Chaosmag: A film like Nizhalkkuthu demands for a highly sensitive audience, whereas, the Indian audience perhaps, is at its all time low on sensitivity. Audience today breeds on things that are skin deep. How would such films communicate with today's audience?
Unfortunately, the process of desensitising the common man is on at an accelerated pace today with all the electronic media having moved into our drawing rooms and kitchens -with those terrible but inevitable fares of serial 'killers' ruling the roost.
When you study the situation in the proper perspective, it becomes discernible that the apathy is not singly directed to cinema. It is simply an attitude that pervades our cultural scene.
All the same I have no intention to give up or give in to pressures. There has always been a minority audience ready and willing to step out of the societal confines and expose themselves to new and invigorating experiences and ideas. We need to bank on them and also make sure that we do not disappoint this minority.
Chaosmag: The downslide of sensitivity is not limited to the audience alone, but has taken over many serious filmmakers as well.
Yes, of course. There are many filmmakers who have turned from 'art' to 'commerce' so nicely and effortlessly without any prick of the conscience. And you start wondering if they after all had any conviction about their field of work in the initial place. When one can see filmmaking as a mere profession of story telling and your work being that of an operational director, there is nothing unnatural or shocking about it.
The path of the filmmaker of integrity - any true artist for that matter - is a lonely one. He does not look for company. In the ultimate analysis he is all by himself and he is invariably motivated and driven by his own convictions. Fashions and trends do not influence him. Not even his own success.
Chaosmag: An equally demanding film of yours, Anantharam was released in the 80's. How would you compare the audience's responses between the two films?
Many complained that they did not understand it. What they probably meant was that they were not used to watching something that did not conform to their notion of what a film should be like. But then there were also several young people who went and saw it several times. A few of them even took the trouble to come and visit me to compare notes. It was very gratifying.
Nizhalkkuthu also has elicited similar responses. But there are fewer young people who went to see the film. This should be due to conditioning - a direct effect of the media dubbing every thing that is not the usual kind boring and so not for popular consumption.
Chaosmag: Kaliyappan's sensitivity is in high contrast with today's insensitive society. This sensitivity is his trauma, where everyone's sorrow becomes his suffering?
In this case, what the film does is to discover the raw and real human being in Kaaliyappan the Hangman who is conventionally considered to be one with no fine feelings. The public does not expect him to behave like a human being, the law wants him to be neutral, the State sees him just as an instrument of its operation.
It is this contradiction that made me interested in the character and the situation.
Chaosmag: The film starts with Kaliyappan's reference to the last execution he did, where he realised that the convict was innocent. Also there are references in the film that hanging has been stopped since then. But later the King's messenger arrives to summon him for next hanging. Is that a nightmarish dream of Kaliyappan? A kind of hallucination?
Kaaliyappan is haunted by the guilt of having executed an innocent. That is what he remorsefully reminisces in the beginning of the film. He wishes to drown it in drinks, but the drinks awaken him to the irretrievable guilt.
Otherwise life is normal for the family like the rest of their kith and kin in the village. But then there arrives the Royal messenger to make the announcement of the execution to be carried out 21 days from then.
This turns everything upside down.
As the audience watches, the film unfolds as a regular narrative in direct progression Only on second thought would it become clear that the Warder's story is a replay of the Hangman's guilt -ridden recollection from the past. In fact the second part of the film (the Royal messenger returning to summon the Hangman with police escort) is a nightmare of the Hangman in a state of delirium (he had grown weak and sick and had been led to the bed where he had passed out) - about his fear of having to go back to another execution.
Chaosmag: This feverish fear and its heat are the traumatic moments of Kaliyappan and he is trying to cool it off with buckets and buckets of water through out the film, almost setting the mood for the film.
His burning interior cannot be cooled by any amount of pouring of the well water. His bathings (ritual) become metaphorical in that the harder you to try to wash away something, the more intense its impact becomes.
Chaosmag: Unlike your earlier films, the presence of nature becomes very prominent. We presume that it is intentional. Could mother goddess (Kali) and nature be connected?
Kaaliyappan also tries to make himself believe that his job of killing is ordained by the supreme power of Nature - Goddess Kali.
Life and death become part of a natural cycle when you experience Nature in the raw with all its beauty and charm and also its enormity and power making one feel small and humble. I had wanted Nature as an imposing visual presence through out the film and that is why I chose the cinema-scope format. With the use of the verdant hills and valleys I also wanted to achieve a certain quality and feel of timelessness.
Chaosmag: At one point the thread symbolises freedom and through an interesting twist it forms the hanging rope, a symbol of state's oppressive power.
In a strange twist of fate and circumstances, the son eventually turns the executioner. The juxtaposition of the two is to forebode what is in store. The death of idealism or rather its execution becomes a fate accompli where a citizen has no right to choose. That is the negation of freedom. It is also significant to know that the hanging rope being manufactured inside the prison uses the labour of the prisoners who are murder-convicts (most of them condemned to life terms and capital punishment).
Chaosmag: And the ashes from the hanging rope heals people…
Chaosmag: In the end, the hangman's son accepts his fate without slightest protest.
The whole of the section after the Hangman falls sick and passes out in his bed in a state of delirium should also be seen as the Hangman's nightmare of his having to go back to another execution and about the possibility of his son having to take over from him. Here the real and the imagined merge into one another inextricably and I wanted the audience to experience the same. If I had treated this section plain and direct as one imagined by the Hangman it would have lost its desired impact.