Directors Rahman Brothers are behind ‘Vasanthi’ and ‘Chavittu’, two films which have won state awards in consecutive years.

Black and white image of Rahman Brothers, standing in the open, Sajas on the left with beard and long hair, Shinos on the right with a balding head and beardSajas and Shinos Rahman
Flix Interview Saturday, June 25, 2022 - 16:40

Uphill a bylane in Thiruvananthapuram, in a little hall called Lenin Balavadi, there is a surprisingly good number of people to watch a couple of parallel films on a Sunday afternoon. A little past 5, one of the films, Vasanthi, has just been screened, and among the folks scampering in and out of the hall are its two filmmakers, actor and organisers of the film show. The filmmakers are two men – brothers Shinos and Sajas, known together as the Rahman Brothers, from Aluva. The brothers, along with Swasika who played their ‘Vasanthi’ and the organisers of the Banner Film Festival, screening the films, interact with an emotional audience, who, unlike in a regular movie house, come forward to say what touched them the most.

No one in the audience seems to be new to the kind of cinema Banner has been promoting – independent and experimental features that often don’t find space in a film theatre. The Rahman brothers, seated in front of the viewers, introduce themselves like newcomers, even though they are three films old. The second screening that evening – Chavittu – is their newest, a film which won four state awards this year. Award winning appears to have become a habit for these siblings, who decided to combine their skills to make films they believed in.

“I come from an editing background and have worked with editors in mainstream cinema for 10 to 12 years. My brother Sajas went to the school of drama to learn direction and later worked with light design in theatre. After years of doing our respective jobs, we decided to come together to make films, inspired by the kind of cinema we began watching as children, in film societies of Aluva,” says Shinos, the elder of the two.

Still from Chavittu

He spoke to TNM on a Wednesday, three days after the Thiruvananthapuram screening. The brothers have in the meantime rushed to Palakkad with their films for another screening. They seem happy with small gatherings of people who enjoy and appreciate the work they do. “We grew up watching films screened by film societies, and in libraries. At one time, we had a vibrant parallel stream in Malayalam cinema, from a small set of filmmakers like Aravindan, Pavithran, Backer, John Abraham, Shaji N Karun and Adoor Gopalakrishnan. When we began making films, we didn’t want them to be merely entertaining. We didn’t, to put it differently, want a ‘product’ but something through which we could personally express ourselves and enjoy a freedom in that process. This way we're not dependent on how much money the film makes but are happy making it and showing it to a bunch of people who appreciate it,” Shinos says.

Chavittu, they know, is not everyone’s cup of tea. There is a huge presence of theatre within the film, years of work by Sajas finding its way into the making. In the film, a theatre group – a real life one called Little Earth, based in Kalavara of Koottanad in Palakkad – has reached a venue of celebration, a gathering of a Residents Association. All through the film, you watch the theatre group rehearse not inside the hall, but in various indoor and outdoor settings where they take their story to. You find yourself tapping your feet as the team dances to ‘Njangade paatu poyaal, njangal paadiyedukum’ – if our song is lost, we will sing and get it back. Arun Lal, who plays himself, is the real life choreographer in Little Theatre, who won the State Award for best choreography for Chavittu.

“They are a well-known regional group and they are our protagonists. All performing artists face the problem presented in the film,” Shinos says. He is talking about the indifference shown to art forms like theatre, fine arts and all parallel expressions. Even if you remain detached, unable to connect to the intricacies of the art form in the film, you end up broken-hearted, the reality striking you pretty hard. It could be you, the people who make a show of inviting such artists, make large promises, and disrespect them like a proper philistine.

Before Chavittu began screening, the organiser of the show, Biju, remarked casually ‘It is a chavittu to many’ – literally, a kick – on your face.

Still from Chavittu

The film in fact says what’s happening to itself – to films such as Chavittu – suffering without a space. Shinos says that if it weren’t for the awards or the film societies, their films might still be in their hard-disk, unseen.

Vasanthi, the previous year, too won a bunch of awards from the State. Swasika, a regular in television serials and playing supporting characters in movies, was thrilled to be Vasanthi, a woman who stages a play on a beach, slipping away to her life in between and quietly returning to the stage later. Theatre again became a cinematic tool in the hands of the Rahman brothers.

Theatre, Shinos clarifies, has not been adopted as a permanent tool of storytelling in their films. Their first feature – Kalippattakkaran – did not have it. In the future, their films may or may not employ it. All they know is they do not want to succumb to a ‘form’ they don’t believe in, by making films that entertain an audience, make them feel one with the protagonist. They’d rather remind the audience, hey, this is a performance, in the ‘Brechtian’ way. The term is a reference to German playwright Bertolt Brechtian who used alienation as a technique to distance the audience from the performance. 

“Some of my female friends said that we could not get deep into the mind of Vasanthi. But then as men, there would be a limit to how deep we can go. Instead we delved deep into the men in Vasanthi’s story,” Shinos says. Siju Wilson and Shabareesh Varma, too mainstream actors, played important roles in the film.

Watch: A sequence from Vasanthi

One man in the audience wanted to know why, despite the presence of these popular actors, the film did not have a theatrical release. Shinos spread his hands out and said the only truthful answer – he didn’t know.

I ask what challenges they faced in putting a woman into the thick of things and telling her story in such an unorthodox fashion.  Shinos says it was not the real struggle since Swasika was a trained and lovely actor. That part went well. The real struggle, he says, was the finance. It’s easy to say go out and make zero budget movies, but a few lakh rupees would still be spent. And they had to make more movies. Shinos and Sajas are now hoping for an OTT release of their movies, with the government announcing a platform of its own, which is expected to go live later this year. “Until then we will work on our next film,” Shinos says.

Watch: Agnipath protests are a sign of India's unemployment crisis

Become a TNM Member for just Rs 999!
You can also support us with a one-time payment.