It all started in 2009, when a film called 'Passenger' made a quiet release, and went on to become one of the most talked about films of the year, besides making waves at the box office. It brought into focus a young director called Ranjith Sankar, who bagged the Lohitadas Puraskaram for his debut film. Two years later, Ranjith is ready with his second film 'Arjunan Sakshi' that is slated for a Jan.28 release. 'Arjunan Sakshi' stars young superstar Prithviraj with Ann Augustine, Biju Menon, Jagathy Sreekumar, Vijayaraghavan, Nedumudi Venu and several other actors.
Veeyen of nowrunning.com had a tete-e-tete with Ranjith Sankar, when the director animatedly talked about his new film, his lead hero and cinema in general. Here are the excerpts:
'Passenger' was a film that had a very pertinent social statement to make. And from the promos, it seems that your new film 'Arjunan Sakshi' has some social critique on offer as well. I was wondering how dissimilar 'Arjunan Sakshi' is going to be then, from 'Passenger'. Could you elaborate on the differences or perhaps the similarities between your two films?
It's a very interesting and a difficult question. You know, after 'Passenger' I was advised by many to do a comedy film or a film in some other genre that would help me prove myself as a versatile director. But I'm a person who actually did not even think about doing a film for quite a while after 'Passenger'. So when the thought of doing a film finally arrived, the most tempting factor for me was that I had something really relevant to say; something that I actually believe in.
'Arjunan Sakshi' has a subject that I had thought about, long before 'Passenger'. I was doing my final year at the Engineering college about twelve years back, when I chanced upon this idea from a newspaper report, that later on became my final year paper. The major motive behind 'Arjunan Sakshi' is that, a decade later, this issue still remains as much valid and has assumed even a greater significance. Hence I really don't know how far this film is going to be different from my first film since there hasn't been any deliberate effort on my part to create a film distinct from 'Passenger'. Rather, I have tried to create a film that I would truly enjoy watching as a viewer.
Do tell us a little bit more about 'Arjunan Sakshi'. What is the film all about?
'Arjunan Sakshi' is a film that tries to communicate with the new generation. The central character in the film is an engineer, Roy Mathew. He is an ordinary man like you and me; born in a middle class family, well educated and employed and financially secure. He's a man who is indifferent to anything that doesn't directly concern him; the kind of man who wouldn't mind bribing his way around if it gets the job done quick. He is a man who has been educated by the government, but who has perhaps offered very little back to the state.
'Arjunan Sakshi' tells the story of this young man who is thrown around in a socio-political whirlpool that leads him eventually to a very important self-realization. I'm not suggesting that people need to quit their jobs and resort to social service. But we could definitely be more aware of what's happening around us. In that sense, I would say that the film concerns itself with an issue that demands a larger canvas than the one in 'Passenger'.
Though I'm yet to see it, it looks as if 'Arjunan Sakshi' would be holding a mirror to the socio-political scenario around, just as 'Passenger' did. Is it essential for a maker of social films to have a clear cut political ideology?
I feel that every film maker would have something relevant to say irrespective of the film that he makes - be it a comedy or an action film or a film in some other genre. And it all depends on what you mean by politics. I think the best political film that has ever been made in Malayalam is K G George's 'Irakal'. There is no political discussion as such in that film, and yet it is a pure reflection of the social scenario of the time. The term 'politics' has undergone a sea change over the years. For me, it's more of a personal thing and need not really have an association with a political party or even an ideology.
What is the actual process behind the origin of a film?
A film is born when the film maker realizes that he has a germane subject at hand, that he needs to communicate to an audience. There are only a few original stories in the world, and even then thousands of films continue to be made all over the world, day after day, year after year. This happens when a new person comes along; a unique individual who tries to put across to the viewer a diverse outlook, perhaps a distinct stance, through his creation. A film no doubt, is a collective effort. But it originates from the conviction of an individual - the director of the film.
I remember there has been a lot of discussion on the title of your new film ever since it was launched. We do know that Prithvi is playing Roy Mathew, which increases the ambiguity surrounding Arjunan even further. I'm sure several of our readers would like to know more of this mystery man.
