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November 19, 2001

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'I chose a subject that disturbed me'

Nobody knew Janaki.

That was until her first film Kutty based on a story by noted Tamil writer, Sivasankari came along. Kutty turned out to be a film that nobody could ignore, tackling an issue that concerned many -- child labour.Kutty

Tamil cinema finally saw a woman director at the helm after a long time. Janaki had no formal background in filmmaking. A stint with television, a documentary and a few tele-serials was the only experience this former print journalist had.

Shobha Warrier spoke with Janaki about Kutty which will now be screened at the International Film festival to be held in Bombay.

What prompted you to make Kutty?

I like to describe myself as a communicator first, then a filmmaker. The issues the film dealt with attracted me. I never dreamt of making a film, but I admit that I have been fascinated by the medium. I believe it has tremendous potential in influencing people. The political history of Tamil Nadu shows how powerful the film medium is.

I wanted to use this medium to convey what I felt strongly about. Beyond the glamour, the visuals of the film, I was more interested in what I was going to say. I chose a subject that disturbed me. Kutty

Newspapers write about these problems every now and then but we havenít been able to eradicate them. These reports reduce something that is so real to statistics. Numbers make you immune to the problem.

Did you, through the film, want to hold a mirror up to society?

Yes. I'm mirroring society. But I'm part of that society too. I'm not saying, 'look at what you are doing'. I tell them, 'look at what we are doing'.

Why did you choose child labour as the subject of your film?

I didn't decide to make a film on child labour, I wanted to make films that touched people. Then again, I don't want to preach, films must entertain too.

I was assisting Sivasankari translate some of her Tamil works into English for her ĎKnit India Through Literatureí project. As we worked, I talked to her about my desire to make meaningful films, and she showed me her story, Kutty. That provided me with a theme, an issue that needed to be highlighted.

I'm thankful to Sivasankari for the freedom she gave us to develop the story, add and delete characters to suit the film format.

Kutty is your first feature film. How difficult was it locating financers?Kutty

It wasn't easy. My husband produced the film. We put in our own money; some friends and well-wishers also pumped in finances. The Danish embassy provided us with monetary assistance.

We wanted people to identify with the characters in Kutty. So, we incorporated a bit of comedy, a few songs. You canít change tastes and attitudes overnight.

The film did fairly well. Kutty did not have the formula, we couldn't expect it to make any piles of money.

But the response to the film has been encouraging. A person called and said, the first thing that he did after watching the film was send back the girl he had employed at home, to her own house.

Are you planning to make more films that deal with social issues?

Definitely. But, I donít want to slot myself and say that I will make only a certain kind of films.

Is it your belief that as the film industry is dominated by men, only issues and characters from the male perspective are brought to the service?

Yes. There are very few exceptions. For example, a film like Astitva had Mahesh Manjrekar talk about something, which men would be uncomfortable talking about. He got away with many questions because he was a man. If I had made a film like that, I know for a fact that society would link it to my personal life!

The perspective of a woman differs from what a manís perspective is. Somebody told me that Kutty had a feminine touch to it.

How did the male dominated Tamil industry, react to your film?

I haven't really interacted with the industry. I don't know what they think of my film. I donít even know if they saw the film. But some producers reacted positively to Kutty. Kutty

Nobody contacted me or said anything except Revathy. She was the only person who voluntarily made an effort to contact me. The other filmmaker who saw the film was Balu Mahendra and he said it disturbed him very much. I have not had any personal interaction with anybody else.

When the film was selected for the Indian Panorama, a couple of technicians called to congratulate me.

ALSO READ:
The review of Kutty

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