Why can't an Indian make a film in English?
Director Shyamaprasad busts some myths
After winning the National Award for his directorial Malayalam debut Agnisakshi (based on a novel by Lalithambika Antharjanam, starring Rajat Kapoor and Shobhana), Shyamaprasad (son of Union Minister of State for Railways O Rajagopal), is currently engaged in the making of his first English film Bokshu, The Myth.
The film is based on the Gangaprasad Vimal's acclaimed Hindi novel Mriganthak. Shyamaprasad, Shashi Warrier and Richard Stanley have jointly written the screenplay.
Noted Malayalam writer Paul Zachariah suggested the story as a potential subject for a film to Shyamaprasad. The director says, "The right blend of drama, mystery and emotions attracted me to this story. It has a Western point of view, yet it tells a compelling Indian story. Its mystic element provides scope for creative cinematic visualisation." Shyamaprasad has a post-graduate degree in Theatre and Media Production at the University of Hull, UK.
The film stars British stage and film actor Steven Berkoff, David Millbern [of the Oscar winning Gods And Monsters] and American stage actress Heather Prete.
Nandana Sen, daughter of Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, also has a major role in the film. The rest of the Indian cast includes Irfan Khan [who starred in Aasif Kapadia's acclaimed The Warrior], Harish Patel and the South Indian star Vineeth.
Shyamaprasad adds, "The film is set in a village called Jaled, somewhere in the Himalayan valley. Two American anthropologists (Heather Prete and David Millbern), come to Jaled in search of their lost professor (Steven Berkoff). The film captures the adventures they encounter, as they meet the high priest of a temple ( Irfan Khan) and his beautiful assistant (Nandana Sen). The story eventually moves to its fantastic climax as the myth of Bokshu is revealed."
What is the myth of Bokshu? Shyamaprasad explains, "In the Kumaon valley --- much popularised by Jim Corbett's stories --- there are many legends on the magic of leopards and tigers. They are believed to be spirits rather than animals. Black magic and different kinds of worship thrive as well. Our story is spawned from this pool of tribalistic myths and their representations."
Nandana Sen, a theatre personality in New York has made the occasional foray in films both in India and abroad. It seemed natural for her to play the role of Rati. Vineeth plays Rati's lover, whose relationship is caught in the vortex of the terrible drama over the myth of the Bokshu.
Torben Forseberg from Denmark wields the camera and Thota Tharani is the production designer. Special effects are courtesy US Software and Toons Animation. Bokshu, The Myth is produced by M P S Prasad, a US-based Keralite who also produced Agnisakshi.
The principal work for the film has already been completed at locations in the Himalayas and Hampi, the historic capital city of erstwhile Vijayanagar dynasty of Karnataka. This will be followed by a shooting schedule in Chicago in July. "I chose to shoot in Hampi, though the story takes place in the Himalayas because the ruins of Hampi can be made to look like the ruined village of Jaled. With the aid of digital post-production we plan to make it appear as part of the Himalayan Valley."
Shyamaprasad adds that since the story is narrated by two Americans, he had to make the film in English. "Why not an English film? A filmmaker should not be set by regional boundaries. If an Italian director like Bernardo Bertollucci can make an English film [The Last Emperor] based on Chinese history, why can't an Indian filmmaker make a film on an Indian myth discovered by an American explorer in English?"
He doesn't plan to explore the NRI market alone. "Bokshu, The Myth is an international film and will have an international release." The film will be released simultaneously in four countries, including the US, next year.
Shyamaprasad does not feel restricted when he makes films in an Indian language. "I will make films in Malayalam. Subtitling ensures that you reach a wider audience. My Malayalam film Agnisakshi was most enjoyed by the Japanese, as it was repeatedly shown over there."
His next film will be in Tamil, based on a short novel by Kamala Suraiya [formerly Kamala Das] on Sri Lankan Tamils. The author had written the novel in Colombo, where her husband Madhava Das was on a World Bank assignment in the 1980s. "It is one of my most important projects in the pipeline. Since it is a collaborative effort with the National Film Corporation of Sri Lanka, many formalities have to be completed before we can start shooting," Shyamaprasad says.