Each movie of director Syamaprasad is a mirror held against contemporary society. Audience get to introspect their own lives, emotions, relationships and dreams upon watching them. Right from his first Kallu kondoru pennu (1998,) every Syamaprasad movie has captured the pulse of the generation it addressed. Cinema, for me, is a personalised experience, Syamaprasad said elaborating the changing tools and narratives in Malayalam cinema. Expressing readiness to adapt his art so as to correspond with the technological advancements, the award winning director spoke about the dynamicity of social relationships, the very purpose of filmmaking and his method of carving out characters out of actors.
As Syamaprasad's latest flick Oru Njayarazhcha (A Sunday) as hit the theaters, Onmanorama caught up with him for a detailed interview. Here are some excerpts.
How did you develop the idea of 'Oru Njayarazhcha?'
The thought of making a movie combining two of my favorite short stories was there in my mind since four or five years ago. Oru Njayarazhcha speaks about the life and relationship of two couples, belonging to two age groups. The movie discusses the love, dissatisfation, dispair and dreams of four people, played by Dr Satheesh Kumar, Murali Chand, Sally Varma and Megha Thomas. The plot develops in the viewpoint of Suja and Sujatha, played by Megha and Sally.
This movie was there in my mind even before I did Ivide. It takes time for a thought to evolve out as a story and later as a screen-play. A long series of events and that happened during that time will influence the movie. I discussed this story with actor Murali Chand almost four years ago.
You have cast a string of fresh faces in this movie. How do you handpick your actors randomly from the society?
My actors are not random strangers. No matter how contrasting their social and professional backgrounds are, they have all one thing in common: passion for arts. When I cast Rima Kallingal in Rithu, she was just a movie aspirant. Aspiration is what I seek in my actors. Dr Satheesh Kumar, who played a prime character in A Sunday, is a Urologist and surgeon. He is a long time friend of mine. I cast him in this movie because he had a passion for cinema. His appearance and ways suit my character well.
Your pre-production training is very famous. Why do you hold workshops before every movie?
Shooting is not the time to plan a movie. It is the time for technicians like DOP and cinematographers. I would ensure that my actors are well versed with their characters before I begin my shoot schedules. I sit with them, read the script n number of times, and share my thoughts about the movie and each character. I mould my character out of every actor during that time. I don't instruct the actors during production schedules. It is their time to perform. No one shall intervene in it.
Do you demonstrate the scenes by acting them out in front the crew?
(Laughs.) At times, yes. Again, it depends upon the grasping skills of each actor. Some people deliver the character well simply by listening to the script. Some needs explanation and background details of them in order to emote their feelings. Some others need explicit instructions on acting so that they could replicate. I don't hesitate to do any of these if that would help my actors.
All your movies deal with interpersonal relationships, complexities of human bonds and politics at the micro-level. Why are you so fascinated by relationships?
Because the society is built on such complex human relationships. The progress, evolution, expansion and fragmentation of society is based on interpersonal relationships at the micro-level. Look at my 1999 movie Agnisakshi. Although it is based in a premise of social liberation taking place in conservative Brahmin households post independence, it doesn't do sloganeering against patriarchy, state or the system as a whole. It details the emotional engagements of certain people who are victimized in the whole process. The movie speaks about their life, relationships and struggle. Same is the case with Akale, Ore Kadal or Rithu. A Sunday also has the same concept being told in a different premise. You may call it as serving old wine in new bottles but the wine is not boring as long as it is relevant in this society.
Although the topic of your movies are all same, as you said, there is one thing every relationship portrayed in your movies lacks. Perhaps that is the driving force behind each of your movie. What is that?
Satisfaction or happiness. Perhaps that is a mirage. Humans might seek complete happiness although they know that it is a myth. They seek satisfaction in relationships and happiness in their life all in vain. The pursuit of happiness is the driving force behind each interpersonal relationship as well as my movies.
In this movie, Sujatha, a married woman in her fourties, discovers that she is dissatisfied in her marriage. She doesn't have a draw-back to point out in her relationship with her husband. Boredom and dissatisfation bother her. Suja, a young married woman also experiences a similar problem parallelly. The movie develops through their life and engagements.
