'Kanthan' is on the social disregard towards tribal people: Director Shareef to TNM

Director Shareef Easa, whose 'Kanthan' won the state award for best film, talks about the problems of the tribal people of Wayanad that inspired him to make the film on them, with social worker Daya Bai in the lead.
'Kanthan' is on the social disregard towards tribal people: Director Shareef to TNM
'Kanthan' is on the social disregard towards tribal people: Director Shareef to TNM
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It took a lot of persuasion but social worker Daya Bai at last agreed to be part of the film Shareef Easa was doing. He knew he needed a woman like her who had uplifted the lives of so many tribal people to play a strong character in Kanthan – The Lover of Colour, his first feature film. Now, with the Kerala State Award for Best Film coming for Kanthan, Shareef’s story has suddenly become sought after.

One paper wrote that Shareef tapped rubber for a living. But Shareef does not say that when TNM calls him. “I used to work as a reporter for Deshabhimani, now I am a programme producer at a district channel. I also do wedding photography,” he says. The district is Kannur, the land he grew up in, loving theatre. Even as a child in school, he directed plays and won awards at school youth festivals.

“That’s something I love and do even now – at the village library and all, I still stage plays,” Shareef says. He has never been trained in theatre or films. It is a short film that he first directed – Section 376 – based on the Nirbhaya incident. Kanthan was also originally scripted as a short film, but with a slightly different thought. “It was going to be based on the Rohith Vemula tragedy, but when I heard about the tribal lives in Wayanad and their many problems, the script became about that, and much longer. Even then, the basic idea remained the same – about the politics of the colour of your skin,” Shareef says.

Shareef Easa

His actors, other than Daya Bai, are the tribal people about whom the film is. It is their lives, he says, and they needed no special training to put that before a camera. “It is about the total disregard that the society has for them, and the efforts they make to protect the forest. They are the children of the forests and they are being evicted. It is also about their faith and their rituals,” the director says.

The original script was in Malayalam but parts of it got changed to Ravula, the language the tribal community he worked with spoke among themselves. To the outsiders, they speak Malayalam, but among themselves they comfortably switch to Ravula. It is this language that Daya Bai too speaks, having learnt it for the film.

Kanthan, which was selected for the Indian Cinema competition category of the Kolkata International Film Festival, was not, however, chosen for last year’s International Film Festival of Kerala. 

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