'Pain drives all great creations'
As a teenager, Shaji N Karun had to make a tough choice: Join the Medical College and become a doctor.
Or join the Film Institute of India, Pune, and become a cinematographer.
He chose the second. Completed a diploma in photography.
In no time, he became a well-known figure nationally as the cinematographer of all, save two, of the late Aravindan's films.
Karun also won the National Award for best cinematography in the year 1979 for Aravindan's film, Thampu.
Shaji became an international figure with his very first film, Piravi, which was the first Indian film to get a special mention at Cannes film festival. Piravi was the first film to win the Charlie Chaplin award, too.
It was a hattrick for Shaji at Cannes, the most prestigious film festival in the world, when his second film, Swahm and third, Vaanaprastham were screened. Not to mention unprecedented.
The year 2000 had been was eventful for Shaji N Karun.
Vaanaprastham won the best film award at the national level. It won much appreciation at Cannes; it also had theatrical releases in Europe. Shaji Karun also won the Chevalier Award from the French government.
His next project is based on noted short story writer, T Padmanabhan's, story, Kadal, starring Jaya Bachchan and Mohanlal.
Some of his thoughts:
I will not say that Kerala has not achieved excellence. And I will not confine this excellence to cinema alone. We have produced excellent literature, excellent lifestyle and excellent films, too.
But over the years, we have lost the ability to identify excellence. In other countries, the capability to identify excellence has increased.
People have become cynical. More than that, they have lost their ability to enjoy good things.
Life has become so stressful, especially for kids. So you are creating a generation that is forced to lead a stressful life even as a child. Do you think kids have the ability to manage this?
Another area that we lag behind is looking at cinema at the academic level. We have not produced a single academician for cinema.
I agree that we cannot forget the entertainment value of films. But what upsets me is that those who go after entertainment have increased and there are only a few who enjoy and appreciate different cinema.
When Aravindettan (late Aravindan) made films, there were discussions and debates about his films.
The scenario has changed completely.
Yes, the past is always sweet and nostalgic to us; memorable, too.
But we have to be concerned about future. What is the point in talking about your past, if you are not concerned about the future?
We have a strong film movement as the base. Films were seen and discussed. That happened only because of the film movement.
But after it reached a certain level, it should have moved in a different and meaningful direction, but it did not. It stagnated. Naturally, the working structure also got affected.
Another reason I see as reason for the growth of Malayalam cinema is the language we speak at home.
When we discuss and debate an issue or an idea, we don't do it for the masses on a platform. We do it at a very personal level. We are more emotional when we communicate at home, with our dear ones. We discuss human values.
But when we talk to the masses, we do so differently. Because our language is spoken by only a few, our communication is more emotional and it has helped us grow.
So when we try to communicate to a small audience, our language is the richer, it come through in our work and art with not much effort.
Literacy also plays a major role when we communicate at an intellectual level.
I made Vaanaprastham because of what I have learnt and because of my interactions with those around me.
If not for them, I wouldn't have been able to make it.
In my opinion, middle cinema was a mistake.
It was a mistake of the period. And what we are going through is the result of that mistake. I feel those filmmakers have to accept the mistake that they had committed.
Our search should be for the ultimate film. That is what is happening in the world of cinema.
Just going in search of the ultimate itself is a great achievement. It is a highly appreciable effort.
We need such attempts, which should be taken in the right spirit.
Indian cinema has only been travelling in the path. It has not reached the ultimate.
The dependence on literature, for example, has adversely affected Malayalam cinema.
It has damaged the search for a language and form for films.
Films are not a reflection of literature. It has grown beyond that.
Cinema doesn't need the help of literature.
It is possible to tell a story through the language of films. The advantage that cinema has is that you can create various layers.
It can have various dimensions to it. It is not necessary that all emotions should be revealed in one stroke.
Like new dimensions are discovered in paintings after years, we can do that in films, too. Not all emotions need be obvious.
Who shapes the future?
All artistes have the moral responsibility to shape a better future for the coming generation.
Artistes are mostly intuitive. But when they talk about future, people may laugh at them, call them crazy, even ridicule them.
I am of the opinion that artistes should look to the future and be optimistic. There is no point in looking back and lamenting.
If you look at the history of mankind, you will see pain before any new society is created.
Pain is the driving force behind all great creations.
God's own films!
'Malayalam cinema's definitely growing'
'It's the filmmaker's duty to entertain people'
'The films I consider bad win awards!'
'I love the films of the '60s and the '70s'
'Today we have only copycats'
'Cinema is both art and industry'
'We have a long way to go'
'You don't see emotion these days'