Loyola Goes to Hollywood

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.

Before the Rains - pic available at various places on the Web

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.

* * *

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”?


  • Great to hear about Santosh’s Hollywood venture. Good luck to him. He has come a long way from the days he started his career under directors like I.V.Sasi, ten Mani Ratnam and then becoming a director through ‘Terrorist’.

    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 like these sort of themes (ABCD type), but hopefully, he will have some different point of view to show in ‘Before the Rains’.

    “Why Malayalam? Our research says, Hindi and Punjabi are better options, since Malayalis don’t see films and only buy pirated VCDs”!

    Well..Hopefully many of us Loyolites would go see this movie in a theatre 🙂

  • Haha, yes you are beaten…I have been waiting for this one…Ashok, thanks for bringing us this interview!

    The first time I came across his name(and his brother Sangeeth’s) was not on celluloid but on a desk in Std.4,5 or 6(can’t recollect exactly now) on which both their names were engraved with compass(i guess!). Later when roja and yodha came out and everyone at loyola talked about these two men, I remembered that engraving. Maybe if Santhoshchettan is reading this post, he can confirm if this was his handiwork 🙂

    My favorite films among the ones he photographed are Perumthachan, Vanaprastham and Dil Se. His malayalam directorial venture, Ananthabhadram, though visually brilliant was let down by the script, maybe because of the budget constraints of malayalam cinema which deviated the story significantly from the novel it was based on. I haven’t yet got a chance to watch any of his offbeat films like Terrorist or the recent Navarasa.

    Ashok, about finding a Loyolite in Rahul Bose’s character – if you generalize a loyolite like that I wouldn’t agree. But I think most Indians go through a phase where they mimic the west. I believe we loyolites come out of this quicker than others.

    Ashok, anyways thanks for letting me know of the May 9 screening in LA, I will definitely be going…do you know if Santhosh will be coming?

  • Yes, Karthik. Only a masochist would watch a Santosh Sivan movie on a small screen, and that too from a pirated VCD. The picture in the blogpost gives us an inkling of the visual spectacle. Years ago, the sunrise shot at the start of “Chinna Chinna Aasai” (in Roja) took my breath away.

    Jiby, the desk-art would’ve been inspired by a school mag article on Santosh Sivan (it appeared before 1991). If it was from the 1970s, then, I vote for shifting it to a museum of Loyola history. 🙂 In the light of your comment and the discussion on politics in Loyola, I’ll revise the remark to: A Loyolite has the mentality of an Englishman but wants to be an Indian. 🙂

  • Breaking news on the Web!Before the Rains wins three awards at Houston Worldfest — Best Picture, Best Cinematography, Best Music.

  • I wonder if anny of you have noticed the video of the song “Ek Mohabbat” (sometimes called “one Love”) released by non other than AR Rahman as part of the Vote for the Taj campaign. It was also done by our Sathosh chettan. It you havent seen it, check it out.. its just awesome…

  • It must seem so funny to outsiders that we are refering to the guy as “santhosh chettan ”
    ye all his movies ive seen are just so amazing.

    met him at the last AGM i think. or was it the back to school.

  • * applause *
    Thanks for these little gems you bring our way every month Ashok! It is certainly refreshing to get back to this ‘watering-hole’ that you have created for us Loyolites – global and local! 😉
    It is not very often that something that is read moves people with very high inertia quotients (like me, obviously) to put a few words down. But your posts tend to make this childishly simple. The simple association with Loyola, of things big and small – is a fact that never fails to bring a smile to any one among us. The overwhelming sense of pride, in a sense, is more a re-vitalizer than anything else!!

  • Sriram, thanks for telling us about “Ek Mohabbat.”

    Syam, I saw some pre-event publicity on Orkut. What I heard was that he didn’t attend ‘Back to School’ in 2007.

    Rahul, yes, the achievements of Loyolites are the most popular here, if you look at the stats. Thank you for revealing the emotions that well up when you read such stuff. Thanks also for your encouragement — it re-vitalises me, in this two-way street.

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