you once said you were going to make a film on the life of a painter?
That's there at the back of my mind. In today's consumerist world, ability is not enough. Unless you promote yourself, you donít reach anywhere. A senior artist would never tell people about a young artist for fear of losing his place and being overshadowed.
Do you plan to blend the two stories in one film?
Yes, I do. Kadal has been shortlisted by a Korean fund. I plan to go there next month for further negotiations. The size of the film depends on the funds available. Jaya Bachchan will be the main character of the film, the mother. I once asked her whether she'd be interested in working for this film. She wrote back, saying 'Just let me know when you want me to come there'!
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