Director Kamal, from Kerala, is one of the country’s most accomplished filmmakers. The chairperson of the Chalachitra Academy and the director of the 22nd edition of the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK), Kamal’s films have won three National Awards so far.
TNM caught up with Kamal to discuss the IFFK, film censorship, the Avalkoppam campaign and more.
Where do you stand when it comes the current turmoil in the Malayalam film industry with the respect to the actor assault case? Do you endorse ‘Avvalkoppam’?
Dileep as an actor in the industry is an influential person. His wealth and stardom could have helped him achieve the status. Now there are people who don’t want to create a strong enemy in their professional life, which naturally leaves them tongue-tied. The reason why a lot of them find it difficult to stand by ‘Avvalkoppam’, is not necessarily because they don’t respect female co-workers.
Dileep’s issue is very personal to me. He worked with me as an assistant director, those were his initial days. I cannot deny that I have my personal equation with Dileep. The female actor is also a person of the same importance to me. But there is an injustice that has been inflicted on a woman here and I cannot be blind towards that. Therefore I will always stand with ‘Avvalkoppam’.
It’s hard to believe the Dileep that I know could possibly commit such an act. But I stress on my words here, the Dileep that I know is from several years back. I don’t know the Dileep who has grown to be as powerful as he is today.
The Supreme Court has recently said the rule that the national anthem be played before every film screening can be modified. Will IFFK see any changes?
Though the court has said that people need not stand up at a cinema hall to be perceived as patriotic, the final verdict has to come through the central government. The judiciary has asked the Centre to take a call and the ball is in their court now. Therefore the status quo regarding the issue remains and we are bound to maintain it. Otherwise it would be an act of contempt of court from our side.
Do you feel we need to stand up when national anthem is played at theatres to exhibit patriotism?
As an official who is part of the governmental institution, I am bound to respect and incorporate the decisions taken by the Centre. I see that as my responsibility which comes with the title I hold. Now, it is not to be forgotten that public theatre is a space for entertainment. If we were to respect the merit of our national anthem, it should not be played in just any public place. It should be played for occasions where it would be appropriate for it to be played.
As a citizen of this country, I believe that we need not wear patriotism on our sleeves. Don’t we all have a strong sense of belonging to our motherland? My life is rooted in India, from my grandparents to my parents, we all have lived our entire lives in this nation. An organised body, be it political or religious, which seem to have gained momentum out of nowhere, preaching the ways of life to people is not something that I can stomach. It doesn’t suit the fabric of a country like ours which adores the rich tradition of democracy.
Last year, the IFFK was disrupted by the police…
The police took charge and arrested people from the Nishagandhi auditorium last year as the issue would translate to contempt of court, going by the rules of SC then. I protested the move as Nishagandhi is not a public theatre, it’s an auditorium.
According to the SC, the police can only exercise their power in permanent theatre halls to arrest people if they violated the court’s order to stand up for the national anthem. For the forthcoming IFFK, the police will need to procure a special order from the court or I&B Ministry to enter the premises that they are barred from.
You were criticised for protesting the arrest in Nishagandhi theatre and called an anti-national. Did the abuse surprise you, coming as it did from a secular state like Kerala?
I have never faced such outrage from Kerala before. I wonder how a person like me was targeted, maybe because I identify with leftist movements and their ideologies. I was called an anti-national and was asked go to the Pakistan. These were threats made by the Hindutva brigade and such fringe elements who identify themselves with the political inclination of the ruling party. I must say that I got full support from the state government and in fact, the CM contacted me in person.
Fundamentalist religious groups that have branched out from Hinduism or Islam will always target cultural activists for they can influence the thoughts of a society. Cinema is an influential medium. To diffuse communalism into all levels of a society, disturbing the co-existence of religions, they have to create enemies. All the efforts are futile if an enemy is not projected. This is the reason why they create imaginary enemies, tag them as anti-nationals to morally demoralise them.
