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T K Devasia (INTERVIEW) / 31 July 2013
Several filmmakers from Kerala have won international accolades for their films in Malayalam, but very few have succeeded in making international films.
Top among them is Biju Viswanath, who has made a niche in the international film circuit without compromising the creative pursuits. Winner of several international awards, Biju’s movies have been screened throughout the world. He has directed movies in English, Irish, Japanese, and Indian languages. His feature film Viola received the “Golden palm” award in the 2011 Mexico international film festival. Marathon (2010) based on the true story of Pulitzer Prize winning American poet William Morris Meredith Jr received two awards: best cinematography and best screenplay in the New York independent film festival. A post-graduate in English literature and holder of Ph. D in Film Adaptation of Novels, Biju multi-tasks the roles of director, cinematographer and screenwriter. He shared his varied experience and his views on the emerging trends in an exclusive interview with Khaleej Times. Here are the excerpts:
What brought you to the world of films?
My dad Cheri Viswanath was a screenwriter. I used to accompany him to locations. When one of the child actors didn’t turn up I was chosen by actor/director Madhu to play a part in Dheerasamere Yamunathere. But I found the world behind the camera more interesting.
You are one of the few filmmakers from Kerala to hit the international film circuit. What prompted you to go overseas?
I feel that my sensibilities and my style of narration more suited to international audience. The response to my films abroad had given me more confidence to travel in that direction. Moreover I find it easier to develop projects abroad. That doesn’t mean that I am not open to doing projects in India. Currently I am in the pre-production of a Tamil film
You have made films in different languages. How could you break into these languages and what is your experience working in these languages?
I had never felt language as a barrier. I believe that the language of cinema is visuals. I write my screenplays. I was fortunate to have good co-writers from other languages who understood the nuances and helped me realize my vision.
Have you been able to do justice to the sensibilities of the people who speak these languages? Which language has given you more satisfaction?
From the responses I received in Ireland, Italy and Japan I think they like it. As I mentioned before, I don’t have any preference of languages. I like to work as an international filmmaker who can transcend language boundaries.
Besides direction, you have also been handling cinematography and screenplays. How the multi-tasking has helped you in making the films?
This has helped me a lot to translate my thoughts and vision into movies completely without any loss. I believe that all directors should have a firm command over the medium. I find it very liberating to be able to visualise the stories in the way I want it.
You have tried feature films, docu-features and short films. Which form you like most and why?
I prefer features and shorts; they give me more satisfaction as a filmmaker.
You have done only very few feature films? Is this due to lack of finance?
I had done 7 feature films and two of them are in pre production. I prefer to stay away from rat race. For me success is the ability to do things I like to do and the process should give me happiness. I am completely grateful and happy. Moreover there are no rules that one should do x amount of films in x amount of time.
What is the state of film financing abroad? Is it accessible to filmmakers from other languages?
Film financing is the same everywhere. If you have a star, it’s easy to find funds. Only difference I felt abroad is that if you are making a movie in English you are thinking of a bigger market; so the chances of getting a wider audience are more. That being said even films made in lesser known languages like Kazakh, are getting international releases. Anyone can have access to international market. The key is to have an original concept, good script and endurance
How is the marketing scene?
The earlier concept of finding a market through film festivals is slowly changing because there is lot of content available because of DSLR cameras and cheaper technology available. Many small festivals can’t help promote films the way they want to. Of course if you get an award in Sundance or Cannes the scenario is different. But how many films make it there? The whole marketing scene is evolving fast. I believe that internet will be biggest venue for movies in future with options like bit torrent bundles, video on demand, releasing films through You tube or Vimeo and peer to peer file sharing being seriously considered as options so that you have the freedom and power to release your movie to the whole world without middle men.
You have done only two works in your mother tongue? Are you planning any further films in Malayalam?
I find it easier to work abroad. As I mentioned earlier I am open to that idea. It may happen soon.
How do you view the present state of Malayalam films, especially the new generation films?
I spend most of my time abroad. I get to know of Malayalam industry through my friends in Kerala. It’s a good sign that more movies are being made and filmmakers have the freedom to try new concepts .I feel that even now when you want to do a good movie we need the support of a star or “saleable actor” who has satellite rights. That’s sad. There should be space for all types of movies. If someone has a good script which should reach wider audience; he/she should be able to make it without going after the mercy of a “Saleable actor”
What do you think about the film industry in Hindi and other Indian languages? How do they compare with the international films?
Hindi films have evolved a lot. Indian films have lot of potential; the only problem is that our choice of themes and narration still hasn’t changed much. Of course in Hindi, Tamil and other regional languages lot of path breaking movies are made. But they form only a tiny part. I am speaking about the majority of mainstream films. People are under the mistaken notion that if they use some camera or technology they use in Hollywood it will become international. Nothing can be farther from truth. I always felt that a great actor like Kamal Hassan would have got greater mileage if he had gone international with character driven movies like Sadma and Dasavatharam. Because when we try to compete with Hollywood we should be able to do technically better movies than Matrix or Bat Man to get noticed; which I don’t think is the way to go.
You have handled artistes from different language and cultures? Who have been most easy to work with?
I find European and American actors more easy to work with. Since we shoot with sync sound, they will come to sets only after learning their dialogues by heart. One thing I liked a lot is their dedication and punctuality. They spend lot of time preparing for characters irrespective of budget, once they commit, they devote their time and energy for that project only i.e. one project at a time
What do you think is your most significant work?
I always believe my best work is my upcoming project, to quote Robert browning “the best is yet to be”
What’s your next project?
Three feature film are in various stages of development: first one is a dark comedy set in east Africa which will start shooting in September made by Said Alavi the producer of Dejavu. Second one is a Tamil movie which I am developing with actor Vijay Sethupathi. Third is “Felice goes East” written and produced by Canadian/ Italian author Betsy Burke. I will start filming this in January 2014.
What inspires your films?
Stories of faith, hope, endurance and the magnificence of human spirit never ceases to interest and inspire me.
What is the impact of the IT on the film industry? What role you see for the technology in future?
Internet is future of independent film.
What a new film maker should keep in mind for an international foray?
Have a good script. Try not to ape what others are trying to do. Be yourself and be truthful and passionate to your work.
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