Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Where you were born and brought up, your family, your education, etc.
I am born in a farmers family, deep down south of Tamilnadu, in a village called Maharajapuram at the slopes of western ghats of Virudhunagar district. My father Late Dr.R.Raghupathy, who is the first generation graduate of our family, was a Tamil Professor and my mother Ms.Rama is real country goddess with her unlimited spirit and energy. My village is a classic Kurinji(mountainscape) land and as so is my mind. Though my schooling was in an Anglo Indian Convent in cities like Chennai,Trichy strictly conditioned by early morning athletics, eight hours of subject classes, two hours of bharathanatyam, one hour of carnatic music, weekend hindi classes etc etc, my body always resonated to my summer life with Cattles, Pagan Gods and Goddesses like Mariamman, Karuppannasamy, Occult, Sithars(Sathuragiri hills), Rain fed rivers, deep wells, Lush green, Cycling, Swimming, Stealing fruits, Kittipuli(country games) etc in my village.
All men in our family seemed to be interested in revolution and practiced hard core left politics holding district level, state level, national level positions in Communist Party of India and all women in the household were running the kitchens,cattle and paddy fields to make a living. I guess all my questioning and rebellion started from that point of conflict. When there were pictures and books of Lenin, Bhagath Singh, Jeevanantham, Bharathiyar, Periyar all around my father’s study room, Periyar attracted me a lot even as a child. He made me think why there were no pictures or books of women leaders or writers around. My readings were random till my teens as there was too much of data around you. My student days were filled with Utopian dreams about revolution and all my experiments with poetry, dance, music, oratory, activism, drama throughout my youth were aimed at social change by revolt.
As any other middle class, studious student, I ended up doing my graduation in engineering and I did fair with an university rank but my calling was ART. It was a difficult and unsafe choice, said my family and many of my friends who were body-shopped to west but I decided to be faithful to my desire and freedom of choice.I happily abandoned my Instrumentation Engineering and started following my intuitions.
How did filmmaking become a passion?
My initial apprentice ship with mainstream filmmakers like Bharathiraja, Cheran and Jerrold were like an acid test but I always thought I had entered a wrong laboratory. I spent a very brief period out there in the “industry” but soon realized that am not an industry person at all. But Cinema as a tool of expression caught my imagination and for me who had appreciation and training in various art forms, it was a super cool medium. Digital Cinema as a democratic, independent space and not dictated by market enthused me. For me who is in the constant search on finding my own voice and also to make it heard, Independent Cinema was the best. I attached my body to a handy camera, microphone and a mac-book and started my endless drive towards un shed truths and dark spaces. My strong belief on art as an intervention with myself, my life, my society is a constant evolution and am obsessed with it.
And how did poetry happen?
Language is my first Love. My tryst with it is poetry. I might have killed myself or murdered a few, If I had not known and allowed to write. I started writing to resolve the conflicts myself but slowly realized that it can also be a mirror which others want to see themselves and have a dialog with it or throw stones and break it. I am fine any of the reactions because for me, reactions are important. I believe strongly that giving oneself over fully to life’s experiences and subjecting it to keen and relentless observation are what gives a person the language for poetry and a fertile expanse of ideas. The Tamil poetry tradition or by one’s acquaintance with the discourses of feminism, poetry in its entirety demands an endless enquiry into the self, and cycles of the self’s destruction and renewal. In particular, it is vitally important not to distance oneself from life’s struggles.
As an evolving poet myself with one Tamil poetry anthology “Otraiyilaiyena” (As a single leaf) which has seen three editions so far and the second one “Ulagin Azhagiya Muthal Penn” (The first beautiful woman in the world) which has invited mixed reactions like “Iyal Poetry Award” for 2009, call for ban by some Hindu People’ s Party, repressive attacks and attempts to curb right to expression by some left fanatics like Makkal Kalai Ilakiya Kazhagam etc, my conviction towards poetry as the finest form of human experience has only become strong.
How do you decide to make a film on a particular issue? Can you take us through your creative process?
I guess, I should recall my works.
Mathamma captured the practice of devoting the girl children to the deity of the folks of Arundhati community in Arakonam district and Parai revealed the status of Dalit population, particularly women in India with the south Indian village Siruthondamadevi as a classic example. Both Mathamma and Parai triggered a successful video participatory movement, which ultimately demanded the immediate government intervention, securing protection to women who were harassed in the name of caste in the locality. Break the Shackles focused on how the three track policy of globalization, privatization and liberalization without the interest of social justice in a highly unequal structure of country like India becomes more discriminative to dalits, the downtrodden. Connecting Lines spoke about student politics in India and Germany, its background, indulgences, activism and struggles pragmatically to reveal the conflict and indeed a dialog for resolution. Waves after waves, explored how art forms magically rejuvenate the lives of children, disrupted by the major natural disaster Tsunami 2004. Altar is a documentary intervention on child marriages and how women and children become victims of religious beliefs and practices in Kambalathu Naicker Community. A Hole in the Bucket, is a factual story of thirst and sanitation from chennai, the urban south of India and Goddesses is the notes from the lives of three extra ordinary women – a funeral singer; a fisherwoman; a graveyard worker.
I choose subjects in which I can place myself also as a subject without any compromise. Dealing with the community is not like dealing with actors. I am more responsible and I am committed to fight till the end. I have done this so far with all my indulgence even when in certain cases, you do not get to anywhere .Let me honestly tell you that I really do not believe in change in one night by one film. Change is a long long process.I am just attempting to create a participatory dialog with my film practice. I trial, error, seek and try to find some answers collectively. In the whole process, I try to create a three dimensional cinema and only when all the three elements say, Image – Sound, Maker and the audience participate and interact equally, the film attains its fullest form.
What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on my debu feature film Sengadal. Please log on to seewww.sengadal.com.
Sengadal the Dead Sea is a feature fiction film which captures the fragments of simple lives beaten by three decade long ethnic war in Srilanka. It unfolds in a fisher village at Dhanushkodi, the southernmost tip of India, where life and death co exist.
What about being socially aware and carrying the voice of others do you enjoy the most?
I do not carry the voice of others. I am one among my people and raise my voice along with them.It makes my journey of life more meaningful. My art practice will not be cowed down by any threat or scandals or character assassination or isolation or annihilation. I will not let my freedom to be taken for granted at any cost.
Language is my first Love. My tryst with it is poetry. Conversation with Lakshmi Krupa, IDIVA, Times of India, Sep 24, 2010