“I am an avid consumer of art”Culture
Bollywood’s dance flicks and shoddy action scenes are common stereotypes of Indian cinema, but the country is also home to a plethora of experimental film directors that shoot unusual themes with low budgets. Currently visiting Sweden, Shalini Usha Nair is one of them.
Your movie Akam is set to have its Swedish premiere at the Fantastic Film Festival. Could you tell us about it?
“It’s a psychological thriller, about a man who starts believing his wife is a yakshi, a mythological creature shaped like a beautiful woman who sucks men’s blood, like a vampire.”
Akam is a low-budget flick with a vampire theme, which seems very different from the typical view of Indian cinema in Sweden. Are these types of films more common in India today?
“The industry in Kerala, where I come from, is going through a major transition right now. There have been a lot of independent and thematically bold films the last years. It seems like we, as a film industry, are going through a renaissance. And this goes for the rest of India too; more experimental films are being produced. And the reasons are very complicated. The globalization, the privatization of broadcasting networks and production companies being afraid of investing big money in films which they cannot earn back. But the timelines are not the same. In Hindi films this development started to happen some years ago, but it has just started in the Malayalam film industry.”
Malayalam’s film industry is often called Mollywood. How large is that industry compared to Bollywood?
“I don’t know the exact figures, but only around 1 out of 4 Indian films are Bollywood films, which are made in Hindi. The rest of them are regional films. Kerala is in the south of India, where we do Malayalam films. I don’t like to call it Bollywood or Mollywood, I see it as corruptions of Hollywood.”
What are your influences as an auteur?
“I am an avid consumer of art in any form. I like watching films, reading books, going to museums and seeing contemporary art. My aesthetics are surely shaped by other film makers, but there are too many to pick out any particular one. There are not many films that I hate outright.”
So no directors or movies in particular?
“No, I wouldn’t like to pick out any. I can say one today, but tomorrow it’s just another one. I do like a lot of different types of films. But I’m really excited to be here at the same time as George A. Romero. I really love his film Martin, so that’s one. It feels really surreal to be here and having dinner with him.”
You’ve studied at the Prague Film School. How did you end up there?
“I was working in Bombay and I really wanted to go to a film school. But in India it is a four year course. I was recommended to go to Prague Film School, which was a one year course. It was a point in my life where I wanted to go to some place I hadn’t been before.”
For Akam you chose an unusual technique for the film. Using sync sound?
“In low budget films it is the kiss of death, as India is a noisy country. And in India we have a history of dubbing, so people are not as used to the discipline required for making such films. Therefore, there was always cell phones ringing, noise from construction buildings, temples. Deciding to do sync sound was one of the most challenging decisions, but also something satisfying as it shaped the film.”
You’re probably fed up with this question, but as a female director…
“May I pre-empt this question? What’s it like to be a female director?”
I was thinking more of whether it’s harder to be a female director in India, compared to Europe?”
I don’t think so at all. I have spoken to female film makers in Europe, and it seems like we all have the same kinds of problems, which are not gender related. They are profession related. I don’t know if I am an exception, but I never had any gender related problems. Afterwards, I always get this question. Maybe it is more how media perceives a film produced by a woman. I’m sure there has been a time when it was a big problem, I’m sure there are places where it is a problem, even in India. Maybe I will face it. But with this film, I have not had any problems. Having said that, I’m a feminist, it is even clear in my film, but as a woman I have not had bigger problems compared to many of my male friends, who are still struggling to get through with their projects.”
What else have you got planned for your stay in Sweden?
“We are going to Malmö, we have seen the university here. Sweden is really beautiful. But I’m really shocked by the number of hairdressing salons. It’s crazy! It’s an insane number!”
I think there’s a street in Lund where most of the salons are, maybe that’s the one?
“Oh, it must be. Because I’m staying at Concordia, and every third shop seems to be a hair salon. I was thinking Swedish people were obsessed by their hair.”
What’s next for you in cinema?
“I am writing a political thriller, and hopefully something will come out of it next year. But I can’t say anything more about it. I have to see where it goes, and then we will see.”
Will it be shown in Sweden?
“I hope so, but it is hard to market Indian films outside India. I just don’t have that kind of funding, so film festivals like this are a great platform. People don’t see the other Indian films like the big Bollywood ones. It’s a problem that needs to be addressed. By festival programmers, experts and buyers of films, they must look closer to the channels they source through. They need to shovel the market more closely to get films like mine.”
Text: Kenneth Carlsson
Translation : Jesper Lodin