With three National Film Awards to his credit, Bijukumar Damodaran or Dr. Biju, as he is commonly known in the Malayalam film circle, is one of the most acclaimed filmmakers in the Malayalam film industry. In this exclusive interview, he talks about his new film ‘Veyilmarangal’, journey from being a homeopathic student to a filmmaker, why independent films struggle for a good theatrical release, the political climate in the country, being driven by social issues and more.
‘Veyilmarangal’ is the first Indian film to win an award in the main competition for Golden Goblet in Shanghai International Film Festival. As a filmmaker, you have already won three National Awards. Do you think awards serve as a validation for good work?
Yes, awards do matter, especially in the case of independent filmmakers like me. It is difficult for art-house films to get a proper theatrical release in India. Winning awards helps a film get some recognition and that, in turn creates more awareness about it. National Awards are very prestigious and I feel fortunate that I have been bestowed with the honour three times.
Why do you think it is difficult for independent or smaller films to get a good theatrical release? Do you think we need more screens or a better distribution network?
It is a difficult question to answer. A large number of films, across different film industries, get released in India every year. Often, we see that the films which have big stars or are considered to be commercial or safe from the business perspective get promoted by the producers. Even distributors and other parties show more interest in such films. Smaller films struggle to find a place for themselves in such a scenario. Government and individuals should come forward and take some steps to change this scenario.
Veyilmarangal is your tenth film as a director. Most of the films you have made have dealt with social issues. Why is that?
When I was thinking of making my first film, I asked myself what purpose my film will serve. I think it is a question every filmmaker should ask himself. If we are not clear as to why we are making a film, the audience will respond similarly to it. They will not be able to connect to the film. I decided to make films which will at least start a conversation or make the ones who see it dwell upon a particular issue which is plaguing the society. If my work contributes to even a small change in the society or compels people to think, I will be happy
You have spoken about caste based issues in Veyilmarangal.
Yes, that is the one prominent issue we have addressed in the film. We have also spoken about how migrating from one place to another affects people’s lives. Till ten years back, Kerala was one state where there was no friction in the society because of caste. People did not face any kind of discrimination but now, unfortunately, things have changed.
What do you think has caused this change?
I guess the political climate is one of the reasons. There is a lot of negativity out there. You see politicians giving hate speeches and inciting people to indulge in violent acts openly. I do not think we have seen a similar scenario anytime in the past. Earlier, there was a sense of togetherness in the society but now people are being slotted into different categories based on their caste, colour and religion.
There is a door like structure which one sees repeatedly in the trailer. Is it a metaphor?
Yes, it is a symbolic image. The film traces the journey of this family which consists of a father, mother and a child. They are migrants and moving from one place to another. As they are homeless, this child often sees this door which represents something which would lead to a home. He always dreams of his family and him living together in a place which they can call their home.
You have said in an interview that you make movies for yourself. Are you detached from the audience’s expectations while making a film?
I do want a large number of people to watch my film but when I am in the process of making a film I cannot start thinking whether the audience will like my film or not. A lot of filmmakers say in their interviews as to how they constantly analysing what the audience will like while they are writing the script or shooting the film. You must make a film which you believe in and would like to see yourself. If make a film honestly and for the right reasons, the audience will appreciate it too.
You studied homeopathic medicine. How did you get into filmmaking?
I got into filmmaking purely out of passion. During my college days, I happened to see some world movies. I was fond of films since childhood but never got a chance to explore world cinema. Watching a wide range of films from all across the globe helped me understand cinema better. I started going to film festivals regularly and watched as many films as I could. I realised films could be political, social or anything you want them to be. They are a good medium to express your thoughts and ideas.
Platoon One Films is distributing the film. What has been their contribution towards helping the film reach out to the audience?
As I stated earlier, releasing an art-house or offbeat film in theatres is difficult. And, if that film has been made in a regional language, the process becomes all the more difficult. I am grateful to Shiladitya Bora and his company Platoon One Films for stepping in and distributing the film. The film will release in select multiplexes in major cities across the country. Though it is a Malayalam film, those who are not familiar with the language can watch it with subtitles.
Do you plan to make a Hindi film someday?
‘Sound Of Silence’, which was the eighth film I made, was not in Malayalam language. We shot the film in the mountains and it had a mixture of three different languages – Hindi, Pahari and Tibetan. Language should never be a barrier for a filmmaker. I am willing to make films in different languages. In India, Hindi films cater to a bigger audience than films being made in regional languages. If I get the opportunity to make a Hindi film, I will have to incorporate elements which would appeal to audience across different states. That would be a challenge but if the right opportunity comes along, I would like to take it up.