Her last project was a Fahad Fazil starrer movie ‘Nale’, where she was an assistant director

A Wayanad film-maker who aspires to be known for her movies rather than tribal roots
news Wednesday, June 01, 2016 - 15:39

She could well be the first movie director from a tribal community in Kerala. 28-year old Leela Santhosh is a film and documentary maker hailing from Wayanad in Kerala and belongs to the Paniya tribe.

But she refuses to be typecast by her tribal roots: “I might be the first maker of movies from our community, but please don’t stereotype me as a tribal film-maker. We are humans; we too would love to be considered as common, ordinary people.”

It was 12 years ago while she was studying in an alternative educational institute (Gurukula) run by an NGO that she fell under the spell of movie-dom. “Film-making was one of the subjects taught to us, as the institution was run by film director and social activist KG Babu,” she says.

After completing her studies, Leela participated in a few film workshops that were held in Kerala as well as outside. She recalls: “My first attempt to dabble in film-making was to work as an assistant director for a documentary called Guda, directed by VK Joseph in 2005.”

She later went on to assist in a couple of other documentaries and also did a documentary on her own community too. Her last project was a Fahad Fazil-starrer movie ‘Naaleh’, where she worked as an assistant director.

“That was a huge project for a beginner like me. Now the project has been halted for a while,” she shares. In the meanwhile, Leela completed a script for a new feature film which she believes would be her shot as an independent director.

“It is about unmarried and under-aged mothers in tribal communities. I would like to leave my audience with some food for thought through my movies by simply telling stories,” she elaborates.

Shooting for the same is expected to begin soon. Leela however doesn’t want to make movies that are solely based on tribal community themes. “Some may stereotype me as a tribal film-maker but I would like to be recognized as a Malayalam film director with no labels attached,” she reiterates.

.And goes on to add: “My next project might be a commercial film which is not related to tribals in any manner.”

Speaking about negative experiences that came her way because of her gender and tribal background, Leela shrugs: “In a way, people cannot be blamed. Their perceptions and prejudices regarding the tribal community were handed down to them over generations. Many relate to me as a tribal rather than a film-maker. It is only the quality of the films that I make that will alone change such a pre-set attitude.”

Leela is sure that her determination and confidence is what will save her from being stereotyped and believes that with her family’s wholehearted support, she will go on to break the invisible hurdles in her way due to her tribal origins.

“Many from my community don’t actually get such an opportunity, but I have been lucky. My husband and kids stand by me,” says this mother of three.