The seven sisters
T.V. Chandran talks about his film ‘Bhoomimalayalam,’ which reaches theatres today.
This film weaves together the experiences of seven young women from different walks of life, living in different times and parts of Kerala.
Mapping the mindscape: Priyanka and Samvratha Sunil in ‘Bhoomimalayalam.’
All the films of T.V. Chandran explore and map female life in contemporary Kerala. Films such as ‘Alicinte Anveshanangal,’ ‘Mangamma,’ ‘Susanna,’ and ‘Padam Onnu Oru Vilapam’ look at Malayali women and their lives during the last decades in Keralam. In his latest film, ‘Bhoomimalayalam,’ Chandran weaves together the lives of several women whose lives are struggles for existence and survival. ‘Bhoomimalayalam’ received the John Abraham award for the best film this year. Excerpts from an interview…
How did this film first occur to you? Was it an image, an incident, a person or a thought?
This film was actually in my mind for a long time. In a way it springs from my film ‘Kathavaseshan’ in which I wanted to use the song of a Pakistani singer. It went like this: ‘At night, when alone, why are women scared?’ (Rath mein andhere mein, ladkiyam kyon darti hai?). Due to copyright issues, I couldn’t use that song in that film. Instead I gave these lines to Gouhar Raza and created songs for that film.
It is from this song that this film arose, this image of the fear that women experience when they are all alone. In that way, this film is a continuation of ‘Kathavaseshan’ in many ways. So, when you say that my film is ‘female-oriented’ it doesn’t make sense, since there are many common elements recurring, and certain moments and characters finding their place in all my narratives.
Structure of the film…
The issues dealt with and the structure of the film is not something that I ‘thought up’ or developed through research. There are several things happening simultaneously in my mind. For instance, in the film though there are references to many real incidents, none of them is shown in the film. They do not appear as such in the film, but the film is ‘about’ those incidents. More than the incident itself, what becomes important is those who are affected by it. They stand within it and it triggers nightmares in them.
Maybe that boy didn’t get drowned like this or that brother was not exactly beaten to death in front of his mother. Maybe these things happened in a different way. And that girl is actually dreaming about a suicide that never happens.
The past events in Thillankeri are actually recollected by the daughter who was not even born then. So these incidents are in the background and what the film explores is the aftermath, the effects and affects.
All your films have looked at the plight of women, but ‘Bhoomimalayalam’ is structurally different from the earlier attempts. Can you elaborate on that?
I think it is a transformation from one to many. In earlier films, I placed one single individual at the centre of the narrative. In this film there are several women. This film weaves together the experiences of seven young women from different walks of life, living in different times and parts of Kerala. All of them share something – fear. And they all have nightmares.
What I am trying to do is to map the consciousness of a region through the lives, experience, dreams and anxieties of these women. In this narrative, the conscious and the unconscious mesh together. That was what I was trying to explore.
I have also tried to map it in time and space; you have incidents and places of 1948 and then the present; likewise you can also find the narrative stretching geographically across Kerala. It is also a rumination upon our present ‘state’ – a stocktaking of sorts through time. This, I think is a shift from my earlier films.
In a way it is history, history as nightmare…
But each woman experiences, understands and faces them differently. In the film you find that one woman accepts the murder and then the death of two men in her lives, another one escapes a rape attempt, yet another one survives a divorce, while one youngster is pregnant and alone, she is helpless.
Finally one woman triumphs and makes a leap, out and away, from this nightmare. This is how the film is structured.
And I don’t end the film on the woman who wins. Instead it ends with the other girl who is witness to it, who for me represents all the others. Maybe they all desired that triumph like her, the winner. So again, more than the incident itself, it is the look and experience triggered by it that the film follows.
Where does this film find a place in your oeuvre?
I would like to point out Mani Kaul’s words about the film as a great recognition (Kaul was jury chairman of the John Abraham Awards). He said we are nobody to judge a film. So what one can do is to see whether a film is able to move the medium of cinema a bit forward.
Judgment is all about this and not comparing one with another and placing one against and above the other. I found those words of Mani Kaul very important and inspiring. For I believe that through each and every film, what I am trying to do is to move an inch forward from where we are.
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Chennai and Tamil Nadu