It really happened. A mean rowdy transformed into a nice man who would one day build orphanages. The change came when he saw ‘Jesus Christ’. Who he really saw would make a neat next line, but that would take the essence of the story away. Sanju Surendran, who made a film out of that story by Hareesh S., would want people to find out when they come for the premiere of Aeden at the International Film Festival of Kerala. It is one of the two Malayalam films selected in the competition category.
It is not one story but three written by Hareesh that Sanju made into his first feature. “There are two characters in it — Peter sir and Hari, who play a strange game called maranakkali, where they put in a box the names of people they see in the obit column and pick out one each. The one who gets the older person in each round wins. But as the names unfold, we learn new stories of their lives. This Peter sir is a real life person Hareesh knew,” Sanju says in a phone interview from Goa. He is there, attending the International Film Festival of India.
He will come to Thiruvananthapuram for the IFFK, happy that his first feature got selected at a festival that brings him nostalgia. “I first went there as a college student, taking a train from Thrissur with a friend. We were awed by the rush of films,” Sanju says.
It is in college that his interest in films ‘crystalised’, he says. At the Kerala Varma College in Thrissur. There were monthly meetings of the film society Navachithra. He saw films like An Andalusian Dog. He met people who would make him love cinema more. Santhosh Kumar worked with campus students, screening documentaries, sensitising them to social issues. C. Sarathchandran, late documentary maker, would come for college screenings. There was Thampy, the poet, with his campus film club, Kazhcha. Inspired by it all, Sanju took a short film called Puppy Love soon after college. And then a documentary, Kandal Pokkudan, on the man who planted one lakh mangroves. That became his passport to the FTII, Pune. “I got through only in my second chance. I took along my documentary, and we had a discussion on it.”
Four years at the FTII were interesting, Sanju says, the last year especially. That was the year Mani Kaul came for a workshop. “An absolutely brilliant filmmaker, the way he’d talk about films is through poetry,” Sanju remembers fondly. He quotes three lines of a Haiku (by Matsuo Basho):
An ancient pond
A frog jumped
Into the sound of water
“A thousand meanings through the juxtaposition of three simple images. This is the way he is… But he was particular that we find our own way of filmmaking.” After FTII, Sanju worked with Santhosh Sivan on his film Tahaan. He made documentaries and short films and a signature film for the IFFK. His national award winning documentary Kapila on the Koodiyattam artiste Kapila Venu came out after two or three years of hard work. “The idea perhaps came from Mani Kaul’s words when he said films should be like a Nangiarkoothu performance, which has no dialogues till the end. There are two or three stanzas and they’d elaborate on the text through eyes, expressions and body movement. Only at the end they say three lines of poetry that throw light to the play.”