Malayalam cinema covered itself with glory at the recent national awards. All award-winning actors, directors and other artists were showered with praises by people from all over Kerala for having made Malayalees proud. But a filmmaker belonging to Kozhikode who was among the awardees was hardly noticed.
Sandeep Pampally, who bagged the award for the best debutant director, is a true Malayali, but he won the honour for a non-Malayalam film. In fact, two national film awards came his way this year. ‘Sinjar’ made him not only the best debutant director, but it was also selected as the best film in Jasari, a language spoken in Lakshadweep.
For the sake of Jasari
According to Pampally, he heard Jasari for the first time four years ago when he went to Lakshadweep to exhibit a short film made by him which had won a state award. “It is a strange language, having no alphabet or grammar,” says Pampally.
“Sadly, the language is dying. Members of the younger generation in Lakshadweep, who study elsewhere, hardly speak Jasari and prefer Malayalam or English. But some elders still use Jasari to communicate,” he explains.
When Pampally realised that there was a real possibility of the endangered language dying in 10 years, he decided to do something about it. “Cinema is the ideal medium to popularise a language. When I spoke to producer Shibu G Suseelan about making a film in Jasari, he offered full cooperation,” says the young director.
"Shibu Sir has been my biggest support. He told me that we should indeed make the film to save as well as revive the language. It is only because of him that the project materialised,” adds Pampally.
Sinjar relates a gripping tale
‘Sinjar’ is a call for peace. The film is named after a province in Iraq, which was the first land area to come under the control of the dreaded Islamic State (IS) terrorists. The campaigns of IS which reached far corners of the globe were launched from Sinjar. Numerous Yazidi girls who lived in Sinjar were made sex slaves by IS and subjected to unimaginable cruelty. The world initially was in the dark about the rapes and torture taking place in the area. Later, a few women escaped from Sinjar and revealed the inhuman experience they suffered at the hands of the IS, which made other countries sit up and take notice.
“As I am a journalist too, I had read widely on these developments. The stories of these unfortunate women haunted me for long. It was during this time that the plight of Jasari also entered my thoughts. I felt the two scenarios could be linked,” says Pampally. He decided to weave the plot of ‘Sinjar’ around two women belonging to Lakshadweep who are made sex slaves by the IS terrorists.
A totally women-oriented film, Mythily and Srinda enact the roles of the main characters in ‘Sinjar’. They are taken captive by IS while working in Iraq and later escape to freedom. But the story does not end there.
After returning to Lakshadweep, the attitude of their own brethren changes after learning about there IS captivity, making one woman to utter, “I should not have returned to Lakshadweep, but died in Iraq itself.”
They face humiliation at the hands of lover, neighbours and other local folk. In desperation, the women attempt to break free of their traditions and even religion. Meanwhile, one among the former IS captives finds that she is pregnant. Everyone turns against her, but she says, “my child may be the son or daughter of a terrorist, but I will raise it imparting lessons of love.” The woman faces society all alone.
Local actors involved
Several local people of Lakshadweep were involved in the making of the movie. They included actors who had experience in drama and films. Local support was available on the production side also. There are plans to exhibit the film before an invited audience in Lakshadweep as the Islands lack a cinema hall, says Pampally. The film will be released in Kerala also soon, he says.
A long list of honours
‘Sinjar’ is Pampally’s first feature film, but he has made over 40 short films and documentaries. The third film he made had won a special mention from UNESCO. Others have won International awards. ‘Ladam’, a short film, won a Canadian award considered equivalent to Oscar. It was selected as the best film with social importance at Muskoko international film festival for the best global voice international award. Pampally also won state awards earlier, but a national award has its own value, he says.
After he won the national award, Pampally received several calls congratulating him. But what pained him was that no people’s representatives or their PAs contacted him. “After all, I am a Malayalee who won a national award, which is not a small thing. Political leaders may have congratulated noted directors, actors and others who won the award; but nobody called me,” he says.
“From Bollywood, Mahesh Bhatt was among those who congratulated me. But it is sad that I was not noticed in Kerala. When you get a national award, you can meet the President and fell elated. But the excitement lasts only till the award function. Afterwards, I am just another ordinary citizen. Malayalees even now do not realize that there is somebody like me hailing from Kerala,” Pampally says.
Meanwhile, the Lakshadweep administrator called him. Congratulating the director, he promised to make all arrangements to screen the film there. History was made in Lakshadweep by the film as it is the first one in Jasari language. “However, I am not dejected as the film anyway came out,” says Pampally.
Pampally says his next project will be a Malayalam film to be produced by a leading filmmaker. While ‘Sinjar’ dealt with a touching topic and offered a message, the Malayalam film will be an entirely commercial venture. Preparations are going on, he adds.
Dedicated to suffering women
‘Sinjar’ is dedicated to the thousands of innocent girls trapped by IS and leading a miserable life. Their sufferings are much worse than we can imagine, says Pampally. “Children even eight years old are subjected to severe sexual harassment by men. This film is for such hapless souls,” he says.