1744 White Alto is nothing like Thinkalazhcha Nishchayam: Senna Hegde
The National and Kerala State award-winning filmmaker reflects on the success of Thinkalazhcha Nishchayam, his love for his hometown Kanhangad, and his upcoming release, 1744 White Alto
Senna Hedge adores his hometown Kanhangad so much that one can sense his discomfort whenever he travels to another place in Kerala to promote his films. "People must be sick and tired of me bringing up Kanhagad in every conversation," he chuckles. Senna has a good reason for doing so. Kanhangad is, for him, an "emotion" -- a reason he chose to settle there for good even when he had plenty of opportunities to move elsewhere, be it India or abroad.
The National and Kerala State award winner feels creatively and personally at his best when operating out of Kanhangad. "I feel so free and liberated when I'm back home. Maybe it's because I had such a free childhood," Senna muses. "Most of my memories with Kanhagad are of my carefree childhood and school days before societal stress took over -- before you become somebody else, you know. There is a sense of belonging somewhere still instilled in me. The feeling is akin to having a comfort food like rice soup when you catch a fever."
For someone who won plaudits for its authentic treatment of Thinkalazhcha Nishchayam (TN), you'd be surprised to know Senna had spent little time in Kanhangad: he was born there, but raised and schooled in Mangalore, pursued higher studies in Australia, worked in the US, Canada and Dubai. Another filmmaker would've probably settled for doing a film on something they've seen or experienced abroad, but Senna opted to train his lens toward something more grounded.
"I've never forgotten my roots," he says. "Every time I used to come home during holidays, be it while studying or working, I never went anywhere. I used to move around in my hometown and meet people, even those who probably didn't have the same wavelength, and yet I enjoy talking and listening to them."
Senna calls himself a "keen observer," and TN, he says, originated from those observations. "See, as a person, I've not experienced anything like in TN; but the central idea -- an unhappy girl who is too afraid to say what she wants, and then she does something that puts everyone in a limbo situation -- was happening around me all the time. There's no actual winner in such a situation. The social status may be different -- rich or poor -- but the emotion is the same. In that sense, TN was not very difficult to do. Everyone could relate to it."
As for the more unfamiliar elements of Kanhangad, he had sought the help of talented technicians in such departments as art and sound. "A film like TN can happen if the right people come together; it's not an effort or just one or two people. We had the right people with the right amount of knowledge and energy on the team."
As one not to rest on his laurels, Senna didn't take long to work on another project. From the promos of his upcoming release, 1744 White Alto, it's evident the film -- billed as a crime comedy -- looks significantly different from TN. Starring Sharafudheen, Vincy Aloshious, Anand Manmadhan, Rajesh Madhavan, and Nawas Vallikkunnu in principal roles, the film has nothing to do with Kanhangad, although the team shot there. "We don't exactly say where this story happens. It can happen anywhere in Kerala. Though everyone speaks Malayalam, it's not a 'Kanhagad film' in terms of geography. It's a make-believe world. We had the luxury to do anything this time around -- and not necessarily everyone has to agree with it. I mean, bringing a pop culture reference in a film like TN was a little harder because it's a rural film. In White Alto, everything was possible."
For Senna, White Alto was a creatively fulfilling endeavour. "It pushed me out of my comfort zone in many places. "Usually, my humour -- the satire and sarcasm that I enjoy -- is something that you might get after a while. It doesn't always have to work. However, the humour in this is direct."
He describes White Alto as a film replete with "silly, quirky" humour. "If people walk out of the theatre saying there were a lot of hilarious moments in the film, then I'd say we hit our objective."
With White Alto, Senna and his team also got an opportunity to expand their visual horizon. "I'm not a very visual person -- I enjoy visual movies, though -- but when I write something, I'm more into storytelling and plot development. However, White Alto is a far more visual film -- and I trusted Sreeraj Raveendran (director of photography) a lot on this. He had more choices and liberty this time around. We were able to expand our thought processes. In that sense, for me, it's an important film. But, you know, at the end of the day, you can only say these things if it works for the audience," he smiles.
But Senna also sees the film as something beyond the genre pleasures it offers. "There is a deeper message embedded in it", he says, which is "not as obvious as in TN, where things were sort of in your face. It was about the generation gap, how democracy should begin at home... things like that. However, I feel there is much more depth in White Alto -- it's got layers that need to be peeled and revealed. I'm not sure everyone might get it."
Senna is confident, though. "Unlike TN, White Alto is a relatively more structured and staged film," he says. "People got the humour when they read the script itself. Any enhancements that came later only pertained to the look and feel, which I don't think anyone from the team anticipated. In that sense, I believe we have done a far better job than what people would've expected."