Monday, November 18

Kolkata is all about auteur cinema: Leena Manimekalai

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Maadathy — an Unfairy Tale had its world premiere at Busan International Film Festival. The Facebook page of the film mentions that it is in the international competition at KIFF. When did you come to know about this KIFF competition?It was a great honour to be invited for the international competition section at KIFF. I received the invitation a week back. I have known about this festival quite long back and I guess after a point, with the state government patronage, it grew into a very significant festival. What was interesting for me was that they had a special prize for women filmmakers. I don’t know when this award got withdrawn. I have had programmers asking me for my new work for the nomination. If that award could have remained, it would have been a great encouragement for the otherwise marginal female filmmaking community of this country.

How does this festival now become special?

 

KIFF demands an Indian premiere of a film. It might be because only in KIFF, a general Indian entry can qualify for international competition. In MAMI, only debut filmmakers can compete internationally and my first film. Sengadal, the Deadsea was there in 2011. In Kerala and IFFI, they don’t ask for exclusivity though they qualify one or two Indian entries for the international competition. KIFF is super-specialised in that sense and, of course, the prize is huge. For me, Kolkata is a land of auteurs. I am a student of the masters like Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Mrinal Sen, Rituparno Ghosh, Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Aparna Sen, Goutam Ghose and I am still counting.

Do you follow contemporary Bengali cinema?

I have watched Sanjoy Nag’s films. Aparna Sen and Buddhadeb Dasgupta continue to make films and I don’t miss them. I have watched all of Rituparno Ghosh’s films till he was there. We have invited Buddhadeb Dada to the independent film festival in Chennai. Other than that, and names like Q who are making waves in the global indie space, it is a kind of a disappointing scene in Bengal, I guess. For us, Kolkata is always about auteur cinema.

 

What is your film Maadathy — an Unfairy Tale all about?

My film is an arthouse indie, partly crowd-founded and community participatory cinema. It is about an adolescent girl growing up in an ‘unseeable’ community. There is a community called Puthirai Vannar in Tamil Nadu and they live in the lowest rung in the ladder of caste system. They are dalits amonst dalits as they traditionally wash clothes of the dalits, the deceased and the menstruating women. They can’t come out after sunrise and have to work after sunset as their sight itself is considered pollution. Dr BR Ambedkar has spoken about this community in his fifth volume of writings. Even after so many years of independence, the situation of the community is not much changed. Female infanticide and foeticide are quite acute because they are so minimal in strength, vulnerable and powerless to protect their women from caste-based sexual harassment. You can see a lot of missing women in the community. Traditionally, one or two Puthirai Vannar families are enslaved in each village for every hundred dalit families. One first generation graduate (Moorthy), who also has recently got retired as tashildar, gave us access to the community. I am from Tamil Nadu and was brought up in a village near Madurai. Even then, I wasn’t aware of this community while growing up. Caste can build such walls between us. After reading and research, I came to know about them. I researched for about a year and I filmed them in about hundred villages and with that material, I wrote the script with my screen writers, Rafiq Ismail and Yavanika Sriram. I did a series of workshops with the community and opened our script to a lot of inputs from the members while writing it.

 

Is your film about a girl from this community?

It is about an adolescent girl who refuses to be defined by her birth identity. She takes refuge in the forest and finds harmony with non-hierarchical nature. What happens to her when her love and desire bring her into human kingdom is what the narrative is about. My film is like a contemporary fairy tale. I believe our real history is in our folklore and fairy tales. History in our text books is written by the powerful. History of nobodies are carried over generations orally only through legends and art forms. I wanted to bring that into cinema. Mine is the cinema of nobodies.

 

 

Source: Times of India

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