What is your purpose behind filmmaking?
I am still searching for an answer to this question. However, I know it is not sloganeering. I don't believe in forcing every movie to convey a message. My movies are not activistic. They do deal with politics in various layers but they do not campaign for a cause. I unveil certain instances in some people's lives and how they deal with it, through my movies. I narrate stories that every person in today's society can relate with.
However realistic your movies are, there still exists a differentiation between commercial movie and art movie in this industry. Why aren't realistic movies of your kind being accepted as mainstream movies?
One main reason is the preferences of movie-goers. People prefer entertainment to thought-evoking topics. One of my friends recently told me that he prefers to watch comedy movies in theaters as he already has many problems to ponder in real life. I don't want to get terrified, tensed or exhausted at the cost of my own money and time, he said. Somehow, I don't agree with him. Movies shall not be limited to entertainment and comedy. It should reflect the micro-level realities of society. Entertainment and humour should be a part of it, as it is in real life.
Do you think the possibilities of commercial cinema is being used effectively to convey real problems of society?
What do you think? Are we utilizing the possibilities of commercial cinema well? I don't think so. Commercial cinema deals with the extravaganza which is completely unrealistic and exeggerated. Had we used the its possibilities well, mainstream cinema would have changed its priority from humour and comedy to people's life and issues. I am not against comedy movies. Light-hearted movies should happen. It is just not my cup of tea.
At the same time, the makers of alternative cinema will have to adopt the tools of commercial filmmaking in order to sell their ideas well. I have experimented it while making Hey Jude. That movie deals with a very serious subject; which could but be told in a light, entertaining format. Not all serious subjects could be conveyed using a light-hearted narrative.
You hail from a political family. Still why isn't politics a topic at all in your movies?
Of course movies are political. They don't deal with the politics of society and nation building but of personal lives and relationships. I don't come from a political family. There is only one politician in my family, my father. Every artist has a politics of his/her own and that would definitely reflect in his/her work. It is my politics that reflects in my movies. One difference, mine is politics in the minutest level – that is between some individuals or within a person alone. I am not in for sloganeering and campaigning for a party through movies.
Sometimes your characters contradict with their social background. Take Mammootty's character in Ore Kadal. A sociologist who lives a secluded life totally detached from society. Why do you bring in such contradicting personalities in your movies?
So is society. These are not the contradictions I create but those exist in the society. All of us have seen people who do not identify with their backgrounds. Look at Dr Satheesh Kumar, one of the protagonists of my latest flick A Sunday. He is a uro surgeon who ventured into acting in his middle-age. Contradictions are part and parcel of society.
Speak about Ore Kadal, speak about its climax. Shooting its climax was a hectic task. I consider that scene as Mammootty's best performance in his career. It is a very long scene which was shot in two days. Every component – the evening light, messy room environment, the actors and the balcony offering an overview of the city – plays definite roles in that scene. Meera Jasmine and Mammootty's performance literally stunned me.
Heard that Oru Njayarazhcha was shot in the format of a web series. Why did you try such an experiment?
The tools and format of cinema is evolving freely over years. There is a lot of difference between how I shot Agnisakshi back in 1999 and how I shot Hey Jude a couple of years ago. Apart from the technological progress, there are certain subtle differences in the narrative and story-telling. This is the age of web series and online video content. Young people have adapted their tastes to enjoy the new format. I myself enjoy watching web series very well. For me, cinema is a personal experience. I love watching cinema alone in the darkness and comfort of my bedroom. It varies from person to person. Still, it is high time our conventional cinema adopt new means of story telling and perch to new platforms.
I am not any reluctant to direct a web series next, if a good subject comes to me.
Many of your movies are based on literary works and short-stories, including the latest A Sunday. All those literary works hail from the last century. Is literature growing alongside movies?
No matter whether it grows or it doesn't; I don't care. All I want is stories. I don't demand them in written format. My area is cinema and I look to capture contemporary human life and its complexity in my cinema.