Free Press Journal

Breaking away from barriers of language at a Litfest


Mumbai : Saturday saw the commencement of LIC Gateway Litfest. Another literature fest, you ask? Well, this is one with a difference because it provides a platform for celebrating regional writings. It saw the confluence of Jnanpith Laureates, Akademi Awardees and popular writers from 15 languages. From debate on literary trends, discussing emerging styles to promoting writings and readings in Indian languages, it is on at The Experimental Theatre, NCPA Mumbai till 8:30 pm today.

Assembled at this fest was Madhupal, Malayalam actor, director, and screenwriter, who was the assistant director under Rajeev Anchal’s film Guru, which fetched many national awards and was the only entry to Oscars from our country in 1997. He has bagged awards for his debut directorial venture Thalappavu in 2008. With seven collections of short stories and two novels, and his books having been translated into English, Hindi and Tamil, he tells Divya Nambiar about the evolution of Malayalam cinema, its scope in other parts of India as well as whether films can ever replace books.

Being from the Malayalam film industry, how, according to you, has Malayalam cinema changed over the years?

There have been changes over time and I am glad that they have been positive. Malayalam cinema has catered well to changing perceptions over time. A film is successful not when it runs for a long period in cinema houses but when years down the line someone still remembers the film. Some memorable films have not earned much in terms of revenue nor did they have big production house names to boast about, but still they have stood the test of time.

What are your thoughts on the so-called “new-generation” Malayalam cinema that has its winds blowing in Mollywood post 2010?

These classifications have been made by the media and not the audience. In every era, there have been “new-generation” films. Even Chemmeen, Neelakuyyil, Bhargavi Nilayam were “new-generation” films of their time as they successfully broke the pre-conceived notions and pre-set barriers of those times.

Is literature dying?

Literature can never die. Cinema is different but the written word can never die. It’s because every phase of life brings with it moments worth being documented. If we make a well-studied documentary out of these created records, it would have a certain depth to it and would have the power to create more impact on the audience.

I authored a book titled Facebook in 2010 when Facebook was still new to the Malayali audience. The idea behind it was to show how the digital world opened itself with new possibilities of spreading the written word along with improved accessibility and made it easier to share write-ups. In fact, I believe that reading habits have improved amidst people.

Have films become merely commercial?  Has content-driven cinema taken a backseat?

Cinema is hundred per cent money-oriented. It might be subject or culture-oriented but for it to stand on its feet, it needs funding. It cannot be made if one just has a pen and paper. Any producer would first want to know about the returns that would be earned on investing in a film. In today’s scenario, more than the actor or the script, the actor liking the script is more important.

Has the process of filmmaking become simpler or a lot more complicated?

The concept of ‘anybody can make a movie’ has emerged in filmmaking. Let time prove if it is a good thing or not and whether it will survive or not.  Earlier, films needed preparation which is now declining thanks to movies being made even on impulse. From every other person being a poet, the world has now moved on to every other person being a filmmaker. Anyone can make a film but what needs to be seen is whether he/she can make a second film and be successful at it.

What is your take on Hindi remakes of Malayalam films like Hera Pheri, Drishyam, etc?

Any cinema, when being made, is representative of the life and culture of a particular region, as it is ‘experienced’ in visual media. For example, in the southern states, all states have a different culture and when the culture of one state is not recognised by another, the audience there might not accept it which explains why a hit film in, say, Kerala might just fail to impress the audience of Tamil Nadu or Mumbai. Hence, when translating in visual media, it is a must to keep in mind the culture of the people to whom the film is being catered to.

Where is Indian cinema lacking when it comes to winning Academy Awards?

What we need to know is that Indian cinema goes to Oscars only in Foreign-language category. There are Spanish, Italian and Japanese movies that have won it. It depends on the outlook and perception of the jury there at a certain point of time. We might like one movie but then there would be others who would hate it. It is all a matter of perception, understanding and of course choices.

If it was able to break the language barrier, does Malayalam cinema have the potential to win people’s hearts internationally?

It will certainly work because cinema is never bound by language as it is visual in nature and hence has the power to break free from the clutches of language. When a visual sense is created, it suffices. It is only to express the sense of culture that we sometimes need language. Otherwise silence is golden.

So are there any projects in the pipeline?

There is a movie in the pipeline whose shooting begins in June starring Biju Menon and Jayasurya. It is a murder mystery based on a true story just like my previous two movies. True events inspire me to make movies. They are a turn from the usual, though.