Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Kettle of Fish - a conversation about Sengadal with Nandhini for Time Out Mumbai

Hi. The first, rather obvious, question: Why the fictional format? And what did fiction allow you to do with the narrative, locations and characters you were dealing with that may not have been possible on a documentary form?  

There is always a fiction in reality and a reality in fiction. I wanted to try something and not to be trapped in some syntax.Rather than cutting and pasting the reality and getting lost in revisionism, I thought, I will trial this and trust me I am aware of situations where I may fail.Our three dimensional world is not as real as we think and to deal reality and still handling fictional elements is not a treachery and Art allows it.

Sengadal is a participatory work. I just facilitated everything and I will not claim authorship for that. Everything in the film is the memory of a Dhanushkodi fishermen or of a fisherwoman or a thought of a child or a  confession of a refugee or an incident a social worker had shared or an experience of a filmmaker herself or an interview of one of those Rameshwaram Public. I just beaded them or scattered them to a shape to what my mind responded in the whole process. In a sense, the film was a departure of memories, thoughts and confessions.Again, reducing life to a story line for better control is a No - No for me. I maybe tried to unfold the film as a space of inter relations and inter-stories.

As an artiste, I was limited in many ways like no money, no professional production support, no professional actors, constant intimidation by vigilance forces, harsh weather conditions and an impossibly difficult location. There was something which is driving me and I guess that is the fisherfolk's amazing ability to live a midst so much of violence.

The script evolved from series of my workshops with Dhanushkodi fishermen and Mandapam refugees. And I colloborated with my writers Jerrold and Shobasakthi to evolve something discreet with all my raw materials like monologues, interviews and my scrap books. It became something but nothing worked as written in the paper. What I learnt is in this kind of cinema, Mise en Cinema is not what the authors try and evolve but it is the community who dictate it. And the authorship becomes three dimensional with the artistes who facilitate the the community, the community itself and the viewers who convert memory as an experience. Sengadal is an unfinished cinema and it is always as parts and not as a whole anytime in its existence.
Sengadal enfolds a film within a film. Why did you choose the self-reflexive approach?  

I am always a sucker of this idea of artiste being an organic part of her piece of work. I am criticised to be self indulgent for this very aspect of my belief. And I also believed that the whole journey is as much a failure to the filmmaker as it is to the community he or she deals with. I was constantly interrogated by all kinds of forces like Q branch, Police, CB CID, Navymen, Railway Police, Coastal Guards and I was doing nothing but trying to document fishermen's life with a camera. The documentary filmmakers in this country are always seen as some terrorists with a bomb in their waist belt. I think I identified my travails with the travails of fishermen community though not on the level playing fields and I tried to somehow knot it up. 

I am this Witness - Confidante - Listener who is a trophy failure r. And I guess, it is also a reflection of my constant shuttling across thresholds of insideness and outsideness.
I remember an artist in Bombay saying that art was, in a sense, dead after the Godhra riots. Is there a sense, after the Sri Lankan massacre that filmmakers need a new language, perhaps, a new way of approaching the issue?  

I really have to confess to you that this question has made me think of two many things and go blank or get lost. But one has to always live with hope. Otherwise how can one carry on any kind of struggle? 

Whenever I am left to deal with different kinds of experiences and different kinds of humiliations in terms of degrees, marginalized people are going through,  I am always left with the feeling that I am doing no justice in terms of depicting it in cinema. When I think I should do a 'No Story' but still have fictional elements against reality principle or when I try and document lives without representation or when I use repetition as a technique for re inscription, I only fail at the end of process.

Mutilation of people's dignity takes many forms and however It seems to me that I were heading nowhere in my struggle as an artiste if we as a human race cant really cross the partition lines like geographical, cultural, racial, gender, generational and other such to create new alliances in reality.One is taken away from one's own land and reduced to slavery , One remains homeless in one's own land, one is dispossessed of one's very means of survival and all our notions of survival seems to be notion of everyday. We rise up to everyday and if and only we fight, we might have new Jerusalem. 

Social and Political conflicts, I wonder are easier to consume than aesthetics. So,Creative space for me depends on what we do "creatively" and there is no meaning in creative space without being ''social''. I try and approach from the notion of in between ness. Though I am not sure, my language makes any sense to anybody. Poetry or Cinema, language is my first enemy and that is the one which demoralizes me but still gives strength to fight with. I think, that is also part of our feminist struggles has for decades.

Do fisherfolk and refugees play themselves? Did you mix up professionals and amateurs? I’d like to talk to you about the process used.  

Casting was an outcome of my many visits in a duration of one year and workshops. But there were situations when whom you choose in workshops, give them a character and even practice dialogues never turn up at the day of shoot. I had to randomly pick and again train them from the scratch on the locations. Almost everyone in the Unit including the boys who helped us in tea were made to act and towards the end we ran out of people to cast for supporting roles.It was a night mare thinking about the shocks you get everyday you venture into shooting. Managing with refugees was the most challenging task for me as whom you find the first day disappear the next day and reasons can be, they have found a better wage job, or they were just visiting and did not want to lose that day's wage but had to return to their original camps or they just got an agent and left to Australia or they are just absconding.I had to forget my lessons about continuity in Cinema and it was always a crisis management or a paranoia or madness coming to terms with reality. Fishermen would leave us if it is low seas and they see a catch worth than acting in this stupid cinema where they were made to walk some ten times as retakes.And the rural public who did supporting characters would refuse to wear the same shirt out of boredom or disgrace.

I can go on and you will have a book written at the end.