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December 5, 1997


'If one person dies it is a tragedy. If thousands die, it is statistics'

Santosh Sivan. Click for bigger pic!
Would you say that a film is ultimately a director's product?

I think it is. If the idea originated in him, if it remained in him for a long time and finally takes the shape of a film, it is his own. Though making films is a group activity, a film lives in the mind of only one person. If the script writer is different, two persons are involved in the making of a film. I strongly feel the story idea should originate within the director himself. Otherwise, he will not be able to give a personal touch to it, which, according to me, is very important.

Even when I am working as a cameraman. I prefer to shoot for people who write the story themselves. That is one criterion I always seek. I like to see what they have written and what they are trying to visualise.

If you have not written the script, you are just interpreting somebody else's ideas, it definitely shows on the film. You may feel the spirit lacking in such films. I am not talking about the commercial films, which generally follow a set formula.

How different is your film going to be?

It depends on how you view it. If you are a film-maker from Kerala, the first thing that comes to anybody's mind is of an old traditional nalukettu. That is because many film-makers have used it just to make their films look different.

I think honesty is lacking in them because the nalukettu is not a part of Kerala life now. You are using the symbol as a tool to sell your product because foreigners like it and associate Kerala with such symbols. I can confidently say that I am honest in my life. If there is honesty in my life and the way I live, the same honesty will be reflected in my film too.

Do you want to give any message through this film to society?

Ayesha Dharker in The Terrorist. Click for bigger pic!
I think I have to say yes. Because a lot of films I have see glorify violence throughout the film and end up saying, 'Don't indulge in violence'. Isn't it hypocritical to give a message at the end of a violent movie that violence is bad?

Like you said, they are not honest.

Yes. I have found that people enjoy watching violence. And this aspect of human behaviour is being exploited by these film-makers. I was really surprised when I saw so many people of my neighbourhood sitting in front of the television just to see the violent part of the Iran-Iraq war.

It may be true that many get satisfaction by watching such gory stuff. It is like looking at the newspapers in the morning and saying, 'there's nothing in the paper today!' It is a human tendency. In this film, I make the audience wait anxiously for the assassination to happen. People may come to the theatre to see an assassination but I will take them to a mental state that they do not want it to happen. I don't know how effective it will be, but that's what I want to show or achieve ultimately.

Do you feel sympathetic towards terrorists?

I have been to Assam, Kashmir, etc during the violent times there... When you listen to one side, you feel they are right and when you listen to the other side, you feel they too are right. In a strange way, you feel both are right. A terrorist says he is like a soldier. There is a dialogue in my film stating that we have the most powerful bomb in the world, that is, a thinking bomb.

Malli, the terrorist, befriends a farmer in the film who tells her, if one person dies it is a tragedy. If thousands die, it is statistics, He also tells the girl, "If one person speaks, it is speech; it becomes a conversation only when two persons talk. So, why don't you speak?" It was he who talks to the girl about creativity, about how a plant comes up from the earth, from a seed. You meet these kinds of people when you travel.

Do you travel a lot?

A lot. I feel that in every field, there are two types of education. One is the highly second-hand education which we get from books. At the Pune film Institute, there were 22 of us learning the same thing. But later on what makes you different is the knowledge that you yourself acquire.

Ayesha Dharker in The Terrorist. Click for bigger pic!
As a cinematographer, I have travelled a lot and I can say I am enriched by that experience. I had a romantic picture of snow till I had to spend a lot of time there in Leh shooting for Roja. It was not much fun to be on snow. But the experience can never match any bookish knowledge.

This film is a far cry from your lively children's film. Halo. Was it a conscious effort on your part to make a film which is so different in content and mood? Or was it because you couldn't keep this idea inside anymore?

Yes, this movie is totally different from my previous film. My next film is also going to be a children's film. But somehow I felt it would be better that I make this film first and then proceed to the children's film. If you were to ask me why, well I do not know. I don't have an answer.

Do you feel very strongly about the theme?

I don't know whether I felt strongly about it. But I felt good about making a film like this.

How did foreign audiences react to Halo? It is not a film about poor kids. It is true that poverty is there in India, little children are working hard here, But there are other kids too in India. Still, the image of an Indian kid portrayed abroad is that of a poor, suffering kid. Could they identify with fun-loving children of India?

It is true that Halo was not a film on poverty. The poverty that was shown in the film was a group of slum children taking a bath (Laughs). I am not saying that there is no poverty in India. There were slums, but they were neat and it was raining then, which gave an exotic quality to it. I have picturised a Bombay which was not seen by them before.

When the film was shown in Sweden and many other places, many people asked in wonder, "Is this really Bombay?" They were surprised to see kids speaking English, living in artistically rich Indian, middle class homes. But have also tried to contrast the rich and the poor in the film.

Can you believe that they (people abroad) could only relate to the exotic locales in Maharashtra? I was only portraying an Indian class home. But I felt they didn't want to believe that the Indian middle class could live like this.

The making of The Terrorist


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