Jagadeesan Subbu: Don't look at animals as just meat
The director, talks about his recent release, Bakrid, which was pegged as 'India's first camel based film'
Bakrid is Jagadeesan Subbu's second film after Sigai, that got released on Zee5. They are starkly different films, not just in terms of the themes but also the shades Jagadeesan plays with. Sigai explores grayer shades while Bakrid is filled with a lot of colour. "I want my films to document something and be completely different from each other." He laughs after noting that his next might channel his violence, but what is constant, he believes, is the honesty he approaches each story with. In this chat, he talks about how he came around to making Bakrid.
How did the idea of making a 'camel-based' film occur to you?
At first, the core was to talk about food and the various layers there. I was traveling in the north and couldn't bear the food, after ten days. I started craving for our food. Also, I visited the annual camel fair at Pushkar where thousands of animals are brought in. We don't see many camels down south, do we? We don't have the food that it needs. At that time I wondered how it would be if we flipped the situation. An animal, new to our lands, finding itself. How would it survive? That was the core.
Several threads in Bakrid could have made for separate films -- the politics in meat-eating habits, for instance. However, the film doesn't explore them.
I don't want to take classes with my films. Porappokula neraya vishayatha sollittu poganum nu ninachen. There are already several films that exist in that zone. When you sermonise with a film, I feel people forget what they came for.
Camel sacrifice has been banned for a while, but the film doesn't acknowledge it.
Yes, it was banned in 2015. In that case, it is also wrong that goats that are sacrificed at the temple in my village, isn't it? All of this happens even today. My request is to reduce it -- to not look at animals as mere food. Don't perceive goats as mutton and chickens as chicken meat. Every family that rears an animal, treats them like children.
Nobody has the space, or is even willing to discuss anything anymore. When I first spoke about this, I was asked if I was a vegetarian. Well, I am not. But more than to change anyone, I wanted to just decrease my meat intake. That's what I want my film to do as well; I was like that even before I made Bakrid. You can't change anyone, you can only present a few perspectives.
Shooting with a camel must have been trying, especially with all the formalities you likely had to adhere to.
While I was prepared about shooting with a camel, I didn't expect the process of bringing a camel into the state to be this stringent. I figured it would be similar to bringing a horse or an elephant. But since it has been banned, the legalities are multifold. The government assists people who rear camels in Rajasthan. I had to explain the core of my story, give my script to them, speak to the collector and so on. Also, the animal is there for the entire duration of the film, not just for a few shots. We had to get permission from the Animal Welfare Board as well. It took me eight months to convince all these people.
There is a lovely little scene with a chips packet that says so much about the dynamics between the leads in the film.
People in the villages are warier than city folk about feeding anything that isn't healthy for their children. They might not know what exactly is wrong, but they understand when someone says a certain item is unhealthy. When an entire family does it together, there is a connection. There are cases when one parent does something without the knowledge of the other. I wanted to say that it shouldn't be the case. My Anni is like Geetha from Bakrid. My brother and she share an understanding relationship.
Rathinam is someone who understands that inappropriate food habits can cause problems to one's health. Moreover, I also made Rathinam a farmer, because who else understands food more?
Bakrid's world brims with kindness and humanity. Everyone seems to have a good heart. Was this optimism planned?
I was very sure about filling my world with humanity. The film has no smoking/drinking shots either. I wanted the film to be one that just gives; I wanted all my characters to be good people. Namma ellaarume manidhatha tholachitu thane irukom ipo. In the past two decades, I don't know what transpired but we seem to have lost human connections. In fact, birds and animals these days possess more humanity than humans do.
Did you feel, however, that had the audience seen Rathinam's struggle more, we may have empathised more with his journey?
I've only shown a small struggle and even that is a part of a nightmare -- Now it feels as if I forced it into the film. I didn't want to show that struggle. It was a conscious decision. Konjam velagi kaamikanum nu ninachen. We are so scared about trusting people these days but there are several good people around us. Namakku than therla. That is why I wanted the people on my screen to be positive.
Apart from directing this film, you have also shot it. Was that tough?
My experience of working with cinematographer-turned-directors like Vijay Milton and Manikandan made it very easy for me to both direct and shoot it. Also, I had almost all my shots on paper, including the one where the camel turns to look at Vikranth beseechingly at the police station. The entire team took spent some time with the camel when it was brought to Chennai. I noticed how the camel behaved with its trainer; it looked at him with such affection. I have only seen dogs behave that way. All that went into the script. The animal bonded with Vikranth so well that we could show it all as we hoped.