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Santosh Sivan speaks to rediff.com
On the look of his films
I guess it's the low budget! As a cinematographer I would say that I think everyone has within them their own style of film-making. It's basically what you learn first hand. It is something which has fascinated you while shooting some other film -- you might have observed how rain falls or how it snows and it (your style) is an attempt to recreate that, which I would say is what I try to do. I guess that it is what contributes to the Santosh Sivan look of the film!
On his work with Mani Ratnam
I have done about four films with Mani Ratnam -- Dalapathi, Roja, Dil Se and Iruvar. We have tried as far as possible to shift styles as per the requirement of the film. For a film like Iruvar there are a lot of continuous shots, it's almost like a documentary film, where if you saw something then you plan and show what you saw. It's not like you cut to some other location. Dil Se was more on the popular side where you talked about raw nature, a different kind of terrain and contrasted it with a city like Delhi which you see at night with all its lights. So in its own way you have created contrasts and variations, which make it more interesting.
I did Halo six years back. That was basically made on children. But it is actually a takeoff on a real life incident that happened to a close friend of mine. So I just wanted to make a film and incorporate in it how Bombay hit me when I first came here. I really wanted to make a film on Bombay which was not really too much on poverty and things like that but everyday life as I encountered it. So we just made Halo with all these exciting characters who are more or less from real walks of life. These are really professional actors and then we got this girl along and made it in to an interesting story.
On the Dire Straits and Halo connection
We had been inspired by one of the songs. Since the tune belongs to them we thought it would be nice to tell them about it. Kind of compliment them about it
Maybe after a children's film one always wants to make a very adult film. The idea came when I was talking to a friend of mine, Joe Samuel, who on the day of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination could not travel. That day we spent a lot of time talking about the assassination and were wondering what could have made her do it. This stayed with me for quite some time. So finally when I wanted to make a film I decided that since in our country women are considered very creative people here you have a person who is very destructive.
Maybe if you put a woman in a natural environment where she is very much associated with nature, it rains, there's violence and very real things and maybe she starts feeling differently! Maybe it affects her. I liked the whole idea of how these thoughts run through someone's head. So we did a lot of screen tests. We finally discovered Ayesha Dharker who I thought was simply beautiful because she didn't need not to talk to express her feelings which was I think what I like about her.
On Halo's delayed release
I think if you look at it positively, maybe it is the first children's film to be released. Even though there was Chota Chetan it was a 3-D film made on a big budget with songs and everything. When you say children's film you are talking about a shoestring budget by people who want to make films for the first time. They are not really packaged like that. I think it is good because it allows you to make a lot of films with a small budget like Shyam Shroff is trying to release another film of mine called Mali.
On the Terrorist and John Malkovich connection
It was when John Malkovich was the chairman of the jury in the Cairo Film Festival. So when he saw the film he thought it was the kind of film that should get a release. Then I went to the Sundance Film Festival with the film and I got a distributor. John Malkovich helped it to be presented. He also wrote about the film.
On his film for the Kerala tourism department
I am from Kerala, so when they asked me to do film on Kerala I said 'Yes!' Kerala is something that has always fascinated me. I wanted to put together all the impressions I had about Kerala when I was a kid. Because sometimes it so happens that how you think becomes very interesting. For example the Chaiyya Chaiyya song in Dil Se was shot like a kid going for the first time on a train. I shot Kerala like that.
On Ashoka The Great and the challenges about the subject
It's something I learnt in school. It always fascinated me to see how a person changes so much after a war. So I decided I wanted to make a film on Ashoka from the point of view of the people in Kalinga. Despite having a lot of history in it, it is still a piece of fiction with a lot of borrowed folk tales that exist in Kalinga.
Just because it doesn't appeal to people does not mean you don't make it. I really feel that when you make something it has to do with how you perceive it. Maybe when you say period film, everyone has a perception of a period film which is borrowed from what you have seen on television serials. It need not be like that. It can be very different and exciting. Maybe you won't have someone sitting on the throne. Maybe you won't have the throne at the center of the frame. Everything can be interpreted differently. And I am going to give it a try
Fiza is actually a very real kind of a film based on some experiences the director has had. It is also written by him. So the film is more or less true to facts because he is a journalist. Everything is in place, all commas and full stops. Khalid (Mohammad) had wanted to make a film like that for quite sometime. And now he's actually doing it with a star cast!
On working with Khalid Mohammad
I think I've worked a lot with newcomers, a lot of new directors. But I always work with people who write their own scripts. It has been very interesting to see what they have to offer rather that what I have to offer. You also feel a lot of enthusiasm. They always have their own way of doing things. They want to do something new, which I think is a fantastic thing. So I guess that itself was a very good experience working with Khalid. Because you suddenly realise how a journalist looks at things. They always want to be very accurate and not just entertaining.
On Hrithik Roshan
He is very interesting. When we were making Fiza, his film Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai had not even released. So that didn't change him much. He is also a perfectionist and very enthusiastic about how he performs
On the reaction of western audiences to Terrorist
It is about a subject which is very much in the news. It has a universal appeal to it. The whole idea that here is a film about a terrorist without much of violence in it and not much bloodshed made it a very different film. Even though it is not a very audience friendly film, it still has evoked interest in an educated audience, which supports the film
On offers from Hollywood
Yes, there have been quite a few scripts that we have been getting. Let's see I haven't really gotten into anything. It is a different system out there. You are actually given the scripts. The idea doesn't stem from a try
On film-making in India
I think we are definitely not behind. We are really improving. Rather than trying to match what Hollywood is doing in their special effects and all that, I think in our simple way we also can contribute something rather than copy them. It is not difficult to compete. But it should be competing with your own advantages and not trying to copy them.
On cinematographers who inspire him
Subrota Mitra, P K Murthy… all these people have been very interesting. Kagaz Ke Phool, Charulata… these films have a timelessness to them even now. They do not age. Whereas when you try to attract attention by getting into the gimmick part of it say by using filters and such things, it is only fashionable for a certain period. When you do a film it should have a longer period both as a film and as a body of work also.
Produced by SoundPicture Communications