‘Olu's story open to interpretation’
...says National award-winning filmmaker Shaji N Karun about his new film, which will open the Indian Panorama section of this year’s International Film Festival of India
Just like his films, a conversation with director Shaji N Karun carries so much depth and opens your mind to new thoughts and feelings. In a chat with Cinema Express, the National award-winning filmmaker behind enduring classics such as Piravi and Vanaprastham discusses his new film Olu, the use of CGI, what filmmaking means to him, and why he did not submit Olu to IFFK.
Produced by AV Anoop, Olu (She) has Shane Nigam and Esther Anil playing the principal characters. Another speciality is that the film sees Shaji collaborating once again with Frenchman Pierre Assouline who co-produced Vanaprastham. Pierre serves as the creative producer.
Olu just had its premiere at the Kolkata International Film Festival and is set to be the inaugural film at this year's International Film Festival of India (IFFI) to be held in Goa. Shaji hopes it doesn't turn out to be another one of those films that are comprehended and accepted by outsiders but not Malayalis.
The fantasy film tells the tale of a girl raped and thrown into the backwaters of Kerala. A mysterious phenomenon then sustains her life underwater. "A whole new world is brought alive," says the director, who is delving into fantasy for the first time. "It's certainly a fresh attempt from my part. The film depicts the platonic relationship between the girl and a painter (played by Shane Nigam) who is asked to paint her dreams. It's a story open to interpretation. Different viewers will take away different meanings."
Most of the visuals were realised with the help of CGI, also a new territory for the filmmaker. As someone who started out as a cinematographer, Shaji believes that one shouldn't rely too much on computers to tell their stories, but he also clarifies that he is not against the idea. "I mostly prefer telling my stories through real images. However, I have made an exception in the case of Olu, because the story demanded it. There is a combination of green screen and live-action work."
He cites James Cameron's Avatar and Titanic as superior examples of films that used CGI to great effect. "They are technical marvels, but at the same time, they also told good stories and explored several themes. As long as one has a solid story to back the visual effects, I don't see anything wrong with it."
The director is all praise for the technicians that worked on Olu. "We now have the capability and resources to develop high-quality visual effects. I also see this film as a way to promote the many talented graphics artists working in our country."
When asked about the current state of cinema, Shaji answers with another question, "How many films made today will be remembered after 20 years? The majority will make only a temporary impact. They don't have any artistic value. It's all about profits, and a filmmaker who makes films for profit cannot be called a true artist; he is a middle-man at best. One should ask oneself if they want to be an artist or a middle-man. You cannot be both at the same time. A true artist will have some integrity and responsibility. A filmmaker is 'poor' when his film is forgotten within a year. I believe that an artist's duty is to create work that will be remembered and discussed for many years, not something that will be immediately forgotten, no matter how much it makes at the box office."
He further adds, "We know of artists who became destitute and died, without their work getting acknowledged. But today, their artworks fetch millions. Look at the irony: They have become rich after they have passed away. If they were alive today, they would be in the same position as an Ambani or a Birla. An artist should create work that informs and enriches his fellow beings, but the opposite is happening today. We are asked to dumb down our content."
Formerly a chairman of the Kerala State Chalachithra Academy and one of its leading pioneers, Shaji was at one point a very active member of the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK). But he is no longer associated with the institution. "The Academy has already made it clear that they don't have any respect for me, even though my films have earned critical acclaim. So, I can only see them the way they see me. This is why I didn't submit Olu to IFFK. People who run it don't understand the value of cinema," he says.