The title of the film has been there ever since the first thought about the movie came to my mind twelve years back. There is no suspense regarding who Arjunan is in the film. The way in which Arjunan is presented in the film is what is important. He is a common man who is alive at the moment; someone who is witness to what's happening around him. In fact he might even be you or me.
You have been talking about the importance of having 'something very significant to tell' for a film maker. What are the issues that you are concerned with in 'Arjunan Sakshi'?
The core issue that 'Arjunan Sakshi' is concerned with is development. The general assumption is that development is for future generations. We busy ourselves with building skyscrapers for them; gigantic concrete structures sans pure drinking water and fresh air. You move to other cities like Bangalore or Chennai, and see that there are definite government initiatives that are undertaken every now and then, like good roads, flyovers or bridges and the like. Why is it that very little happens on these lines in our state? We pay the highest road taxes in the country, and make do with the most miserable of roads. And we surprisingly never respond. These are some of the issues that I would like to draw your attention to.
'Arjunan Sakshi' has Prithviraj doing the lead role. How was it working with Prithvi who is being hailed as a definite successor to the superstar throne?
Prithvi is truly fantastic. I spent a couple of months wondering who should do the lead role in the film, and zeroed in on Prithvi when I felt that it would add a lot more to the genuineness of the film, if the character of Roy was played by a young actor. I met up with him, and Prithvi was all keyed up on hearing the script. He is a very intelligent actor and his commitment to the profession complete. He has shot for the film at four in the morning with a raging fever. At the same time, he is a star in the true sense of the word as well. For a director like me, it was wonderful working with an actor like him. I feel that the character in 'Arjunan Sakshi' would be one of the best ones that he has essayed till date.
A debut film that was much critically acclaimed and that set the cash registers jingling at the box office - no wonder the expectations regarding 'Arjunan Sakshi' have rocketed sky high. Are you tense?
Honestly, I don't feel any pressure at all. I wonder if people expect that much from my film. Film making is a very exciting and creative process for me and I try to enjoy it to the maximum. I happen to be quite a balanced person who doesn't have extreme feelings of joy or grief. Maybe that helps as well.
There have been almost thirty eight new directors who have entered the industry last year, and very few of them have left a mark. I have often felt that 'Passenger' could easily make a success story that several director aspirants would look up to. Where do you think have some of them gone wrong?
Whether it be new directors or skilled ones, nobody wants to make a bad film. There is an existing structure within the industry that I understand even better today, now that my second film is complete. Perhaps I could make 'Passenger' because I am a person who stands outside this structure. I have made 'Arjunan Sakshi' today, since I had no intention to be a part of that structure. What I mean to say is that I could have done two films prior to 'Arjunan Sakshi' if I was looking for money or merely to do a few films in quick succession. So it ultimately depends on a person's priorities. For me, cinema is definitely not a money-minting machine; it's a means of expression more than anything else.
You are not a product of any film institute nor are you a person who has received formal training in film making. Is it your immaculate scripting sense then that gives you the confidence to make a film?
Basically I am a confident person, and as I said earlier my priorities have been set out loud and clear. I also have the ability to think straight and arrive at sensible and quick decisions. Like for instance, my decision to produce 'Passenger' was simple and didn't seem risky at all. If at fifty, I look back and feel that I could have made films at thirty, then life would be a failure to me. More than formal training, I think what a good director needs to have is a very sound outlook which in fact can be cultivated and a good sense of self appraisal. When someone rings me up asking to be my assistant, this is what I tell them.
Before I wind up, let me ask you one final question. Do you hope to bring about some sort of a social renovation through your films?
Not at all. More than the society, individuals interest me. What I would like to see is someone who has seen Arjunan Sakshi getting up one fine morning and realizing that he needs to do something more, and that he needs to be more aware of what he is truly losing out on. I would also be truly glad if someone out there who has seen my film, decides to raise a voice for a legitimate cause.
Well, thank you very much and wish you the very best for your future projects.
It's been a pleasure. Thank you.