I know I am beaten. Can’t ignore him any longer.
For thirteen months, I’ve managed to run this blog without writing about Santosh Sivan (1976), the most famous Loyola old boy. When he won an award for an ad film or earned praise for a new short film on AIDS, I pretended that I hadn’t heard. Because I believed that my mission was to write about less-known Loyolites who did interesting things or performed well in their fields, away from the glamour of filmdom. But look what Santosh Sivan has gone and done now. He makes history such that no self-respecting Loyola history blogger can skip the moment. Folks, I give up.
Because Santosh Sivan is taking Loyola to Hollywood. On 9 May, Before the Rains, his first Hollywood movie — an English language film, an American production — will hit the screens of New York and Los Angeles. I haven’t heard of any Hollywood movie set in colonial Kerala, or with Malayalam dialogues. In that sense, Santosh Sivan is probably taking Kerala (not just Loyola) to Hollywood.
This is the time for renewed debates on “How would Padmarajan have fared in Hollywood?” or “What if Mohanlal had rubbed shoulders with Al Pacino?”, or “Is Santosh Sivan that great (even if Hollywood sees potential in the man)?” But more likely, Indians will rush to occupy the high ground and yell “What Hollywood? What is so historic in this? Bowing before the white man!” Yes, please brace yourself for yet another sms poll.
I am an ordinary guy and so I asked the man-of-the-moment a few ordinary questions. Excerpts from the interview with Santosh Sivan.
Q. In their youth, many Indians desire to become cinematographers or directors. What’s your advice to such people in their teens and twenties?
A. You have only one life. Do whatever you want to. Time is the most valuable commodity, so don’t waste it. If you have a dream, just go for it. The rest follows.
Q. On the screen, when people see a picturesque landscape, they exclaim “Nice cinematography.” Beyond that, what should viewers be really looking out for in the movies, with regard to cinematography? What is good cinematography from a cinematographer’s point of view? When does a cinematographer say, “Ah! I’ve done well.”?
A. Difficult question, it needs a debate actually. Cinematography should be like music…explore the scales for melody and respect silence. Cinematography can be imitative, though one appreciates it when it is innovative. Innovation often happens when you actually try and draw from your experiences and the visual culture that influenced you — the place where you grew up is what makes you have a certain sensibility. And you want to create your own worlds. You tend to imitate more when you are recreating works which have influenced you.
Q. You see the dance of light in a way that most people don’t. Do you see comedy in light? Can we expect a comedy movie from Santosh Sivan?
A. Ha. Humour, yes. Comedy movie, not yet. I enjoy them, though.
Q. Like M.T. Vasudevan Nair, you raise the standard (and win awards) in whatever you do — ad films, films, children’s films, documentaries, short films. Have you thought of giving us a world-class TV series in Malayalam?
A. NO. I love being “hungry” always and exploring new avenues and ideas. It was a dream to release a Malayalam/English film in the US. So Before the Rains is a first of its kind, presented by Merchant-Ivory. When we were to make it, the folks at Hollywood asked me, “Why Malayalam? Our research says, Hindi and Punjabi are better options, since Malayalis don’t see films and only buy pirated VCDs”!
Q. Asoka was partly inspired by your history teacher in Loyola, and Malli was an adaptation of a story you studied in school. Is there a Loyola connection to Before the Rains?
A. Though the story is from the Hollywood producers, it deals with a colonial background, where there are always cultures clashing. For instance, it’s perfectly normal for us to sit in front of computers and crack our head on logic, and equally normal to sit and do religious rituals and break coconuts. I was always fascinated with the roads that wind up into the Wayanad hills, and the efforts to build them. Sort of clashing of nature and man. A road is always a leftover of the clash. And becomes timeless. So many landmarks are British. So these images trigger off. Imagining about them and their life in Kerala and our forefathers, and their relationship. The movie is about such people. Rahul Bose, who is caught in-between and the choices he has to make. So with Linus Roache, Jennifer Ehle, and Nandita [Das] who all have to make choices. It resonates today too where all have to make choices. The film explores the grey areas. No one is stereotyped black or white.
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Is the movie then a world away from Loyola, about which Santosh Sivan once said “Everything from blackboard to the priest’s dress to the school uniform to the pencil to the pen… everything has a black and white quality to it”? Or is there a Loyolite beneath Rahul Bose’s character, who reportedly “has the mentality of an Indian but also wants to be an Englishman”?