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A yen for creativity

Filmmaker Balu Mahendra speaks about the changing trends in cinema. He was in the city this past week.

Photo: C. Ratheesh Kumar

"MALAYALAM CINEMA is gradually losing its identity. In the past, even the average films had a a local flavour to them -in their locales and costumes. Now Malayalam cinema can be dubbed into any language, as the locales, costumes and music are similar to those in films in other languages," says filmmaker Balu Mahendra.

The acclaimed director and cinematographer was in the city this past week to attend a national seminar on `Debutant filmmakers', organised by the International Centre for Kerala Studies (ICKS).

Mahendra has made films in languages such as Hindi, Tamil and Malayalam. The songs in his films such as `Yathra' and `Olangal', set to tune by the veteran music director Ilaiyaraja, are still popular among music buffs. Except for his first two films, `Kokila' and Azhiyatha Kolangal' (the songs of which were composed by Salil Chaudhary), Ilaiyaraja had scored music for all his films. "We have known each other for the past 25 years," he says.

Mahendra does not wish to be labelled either as a director or a cinematographer. "I write the script, shoot and edit my films. I'd rather define myself as a filmmaker. Cinema being a collective effort, one should be well-versed in all aspects of filmmaking," he says.

Currently, he is directing a Tamil film, `Athu Oru Kana Kaalam', with Dhanush (of `Kathal Kondein' fame) in the lead. The film is likely to be released in May.

Despite a hectic schedule, Mahendra enjoys "more creative freedom in the medium of television". He longs to do meaningful programmes, along the lines of `Kathai Neram', a serial based on short stories by prominent Tamil litterateurs.

"I had to make a lot of compromises during filmmaking, but I did not have to do so when working for the mini screen. Selecting the stories for `Kathai Neram' was tough; I had to read around 80 stories to pick the best one," he says. All good stories cannot be made into films. "So, I had to be cautious, selecting stories," he recalls.

Mahendra feels the link between cinema and literature has weakened, especially in Malayalam and Tamil. Earlier, directors were well-read and had a sound knowledge of literature. So, they were able to make good films based on adaptations of literary works. The present generation of filmmakers, who do not have much of a grounding in literature, are concerned only about commercial success and have scant regard for the quality of the film. The younger crop of directors either flick plots from foreign films or concoct stories with an eye on the box-office, he says.

With the entry of foreign satellite channels and the Internet, censorship has lost its significance. "In the absence of a mechanism to censor the foreign channels and the fare available on the Internet, there is no meaning in censoring the films alone. The rich have access to uncensored films and satellite channels, but those who cannot afford it, are forced to pay and watch censored films. This is illogical," he says.

Asked about the changing trends in cinema and music, Mahendra says, "Art should not stagnate. It should evolve through the influence of other cultures." A filmmaker should be genuine and be committed to his work. The young filmmakers should work and prove their worth. It remains to be seen whether their work will stand the test of time, he says.

Though confident about the skill of the youngsters, Mahendra has a word of caution about the threat that technology poses to creativity. "While learning the basics of filmmaking, we were very cautious in selecting the frames and planning the shots. Now, automated equipment has relieved the youngsters of such problems. However, they should not surrender their creativity to technology," he says.

N. J. NAIR

Photo: C. Ratheesh Kumar

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