Interview
In an interview to TNM, director Leela Santhosh speaks about her first independent film, Wayanad and the legendary Karinthandan.

Leela Santhosh is on the verge of fulfilling her dream of becoming an independent filmmaker. 

On Thursday, Leela, who is from Kerala's tribal community, stands one step closer to her dream, with the first-look poster of her independent venture Karinthandan releasing online. 

The film will tell the story of Karinthandan, the tribal leader and chieftain of the Paniya tribal community in Wayanad. State-award winning actor Vinayakan will portray the role of the fiery tribal leader in the film.

A native of Wayanad district, the stories of Karinthandan filled Leela's childhood days and the 32-year-old is now excited that she can share the story of Karinthandan's life with the outside world. 

"There has always been this legend in Wayanad, about the life of Karinthandan. There are so many myths and stories about him and I am trying to weave a story using those details. Karinthandan's life is synonymous with the forest and I want to faithfully re-tell his story. His story is something that I have heard since I was young and those stories stayed with me as I grew up," Leela says. 

Who is Karinthandan? 

A character from legend, Karinthanan is believed to have lived sometime between 1700 - 1750 AD. He is the one who is believed to have showed the way to build a road to the Western Ghats in the Wayanad hills. According to the stories, the Viceroy declared a reward for the person who could build a road across the Wayanad churam (hairpin). Karinthandan knew the hillside in and out and often helped tourists find their way in the hill. A British engineer took Karinthandan along and led him to the peak, where he shot him dead. But the people of Wayanad continued to believe that Karinthandan was alive. 

According to believers, Karinthandan's soul began to haunt the people and a sorcerer was called in to chain it to a banyan tree. This tree began to be known as Changala maram - the chain tree. 

Karinthandan's story has largely been part of the tales passed on from one generation to the next. 

Since the project is in its initial stages, Leela remains tight-lipped about what aspects of Karinthandan the audience will get to see in the film. 

"There are so many stories and myths about him and the interesting one of all is Karinthandan himself. That's exactly why I chose this character to do my first film," Leela laughs. 

The most challenging aspect about writing a film about Karinthandan's life, says Leela, was to build up the character from the bits and pieces of information that were passed on from previous generations. 

"To be honest, I could not base my research on any book or other reference material. Because there is absolutely no documented history about Karinthandan's life. What is there are stories that people have been told by their ancestors. There's no photo of him, you won't see any reference of Karinthandan in any history books," Leela explains. 

The film is being produced by Collective Phase One and the shooting is scheduled to begin by January next year. It took Leela close to three years to finish the script for the film. 

Through this film, Leela hopes that the prejudices that people harbour against the tribal communities in Wayanad, will change. 

"For the general public, their idea of a tribal person is someone who lived in forest caves before, and is now someone who is a drunkard. That's how people see us; they think tribal people are not intelligent, that they are lesser humans. Through this film, I believe I can change the way people perceive the tribal communities," Leela says. 

Leela, who has previously worked as assistant director and made several documentaries, has not received any formal training in filmmaking. She studied in an organisation called Kanavu, that was run by a director and a social activist, where she was initiated into the world of filmmaking.