Rediff Logo Movies McDowell Banner Find/Feedback/Site Index
December 15, 1998


Western Union Money Transfer

Send this feature to a friend

'All technically good films aren't good'

Shobha Warrier

Gnana Rajasekharan Click for bigger pic!
As a young boy, only one thing moved Rajasekharan -- cinema.

"I do not know how films fascinated me. In childhood itself, I fell under the magic spell of the medium and its grandeur. Watching a movie was like reading a book for me."

But because he could not then make or even associate himself with the world he dreamt of, he decided to go it one step at a time. So while in school he was a creative writer, and in college he switched to scripting and acting in plays.

Even while he dabbled in theatre, his mind drifted farther, to cinema. He kept his passion alive, watching every film that came to Vellore, where he grew up. He could only see Tamil films since those of other languages never came to the small town.

By the time he reached the 11th standard, his knowledge of films improved and he became more discriminating in his choice of films. He felt there was something "terribly wrong with the masala Tamil films he saw but could not pinpoint quite what it was."

It was only when he reached Madras for higher studies that he came face to face with good cinema.

He saw three shows of David Lean's Sand Pebbles on one day. That was how he gathered the finer points of film-making. Sand Pebbles also made him aware of the blemishes and drawbacks of Tamil cinema.

Slowly he began shifting his loyalties to the less dramatic Malayalam cinema.

"I saw only Tamil films earlier, and I slowly began disliking them. I somehow developed a taste for Malayalam films and I don't think I missed a single Malayalam film made in the early seventies. One film that I still cherish is P N Menon's cinematic version of M T Vasudevan Nair's Kuttiyedathi. From Malayalam, I moved on to international films."

He joined film societies, watched world classics and analysed their finer points. He concluded that films were meaningless unless they could communicate.

"I have no objection to abstract ideas, but even abstract ideas should communicate. I personally feel that the level of communication of even the average successful commercial film is only 30 per cent. The problem with so-called art filmmakers was that they didn't try to communicate. Akira Kurosawa is one film-maker whom I do not mind aping because his films were communicative and emotionally charged He is my ideal film-maker."

On the sets of Oru Kann, Oru Paarvai. Click for bigger pic!
But Rajasekharan is disappointed that the parallel cinema movement, which started in the seventies, is dead now. The reason, according to him, for its untimely death was because the film-makers alienated the people. They tried to draw inspiration from films made outside India and the themes were naturally alien to Indians. In the process, he says, they lost the "Indian soul".

Only good and bad films exist for Rajasekharan with successful films not necessarily being categorised as good.

"They only want to make money and they are obsessed with box-office success. The only consolation is that even when hundreds of crass commercial films are made, a few committed film-makers try to make good films. That's the only way films grow... I find that there is some confusion among film-makers and film-watchers now. They are under the impression that all technically good films are extraordinary films. That isn't true."

Taking the argument further, Rajasekharan says spending 10 million rupees on a film to make it technically perfect is absurd. What is more important, according to him, is the 'soul' of the film before which technical excellence pales into insignificance.

"The craft should follow the soul and not the other way around. The photography may be excellent, the music may be outstanding, the location may be luxuriant but what is the use if the film has no soul? It is like packaging bad literature in an attractive, glossy cover. To make a good film, you do not need a big budget. So the argument of some film-makers that film-making is expensive is unacceptable."

But he is happy that all film-makers are aiming at the same audience now.

"The field is one now. You address the same crowd and select your audience from them. I am confident that an enlightened audience, those who enjoy good, meaningful cinema, is there in every city, every town, every village."

And so Rajasekharan made no compromises in his first award-winning film Moha Mullu and has resolved never to make compromises hereafter too. And he needn't really worry since his film ran for 100 days in Madras.

"My film was not commercially successful. We recovered what we had invested. But I found that even among the so-called masala audience of Tamil Nadu, there were those who liked my films. The reason there are more masala movies in Tamil and more realistic movies in Malayalam is because even in the sixties Mlayalam films were based on good literature.

A still from Oru Kann, Oru Paarvai. Click for bigger pic!
"A novel will not provide excitement every 10 minutes. Even the climax will be soft. This way, they (the film-makers) trained the audience. Tamil films lacked that advantage even though we had very good literature. From day one films were made here in an opera type format, with lots of songs and a few dialogues in between. Later, it became more dialogue-oriented. Because of all this, the Tamil audience didn't become very sophisticated."

I wanted to know something more about his Oru Kann Oru Paarvai that he ended on an optimistic note. Does that mean he is optimistic about our social and bureaucratic set-up too?

"Yes, I am optimistic, but not because I am a bureaucrat. I feel there are still some plus points in the bureaucracy. There are some good people who wish good for the people. While making the movie, I detached the bureaucrat in me and became a creative film-maker. I just happened to be a bureaucrat. I have utilised my experience as the district collector, and an inquiry officer in so many occasions, that's all. This job is advantageous because you meet a lot of people."

Now he is ready to make his second feature film, on poet Subramanya Bharati. Again, he has no plans to make any compromises, or to surrender the high values he has set for himself.

Does that mean a creative person have a responsibility to the society, we inquired.

"Yes, I feel a writer should have some commitment to society. A writer sees the same incident as anybody else, but he responds in a different way. In my first film, Moha Mullu I have portrayed the problems of a Marathi family's relationship with a Tamil Brahmin family. The film was set in the fifties. You will not see in it the kind of commitment you saw in my short film, but you will see a different kind of commitment -- to honesty and realism -- in it."

The Progressive Writers Forum has toured many villages with his short film and nearly 200,000 people have seen the film so far. How did they respond?

"The response was excellent. They asked very interesting questions. They wanted to know why I made the mother a pregnant woman. I wanted to use pregnancy as a symbol. The treatment meted out to the elder child was gruesome. So, what would the world be for the newcomer? I wanted to indirectly ask that question.

"Do you know what one weaver, a dalit, said after watching the film? 'Like the dalits in the film, we also stand outside the gate. We still cannot go inside.' When he said that, I was happy as a film-maker because I saw my film could communicate."

On her blindness

Tell us what you think of this feature