Raging bulls: Jallikattu protests on film
Filmmakers Santhosh and Nirupama share what it was like to make a feature film based on the jallikattu protests that they recorded live.
A great uprising happened in our country last year when youngsters took to the streets to protest against the ban on jallikattu. Much like the protest itself, director Santhosh's idea for a documentary on the subject too blew out of proportions... into a full-length film titled Jallikattu 5-23 Jan 2017. "The film will be about five characters with interesting backstories that will merge into the protest," says Santhosh, who, along with his team of friends, shot the protests as they were happening. "We started with one camera. By evening, the lights were all switched off, in order to get the crowd to disperse. That's when the iconic shot of thousands of cell phones being used as a light source happened. That's also when we realised how massive this was. By the end of the protest, we were shooting with 10 cameras and a drone," the director laughs.
Santhosh has drawn inspiration from two events: the Arab Spring, a revolutionary wave of protests that happened in North Africa and the Middle East, and the famous Occupy Wall Street movement. "My wife, Nirupama, who’s also producing the film, recommended the film, Clash, which was about the happenings in a van during the Arab Spring protests. We also felt that the Occupy Wall Street protest in 2011 was similar to our protest, considering that there wasn't a single leader and the turnout still ended up being so tremendous in number. The Occupy Wall Street protest was against corporate companies, and the jallikattu protest too was also against such an organisation," he says.
That's why Santhosh unveiled the first look of his film at Wall Street. "We had to get the permission from the Mayor of New York after showing them clippings from the film. There’s a drone shot that captured nearly 12 lakh people in one shot from one end of the beach to another. In the film Gandhi, 3 lakh people were shot in one scene—a record. The scene in my film will make it to the record books. In fact, I had to prove to the Mayor's office that it wasn't a computer-generated visual," he says.
With such large numbers in attendance, one may imagine that it would have been difficult to shoot, but Santhosh says, “We didn’t have any trouble. The crowd loved being recorded. We were even served them food. The challenge was to co-ordinate the shooting process. We obviously couldn’t afford multiple takes. Also, since there were jammers used, we couldn't communicate among ourselves."
He says none of the five characters selected for the film are played by actors. “We simply covered a few people in the protest and got to know their backstory. We shot that later after making them participate in workshops to hone their acting skills. From about 10 profiles, we chose five whose narratives go well with the film,” he says.
The team was also keen on capturing the protests as they happened across the globe. "The ones protesting in Marina had their fair share of limelight, but I wanted to show what it was like in some random village in Tamil Nadu. We've captured that too. They are the real heroes. We also captured the protests that happened in 38 countries including in cities such as Melbourne and London. To cap off all this, we have also captured a paper that was submitted at Harwards and ours will be the first film to have shot inside the esteemed university." All this footage added up to about 200 hours of duration. "We've used close to 40 minutes of original video clippings in the film.” When asked if he has taken sides on the protest, Santhosh clarifies, "I haven't taken sides though I'm pro-jallikattu (smiles). The film is just about the protest, and I didn't have to create anything new."
Nirupama also clarifies that the film will have no songs. “A rock band performed in the protest and we simply covered that. It will act as some relief music." On being able to produce a film, she says, "We collected part of the money needed, but we can’t call the film a crowd-funded project as the contributors were mainly only our family members and close friends. The scale of the project became larger as the protest progressed."
Known for sending films such as Visaranai to international film festivals, Nirupama is confident that Jallikattu 5-23rd Jan 2017 will be a hit too at such festivals. The film is in the post-production stage presently, and the couple confirm that the film will be released in three months.