An extremely modest person who prefers calling a spade a spade, Indian filmmaker Shyamaprasad has all the qualities of a phenomenal filmmaker with a curious mind and creative pursuit. In an exclusive interview with NISHAD PADIYARATH, he talks about his journey so far, his views on the new genre of filmmaking, the growing influence of social media, and his upcoming projects
Shyamaprasad Rajagopal’s first rendezvous with cinema dates back to the time he was in Grade X. He sneaked into a screening of legendary Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali at his school, which was the venue of a film club, open only to adults.
He was mesmerised by the movie that captured the reality of life. Coincidentally, all of Shyamaprasad’s films are based on stories about people, the human condition and its myriad moments.
Most of his films have fetched him numerous awards. His debut film Kallu Kondoru Pennu won him the prestigious national award in 1998, followed by a second national award in 2002 for Bokshu: The Myth. In 2008, he won international recognition for Ore Kadal and was honoured with the German Star award at the Stuttgart Film Festival.
Shyamaprasad was recently in Oman to attend the eighth edition of the Muscat In- ternational Film Festival where his latest film ‘Artist’ won the special jury award.
What is your impression about the recently concluded Muscat International Film Festival?
The general enthusiasm generated by a film festival such as this one is really good. I am touched seeing the love and a ection of the people here. More than that, the kind of films they screened at the festival stand out but they still have a long way to go. The interesting fact is that there has been an increase in the number of foreign films shot here. That in itself is a good sign even though Oman does not have a film industry.
From your first film Kallu Kondu Oru Pennu to the recent movie Artist, you have come a long way. Looking back at your journey, how do you rate yourself as a filmmaker?
I don’t think I can evaluate myself as a filmmaker. It is the audience who should evaluate my work. Ever since I made my debut in 1998, I have been trying to do films that I believe in. Honestly, it is not an easy task, especially in an industry governed by the very clear and crass
Has that in anyway influenced you as a filmmaker?
It does not influence me at all. I have al- ways done the kind of films that I want to show to the audience. Ritu came out in 2009 before any of these waves came in. It then talked about the new age, the new way of life emerging in the state. So, I had followed my own understanding of the world. I am not too worried about the changing trends. I don’t want my films to be called trendy. That is not the qualification I am looking for. I want them to be honest and it should be the true reflection of life and at the same time, it should be engaging. That is where we lost out in the so called alternative cinema or art films. It became too self indulgent and in some way boring. Cinema is a sensuous art and it needs to have that engaging quality like acting which is what I have been constantly striving for.
There is a growing influence of social media when it comes to the making of a film. These days, filmmakers interact directly with the audience through platforms such as Facebook primarily for the success of their films. At the same time, there are audiences who judge the future of the film on this same platform. How good is that for cinema?
A filmmaker interacting with the audience is good because he will know exactly what they want. At the same time, you cannot stop anyone from raising his or her voice against a film because it is his or her right to do so. Ten years ago, there were only very few genuine critics. Now with the arrival of social media, eve- ryone wants to become a qualified critic which is bad.
What is your upcoming project?
At the moment, I am working on a project that will have Prithviraj and Fahadh Faasil in the lead. It will be fully shot in the United States. It is a new genre that I am trying to do. In a way, it is a continuation of Ritu but it is not a sequel. I am quite excited about this movie and we be- gin shooting in October.
Most of your films are based on adaptations of great literary works. How much justice have you done to those books?
You know doing justice to the literary work is a cliché. It’s something which everybody uses. I don’t look at it that way. My commitment is really not to the novel. I try to give cinematic form to a story that I like. And when I make the film, I don’t carry the burden of the literary work any longer. My approach is to be loyal to myself, to the medium of cinema, to the audience and to do justice to the impression that the book has created in my mind. If it has relevance to my life and the lives around that, then that is the focus. So, sometimes, the work may not be used in total and sometimes, I may have a different ending to it.
I know you are fond of the legendary Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky. His idea of making cinema is something that you believe in. According to Tarkovsky, a movie does not deliberately try to please the audience, yet hopes that the picture will be accepted by all who see it. So what is the greatest challenge a filmmaker faces while making a film?
Life puts people in very different but interesting circumstances and a filmmaker’s greatest challenge is to capture the authenticity of life as it is lived. This is what I have been trying to do for the last several years. I don’t fool the audience and, instead, I respect the audience for their intelligence and sensibility and for their own life experiences. Through my movies, I want to share with them what I think about it. It is a very respectful process. Audience these days are mature enough to judge your film. When some- thing is shown to them that touches their lives, they get back to me. I remember that after the screening of Ore Kadal, some un- known person called me and said he was so touched by the movie but was confused if he wanted his wife to watch it. I encouraged him to let her. And he called me the next day and said after watching that film, he realised that he did not love his wife enough. It may sound simplistic but that is the kind of response you get. You need not be an intellectual or a media professional to understand anything of sensibility. Therefore, I have complete faith in the audience.
There was always a dissenting voice to the system. Every era had that and I think it is just a continuation of that. But the only difference is that this has become more fashionable than what happened decades ago. – Shyamaprasad on new generation filmmakers
As you rightly said, the audiences have become mature enough to judge a movie. But do you think because of that, they have also become choosy in watching a movie? Does that put an added pressure on the filmmaker to come out with the best in him?
In a way that is what is exactly happening now. But unfortunately, even though the new genre of filmmaking is being experimented in the language, new technicians, and new stories, etc, the production, distribution and exhibition system in Malayalam industry is at least a decade old and needs a lot of reform. It still has this same vicious quality that only blockbuster films survive. In Bollywood, things are different and even a small film also thrives because there are different types of distribution systems like multiplexes. So you can have a 200 seat theatre at a premium price. Audience has the flexibility to watch movies in multiplexes and we don’t have that. So we have to cater to this mass where there are 1,500 seats and a film like mine may not be able to do that. But you will definitely get a 200 seats premium for such a film. So, in that process, several good filmmakers end up creating for the sake of commercial success and in the end, they lose out.
There is a new generation wave in Malayalam film industry. For all new films that are released these days, they come out with a new-gen tag attached to it. How do you see that?
There had always been new waves in the midst of mainstream flow. We saw some great filmmakers coming out with brilliant films in the 80s and 90s in the form of K. G. George and P. Padmarajan. There was always a dissenting voice to the system. Every era had that and I think it is just a continuation of that. But the only difference is that this has become more fashionable than what happened decades ago. This is trendier and in some way to me is more superficial.