Saturday, March 19, 2011

Urumi-Maker Santosh Sivan In Conversation

Brandishing an Urumi, Santosh recreates interest in an untold and forgotten story in our history | By Laya

Just prior to the release of the historical blockbuster Urumi, a freewheeling Santosh Sivan, in an exclusive and uninterrupted chat with Yentha. Urumi casts Prabhu Deva, Prithviraj, Tabu, Vidya Balan, Genelia D'Souza, Nitya Menon, Jagathy Sreekumar and an array of other talented artists.

Y: Urumi is your much talked about movie in Indian cinema circles for a variety of reasons. How did you come across this movie? And Kelu Nayanar - the protagonist?
S.S: We all know our history. About the British coming to India, their rule, then our freedom struggle, etc. And for us in Kerala, we are more familiar with Vasco De Gama landing up on our shores, in Kozhikode as a peppertrader. That was his first visit. During his second and third visits, he tried to establish some kind of a monopoly. He opposed the Muslims who supplied pepper. And during his third visit, he actually burnt a ship taking the lives of 400 people including women and children. It can be called the Pepper War. Our film takes off at this juncture.

So our point is that when you end up destroying 400 lives, there is bound to be people who have reason to react. Kelu is the character who represents all these people. It is not a single person. It is a group or mass in a way - the people, their feelings. And, Sankar Ramakrishnan, our Script Director has done a fantastic job in gleaning out all relevant details.

Armed with all these, I decided to make an interesting movie. And I love it when different cultures meet, the period movies so to say. Again this movie has 3 versions of which the English version is devoid of songs. So with a good script in hand and with almost all the cast and crew putting in their best, it ought to come out as a good movie.

Y: How much fantasy has been added to this movie or is it historically correct?
S.S: Like I said before, we tried to tell this story from a different angle. See, Urumi is basically about how the people at that time felt, rather than how history was on a day to day basis. It depicts the feelings of people, their emotions against the Portuguese. It is not history being shot like a documentary. It is about discovering all that happened in the lives of these people and Kelu represents them- their feelings, as I mentioned earlier. It is a very story based kind of film which connects to a lot of people and brings them together.

Y: The 'Urumi' plays an important role in the film. Is this made of gold from ornaments worn by the people killed on the ship?
S.S: No, it is not that the Urumi is made entirely of gold taken from the dead. It is just that when Kelu sees the dead bodies, he just incorporates that also into his emotions. The Urumi in a way represents the people. It has an emotional appeal.

Y: We understand that the film was shot in the jungles of Maharashtra - Any specific reason?
S.S: As a cinematographer, landscape is very important to me. To me, the landscape is a character. You can see that in most of my movies. I shot 'Tahaan' in Kashmir, so that's the landscape you see there. One of the most important aspects of Urumi would be the beautiful, untainted air. My basic intention was to present an unpolluted, pristine, fresh and healthy landscape. I also wanted the people to see this in a way where they find everything fresh and healthy...not trying to glamorise it... but you should feel it. That's what I thought. I loved the idea of capturing things that are fleeting. So I decided to set it in a place where there were no buildings around and they could feel a huge expanse of land. And that is why I shot in Maharashtra and in Mangalore, Chennai and in Kerala.

How do you manage cinematography and direction? Specifically in Urumi?
S.S: I don't see it as an effort and I feel very comfortable when I am shooting. Here we have a combination where I should be telling the story and I am at liberty to make the film the way I feel. I don't want to make a film like someone else. I think everyone has a distinct signature when they make a movie.

In Urumi we had a very supportive and remarkable team to support me. Shaji Natesan, our main producer and Prithviraj were always there to see that everything was okay and everybody was happy. And of course I was helped by a lot of fantastic people. I had Anjali Sukla and Alphonse who did special effects and Sabu Cyril doing art direction. So I felt very comfortable with the people who had worked with me before, taking care of a lot of aspects. And also the same with the actors. It was altogether like friends making a movie. We had Genelia, Prabhu Deva, Jagathy... It was fun working together. We had different kinds of people from all over the country, and also people from UK and Japan for technical support and making the English version. So it has the potential to reach out to a global audience.

Prithviraj - as an actor and as a co-producer?
S.S: Prithviraj is very much involved in the movie and has a very challenging role too. It is something that he has not done before. He underwent training in Kalari for the role. Since he is also a producer, he made sure that everyone was happy with everything and ensured that everything was in place. He was an unassuming kind of producer.

Y: You have an amazing line-up of actors from across India.
S.S: Yes, we have an exciting line up of Non-Malayalee actors. Prabhu Deva - a director and an excellent actor, then we have Arya. Genelia has done well. You can see her on horseback and performing Kalari. Ullas has trained her in Kalari for the film and then we have Vidya Balan. He taught her the ancient Dasiyattom kind of movements...we wanted someone who has that kind of body language and it should be convincing. Pairing Nitya Menon with Prabhu Deva has also worked out extremely well. Tabu did a song too. We wanted them to do it all naturally. The regional element was taken out in the making of this movie. And all of them have done very well.

The movie trailer is a hit already. What was the reason behind the movie being multi-lingual? Was it to recover the heavy budget?
S.S: See, I like my films to be seen by everyone. Since I am a movie maker and I travel around the world, I would love my films to be seen worldwide. Like every other movie maker, I too want my film to be seen by as many people as possible. That's why Urumi went in for multi-lingual. We are keeping our fingers crossed.

Y: The movie is to be released on March 31st. What are the moments during the making of the movie that you cherish?
S.S: (Laughing) ... The making of this movie was full of moments to cherish. With so many people at the shoot, anything could happen. And so many things were happening simultaneously that each day could present a problem, and you are constantly hoping that everything goes well. So it was a great relief when everything went well.

Y: After all possible roles as cinematographer, writer, producer, director, how did Makaramanju happen?
S.S: (Again laughing)... It was actually Lenin Rejendran who made it happen. I was pleasantly surprised that he asked me to shoot the movie and my father told me to take it up. I thought, maybe some things just happen like that.

My grandmother used to teach music at the Palace and I used to accompany her. Sometimes she would bring calendars with Ravi Varma paintings from there and tell us the stories from mythology through those paintings. I always thought that Raja Ravi Varma paintings were very important culturally. May be it was my first visual learning. So when this subject came up, I wanted to do it. I don't know whether it was a good experience or not. Jagathy, who is a fantastic actor, came to me and told me that what I was doing was good and asked me to keep up the good work. That helped.

After spending an hour in conversation with this talented artist - Santosh Sivan, he reminded us that we could have written a book with all that he had told us. Now that certainly is a thought. Having worked with all the big names in the film industry and having donned all possible roles, here was a man, humble, yet not hiding his steely determination to do the very best in whatever he does. We are sure we haven't heard the final clap of the brandished Urumi yet.


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