Images from a roving camera
The youngest in a family of filmmakers, Sanjeev Sivan tackles intriguing themes and issues on celluloid.
Strange encounters: Sivan with an Aryan family in Ladakh.
"What's that place called?"
"Kukurtopa. It's right next to what used to be the original Jharia village. We call it Pure Jharia."
"What happened to it?"
"It went down. By fire."
(From "Inside Coal Mine Fires")
Shot 1: Jharia, Jharkhand.
THE backdrop is grim, complex, and scary. A few years ago, a bunch of mining labourers went down a fire area in Kukurtopa. They never came back. What was left of them? A shovel and a tiffin box, which lay abandoned by the side of a crevice for more than 30 days. Nobody dared to touch them, or even go near them.
Today, Lodhna, the biggest fire of the Jharia Coal Mines (JCM) area, is approaching Jharia town in Jharkhand. The vibrant mining township, located about 250 km southwest of Kolkata, is aware of the impending disaster. Its people are quite literally living on fire, but have nowhere else to go.
"They literally live, breathe and even dream coal," explains Sanjeev Sivan, whose 45-minute documentary, "Inside Coal Mine Fires" promises to present different facets of this intense, real-time human predicament. "Having lived here for generations, owned properties and run businesses, they just turn a blind eye to the dangers creeping under their very feet. But the lurking fear is always there. The film tries to capture those moments of fear, panic, tension and anxiety."
Shot 2: Leh, Ladakh.
The Aryans in Ladakh are not a large community. This historically significant group of 5,000 or so, is mainly seen clustered in seven villages located down the Indus, between Khalatse and the Shayok-Indus confluence. Tall, sharp-featured and fair complexioned, the inhabitants are known as Drok-pa, a Buddhist term. This reclusive race inherits an ancient history and unique tradition and culture. More importantly, the tribe has preserved its racial purity down the centuries. It is this aspect of the local populace that attracts a host of regular visitors from Germany.
"Remember Hitler who believed in the purity of the Aryan race?" asks Sanjeev. "The obsession for racial purity, which was the core of Nazism, still has its fanatical disciples. Even in this day and age, German couples visit Ladakh to indulge in their weird obsession. They come to adopt Aryan children; in some cases, German women have sex with Aryan males in the fond hope of bearing a racially superior seed. Can you believe this?"
Sanjeev's documentary, "Achtung Baby! In Search Of Purity" explores a whole gamut of ethical, moral, psychological and legal issues involved in this bizarre, disturbing but existent phenomenon.
The 44-year old filmmaker seems to be in a state of perpetual motion! One week, cruising along a rugged mountain range; and in the very next, sweating it out in the lower depths of a dark and dicey coal mine. A sub-story of the forceful docu-drama on coal mine fires would see him plod to China and Bali sooner than later.
In between these seesaw cinematic expeditions, he has to also work on a whole set of new projects. Each one handling a bewildering theme: "Pie in the Sky: Inside a Flight Kitchen", "Inside Rashtrapati Bhavan", "The Pied Piper: Rat Menace in Arunachal Pradesh"...
Late last year, when he was chosen by National Geographic Channel to make documentary films for it, Sanjeev was one among 25 short-listed out of a massive 30,000-odd applicants; a final interview in Singapore clinched the deal in his favour. As a result, both "Achtung Baby" and "Inside Coal Mine Fires" have now reached the final stages of production; both are slated for release early next year.
Sanjeev feels that the genre of documentary films has really not come of age in the country. "In Europe and the U.S., documentaries run parallel to feature films," he says. "They get theatrical releases like features. `Achtung Baby' will be the first Indian documentary film to be commercially released in American theatres ."
There is another interesting aside to "Achtung Baby" a film supported by Think Film, the producers of last year's academy award winner, "Born into Brothels". Sanjeev has received offers to make a feature film on the same subject. "I'm really excited about the prospect. The screenplay is currently taking shape in New York. It's being written by me and Zach Sklar, who scripted the Academy Award-winning film, "JFK" directed by Oliver Stone."
Family in films
Before taking the plunge as an independent filmmaker, Sanjeev had been part of the Sivan film family assisting his father, a five-time National Award winning filmmaker, and two elder brothers in their projects. Eldest brother, Sangeeth is well known remember his last year's hit, "Kya Kool Hai Hum"? The younger of the Big' brothers is none other than Santosh Sivan, the acclaimed cinematographer and director, who has to his credit films like "The Terrorist" and the Shah Rukh starrer, "Asoka".
Sanjeev also had the benefit of attending a well-structured course in filmmaking, which earned him a Masters degree from the prestigious New York University. He is an ardent admirer of Iranian films and a die-hard fan of Majid Majidi.
Fondly acknowledging Public Service Broadcasting Trust (PSBT) for `discovering' him, Sanjeev says, "As far as I know, PSBT is the only agency in India that "encourages youngsters to make documentaries with moderate budgets. I'll always be grateful to Rajiv Mehrotra for backing me. My films for PSBT include `United Colours Of Bollywood' highlighting the `socialism' in Mumbai film industry, and `Sex, Lies & Book', which was based on the life of controversial sex worker, Nalini Jameela."
Sanjeev successfully wielded the megaphone for his debut feature film in Malayalam, "Aparichathan", a supernatural thriller released in 2004 with superstar Mamooty in the lead. His ventures in pipeline are as exciting. Set in a non-descript village in 19th century Kerala, "Devi", a bilingual (Telugu/Malayalam) film investigates the `tragedy of religion' as exemplified by the Adivasi system. "We are yet to find the Goddess though," chuckles Sanjeev. "The hunt is on for an actress who can effectively essay the role of Anjali, a woman with the face of an angel but the destiny of an accursed. We've screen-tested many leading heroines, but the search is not yet over."
Then there is an Indo-Pak love story titled "Love Knows No Boundaries" in Hindi, which is in pre-production stage. Produced by Jhamu Sugandh, the Rs.15-crore film is to be shot in New York & India.
The most exciting project for him, however, is another bilingual (Malayalam/Hindi) where all the Sivans come together for the first time: "That definitely is going to be a dream project for all of us."
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