In the year 1906, villagers at Thrissur Pooram in Kerala, witnessed something that was simply unbelievable; on a flickering white sheet stretched across the wall, an image of a train entering the platform. This scene was breathtaking for them as well the Frenchman who showed it. The villagers could not believe what they saw, thinking it to be the work of evil power. This was the work of man– the arrival of cinema.
The fascination with cinema and images is what director K M Madhusudhanan has portrayed with use of stunning, poetic and dream like images in his first feature film– Bioscope. A fine painter, graphic artist and internationally acclaimed short film maker , the director was here in New Jersey to support the Spring festival of New Jersey Independent South Asian Cinefest. Here is an interview of KM Madhusudhanan by NJISACF staff Neha Mahajan.
NM: You are a graphic artist, painter and internationally acclaimed short filmmaker. How did you end up making films. What genre does it best belong to?
KM: Painting and cinema are connected. I see my film making as part of my art practice. My earlier works of graphics, lithographs, paintings and drawings dealt with dreams, history and memory. I tried and experimented all this in different mediums. So explored film making also. In a way without leaving painting I took up another art form and started doing both painting and cinema. Cinema is an extension of my paintings.
I have been drawing since my early childhood. The only difference is the narrative aspect. I love to tell stories through images. In painting one listens to a lot of stories encompassed in a bottle, or an apple or any other object. That gets a little restrictive, you really can’t go across a certain limit. But in cinema you are able to tell stories through visual images, and that too demands precision just like paintings. This helps one to reach good cinema.
As I said earlier there’s one thing that I have consistently done since childhood and that’s drawing. For my films too, I reach a concept through drawing. I can communicate through my drawings very well. So I basically rely on my drawings for cinema. I use these drawings while scripting and they in a way become my reference while I shoot.
Also attitude to paintings have changed. There are many a painter there who have successfully created images using cinema and paintings. Paintings have an eye to cinema.
NM: Do experimental movies get financial support and returns?
KM: Commercial success is something that money buys. When you want to put your work up for commercial success, people try and change it. Like producers would want some elements changed to make it commercially more viable. You have to compromise on your art. I am not willing to do that. I don’t want to alter my work to get audience. Creator gets money for his own work, Just like my paintings, I am 100% responsible for the cinema that I create.
As far as finances are concerned, now things are changing. Like NFDC helped finance my movie Bioscope. People do watch these movies, they will always create an imprint on your mind. Like Robert Bresson, who was a practicing painter until 40 years of age. No film can match up to his ‘Money’. If one sees ‘Money’, it will take years to erase it from one’s memory. It is like reading Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov.
NM: Will you make a commercially viable movie?
KM: We have had people like MF Hussain and Julian Schnabel making films, but their films get commercial somewhere. I am interested in my films being seen by wider audiences. I am not interested in altering my films to achieve it. I am happy to know that artists and film makers such as Schnabel are being appreciated by wider audiences.
For me films are my own ideas for which I use my own stories. And I am sure people will see it no matter what. When I see audiences for my films like Self Portrait or Bioscope, the shows become house full. There is audience everywhere, its a filmmakers duty to find them. Cinema has no language so it can adept well anywhere.
NM: Do experimental cinema get lost in the humdrum of popular cinema?
KM: Your question, I have partly answered in the earlier answer. Popular cinema is what they call Bollywood or Tollywood. These films are made with big budgets and superstars. You’ll find the same feel to movies. Repetitive narrative, same colors, sound and music. All these merely represent financial gains. They basically try and use the same formula that was successful in the market. This is just the kind of investment that they want back. They are all stuck up with a formula for success. They spend a lot of money and then they want that money back.
The point is, no matter what the budget, filmmaking does require a lot of money.
NM: Your works were honored by MOMA. Please tell us about that.
KM: My two movies were selected at MOMA, Self Portrait 2002 and History Is A Silent Film.2006.
Before making Self Portrait, I was seriously studying visual images. This story is about a photographer whom I saw on the streets of Delhi. I met him in Chandni Chowk. He had this old camera and would click pictures of people on paper negatives. The shots are very shallow. So he doesn’t know anything about anything else. This is the backdrop of US bombings. The technology is outdated and the man is without job. His close friend a policeman gives him the job of taking FIR photographs. Slowly his room is filled with pictures of the dead.
One day during a communal riot, his friend takes him to the crime scene. He takes the photo of a dead man and when he develops it he sees his portrait in it. The film basically deals with the inner menaing of visual images. What we see and what we know about images.
The film was well appreciated in MOMA, it also got an international award for best film from Greece. It has been to several other festivals.
In History Is A Silent Film, I have dealt with history through my medium of cinema. It is about disappearance as a historical motif. For many years I have been researching the history of silent films in India. If you look at the films and lives of people like Dada Saheb Phalke who single handedly started Indian Film industry without compromising the artistic values. There are so many people like them but they are getting erased from the history.
NM: What next after Bioscope?
KM: I plan a three part triology for Bioscope. Not exactly trilogy but an extension yet individual movies. The second part will be a atory about father and son who want to make an indegenous machine – a magic lamp. They depict Hindu mythological stories about life and how all that comes true.
The third part will be a contemporary Buddhist story of a person who is trying to make cinema.