Kamala Das has been a recurring theme in many of artistic projects in Malayalam including the latest one Aami. Can you elaborate on your motivation behind pursuing an independent film on her?
To be honest. Kamala Das with her unrelenting life and works is a delicious cinematic subject to explore. As a Poet, she is someone I look upto and no one I knew of, had sung into subjects of polyamory and bisexuality like her. The way she did herself away with pretensions and superficialities as a Writer to understand her true self is adorable and I am interested in tracing that journey. And only an independent expression that cannot be dictated by capital and market demands can depict her restless war between passion and reason, body and soul. Her ordeal to find true love is the one line subject of my film. I will pursue making an Indie English Film, ideally an Indo Canadian Co-Production for a global audience.
You have referred to this upcoming project as an ‘ irreverent and imaginative piece’ in your Facebook post about the same. How so and in what ways?
I am not interested in making a Biopic of Kamala das. My film will be a fictional take on the life and works of the iconic writer of her times but will remain fiercely loyal to her “essence”. She says ” I have no secrets” but she also says “I am a practised teller of white lies”. I cant think of any other tool than fiction to capture an artist who is full of contradictions. She was on a constant quest for true love and her own identity. She says in her poetry that she shall serve herself in bedroom mirrors, dark fruit or silver platter. Her writing constantly strip teases our mind. For me that is a “play”. Herself and her work come together, depart, conflict, make peace, peel of the layers one by one and that magic is a perfect aphrodisiac for me as a filmmaker. And somewhere I identify myself in her purgatory. Infact many women artists who believe in “personal is political” will all have a shade of “Kamala Das” in them. Irreverence is the only tool that can do justice to her portrayal.
Your take on the relevance of such a film in a state where mere mention of female sexuality is slammed as ‘lady oriented’ and denied by the CBFC
CBFC is a sick joke of our times. Some buffoons are occupying the chairs of that useless office and they are only interested in pleasing their political masters. Such a waste of our tax money. It is high time that this archaic, regressive and colonial institution is trashed and an independent body of filmmakers, film buffs, activists and artists should be realized just to “certify” films. Every filmmaker and every viewer should know that we are constitutionally guarded by laws that provide us with complete freedom to make and watch films without censorship and state intervention. If at the age of 18, one can decide who can rule them, he or she will be capable to decide what films to watch or to reject. CBFC’s existence is an insult to common sense, to all of us.
You have mentioned about being smitten by the many contradictions that Kamala Das embodied, can you share one such instance from her life that has struck you.
Aami, Mathavikutty, Kamala Das, Kamala Suraiyya – I see all these not as her phases but bundled into one. She was an enigma far from being labelled. The distortions and queerness present in her writing is herself. She writes, “I have no joys that are not yours, no aches which are not yours. I too call myself, I” and I am interested in that “I”, the distinctive feminine voice of a Poet. Many categorize her as confessional poet and critical response to Das’ poetry has been intimately connected to critical perception of her personality and politics. As a reader, I am seduced by her intensely personal voice in her work, be it fiction or poetry and the book “Love Queen of Malabar” by Merrily Wiesberg is full of life moments that would make anyone fall in love with her. I fell like a fly in the fire of her honesty.
Your views on the portrayal of strong women characters with an evident and powerful sexuality on screen in contemporary cinema. (Any projects that you noticed on the same lines)
It is a rarity in Indian Cinema. In the recent times, I really liked the women in films like Angry Goddesses, Parched. Mainstream space is mostly infested with “Taming the shrew” kind of stuff that feeds the machismo of our heroes bigger than any frames. Recently I watched Julieta by Pedro Almadover. Sigh. Felt like we have a long way to go.
Tell us about your current projects.
Rape Nation has already sparked the curiosity of many. I just completed a documentary film “Is it too much to ask” that follows the house-hunting mission of my two friends Living Smile Vidya and Angel Glady who also happen to be transwomen. The film will have its festival rounds this year. Rape Nation is something I have been trailing since 2013. It has grown larger than my life now. The film is a theatrical non-fiction feature that captures the life and struggles of five rape survivors across the Indian Subcontinent. I shot it in Chattisgarh, Manipur, Gujarat, Rajastan and Kerala. I am right now editing it.
I am not interested in making a biopic of Kamala Das, says director Leena Manimekalai