Kerala is a state that upholds the value of secularism and democracy. As long as I live in Kerala, such threat won’t keep silence me. I am not a person who gets shaken by fundamentalist forces.
What’s your take on the Padmavati row?
Movies were banned even decades ago. Hitler feared the creative and thinking space that cinema could invoke. So did Mussolini. All these big leaders have banned films. Writers and thinkers were banned. Kissa Kursi Ka was banned by the Indira Gandhi government during Emergency. I have vivid memory of protesting against it in my college days.
Building up such a negative environment to choke creative minds is a conscious creation. It should be understood as a method to hush the voices against the government. But in cinema today, most of us are against fascist forces. So their efforts to lure us into political advances and personal gains will only prove to be in vain.
The Padmavati row was actually let to swirl up into a controversy to distract our mind from the Gujarat elections. There are issues that need to be immediately discussed in Gujarat – GST and Demonetization can very well work against the government in the state. Common people have started to feel the heat of the government’s policies in Gujarat.
Isn’t it absurd to fight over the morality/modesty of a queen who lived centuries ago? Why is nobody showing the same vigour to express their anger over the girls who get raped today in India? This commotion will die down soon after the Gujarat elections.
What is the IFFk’s stand on not screening Sexy Durga?
Sexy Durga was chosen for the IFFK under the category ‘Malayalam Today’ package. The director of the film Sanal Kumar and the producer did not want to screen the film under the selected category. We had stalled the decision then.
Later, he had said that he doesn’t mind the screening of his film under the ‘Malayalam Today’ package and we arranged a special screening. That’s when the film was denied approval by the censor board. We cannot screen films that haven’t cleared censorship, unless we have special endorsement from I&B ministry.
I came across a post that challenged Sanal Kumar to title a film after his wife’s name and prefix the word ‘sexy’. The director’s response was interesting. He said his mother’s name is Saraswathy and wife’s name is Parvathy. Both are the names of goddesses. Thousands of girls are named after goddesses in this country. So if a sex worker is named after a goddess, they will say we can’t make a movie about her. I wonder how such issues can irk some minds.
Why don’t we have powerful women like Meera Nair or Deepa Mehta in our film industries? Do you face pressures from male actors to project them in a certain way?
Film industries are male dominated, not just in Kerala but across the country. Meera Nair and Deepa Mehta have established themselves as contemporary Indian female directors based out of foreign countries.
I have never faced issues in my workspace as I don’t believe in creating superstars. I don’t believe in the concept of a superstar. If at all there is a hero in the film, it has to be the script.
My films speak my mind – Mohanlal is portrayed as an ordinary man who loses his life at the end of the movie in Unnikale Kathaparayam. Mammootty, one of the most glamorous faces in the industry, was portrayed in a deglamourized role in Karuthapakshikal. If I were to make a film for a hero, I would rather prefer not to film it.
What kind of research has gone into your next project, Aami?
I have always been a big fan of Madhavikutty since my childhood. I have read almost all her books in my college days. And the passion continued with the English poems of Kamala Das. Her idea of feminism has always attracted me. She is in fact the most celebrated feminist that Kerala has seen.
She has changed the idea of a woman with her writing and she was seen as a woman who embraced unconventional ways of life. The Madhavikutty that I have understood was a typical Malayali woman of those times who lived a simple life. Now I feel that casting Manju could not have been more appropriate as it will reflect the life of Madhavikutty just right and keep the project rooted.
Her lifestyle did not speak of any extraordinary style, but her thoughts did. And she created a world of fantasy in which she carved her idea of a valiant woman.
It only gets more interesting as one gets closer to her thoughts on religion. She was never god fearing, god to her was always a friend. Like she said, she could slip in and off different religions with the ease of getting into different costumes. She had a bigger understanding of love, religion and god.
For the same reasons, I can strongly say that when she converted to Islam it was a decision that she took with her mind in it. It would be absurd to call it love jihad for Madhavikutty is simply beyond controversies.