INTERVIEW

‘Our movies can reach viewers only through film festivals’: director of ‘The Narrow Path’

The Malayalam film by the brothers Satish and Santosh Babusenan will be screened at the Mumbai Film Festival.

The Babusenan brothers Satish and Santosh want to be known as arthouse filmmakers who are trying to make themselves accessible through the internet. When their first co-directed feature, The Painted House (2015) was embroiled in a censorship battle, the brothers decided to distribute it through a film subscription website.

Their second Malayalam film, The Narrow Path (2016), tells the story of Akhil (Sarath Sabha), who is at odds with his aging father Vikraman (K Kaladharan). Akhil is torn between his responsibilities towards his father and his love for Nina (Krishnapriya), with whom he wants to move to another city. A sparse setting, real locations and minimal production costs give the brothers the liberty to explore stories of complex intrapersonal themes.

The brothers worked in Mumbai for several years before they moved to Thiruvananthapuram to take a 15-year break from cinema. They returned to filmmaking in 2015. The Narrow Path will be screened in the Indian competition section at the Jio MAMI Mumbai International Film Festival (October 20-27). “We want to make art free”, 50-year-old Satish Babusenan told Scroll.in.

Satish Babusenan (left) and Santosh Babusenan.
Satish Babusenan (left) and Santosh Babusenan.

What is ‘The Narrow Path’ about?
The film is an internal exploration of the minds of two people, father and son. It is a fictional story. All of us have a hidden past, which we have to come to terms with, and when that happens, there is true freedom.

My brother Santosh and I used to work in Mumbai, making corporate films and content for television channels. We decided to take a break and return to Thiruvananthapuram where we are from. We wanted some core answers about our lives. In 2000, both of us, who were avid film buffs, stopped watching films and began our own journeys of enquiry. It was only last year we decided to make our first film, The Painted House, which also dealt with existential issues. The response gave us the encouragement to move on to the next project.

Fifteen years is a long break to take from your passion.
Yes, we could afford to because we had quite a bit of money and its easier to survive here than in Mumbai with our savings. I think it was our quest that kept us busy. We are back on our feet. We are a group of five friends who have pooled in our resources to start a production company, and we make the kind of films we want to.

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‘The Narrow Path’.

‘The Painted House’ ran into trouble with the Central Board of Film Certification over some scenes.
We made it exactly as we wanted to, but we could not show it at the 2015 International Film Festival of India in Goa because of a change in the rules for the Indian Panorama section. It is now mandatory for films to be certified by the Central Board of Film Certification before submission. Many other film festivals around the country have followed the new submission guidelines. This was not so before. The CBFC officials asked us to blur the nude scenes, which we refused to do. Then they asked us to delete those scenes, which we again refused to do.

Then they said that we would not be allowed to show the film to anyone. Some artists and writers in Kerala watched the film and supported us. We approached the High Court to demand that our film should be given an adult certificate, which we had asked for. The judge did not find any objectionable content in our film and directed the CBFC to pass the film without cuts.

What happened after the film was cleared by the censor board?
It is an arthouse film and there is little chance for it to get a release in theatres. The only way it could have got an audience is through film festivals, but we lost that chance because of our fight with the censors. So later, after it was cleared, we put it up on the film subscription website Reelmonk.com.

Did you face any problems with the censor board for ‘The Narrow Path’?
No, it is not certified yet. Hopefully, there will be no trouble this time. Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival has not set a rule for CBFC certification.

Do you see your films finding their audiences through streaming websites?
Yes, it is one of the ways to reach out.

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‘The Painted House’.
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London then and now – As experienced by Indians

While much has changed, the timeless quality of the city endures.

“I found the spirit of the city matching the Bombay spirit. Like Bombay, the city never sleeps and there was no particular time when you couldn’t wander about the town freely and enjoy the local atmosphere”, says CV Manian, a PhD student in Manchester in the ‘80s, who made a trip to London often. London as a city has a timeless quality. The seamless blend of period architecture and steel skyscrapers acts as the metaphor for a city where much has changed, but a lot hasn’t.

The famed Brit ‘stiff upper lip, for example, finds ample validation from those who visited London decades ago. “The people were minding their business, but never showed indifference to a foreigner. They were private in their own way and kept to themselves.” Manian recollects. Aditya Dash remembers an enduring anecdote from his grandmother’s visit to London. “There is the famous family story where she was held up at Heathrow airport. She was carrying zarda (or something like that) for my grandfather and customs wanted to figure out if it was contraband or not.”

However, the city always housed contrasting cultures. During the ‘Swinging ‘60s’ - seen as a precursor to the hippie movement - Shyla Puri’s family had just migrated to London. Her grandfather still remembers the simmering anti-war, pro-peace sentiment. He himself got involved with the hippie movement in small ways. “He would often talk with the youth about what it means to be happy and how you could achieve peace. He wouldn’t go all out, but he would join in on peace parades and attend public talks. Everything was ‘groovy’ he says,” Shyla shares.

‘Groovy’ quite accurately describes the decade that boosted music, art and fashion in a city which was till then known for its post-World-War austerities. S Mohan, a young trainee in London in the ‘60s, reminisces, “The rage was The Beatles of course, and those were also the days of Harry Belafonte and Ella Fitzgerald.” The likes of The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd were inspiring a cultural revolution in the city. Shyla’s grandfather even remembers London turning punk in the ‘80s, “People walking around with leather jackets, bright-colored hair, mohawks…It was something he would marvel at but did not join in,” Shyla says.

But Shyla, a second-generation Londoner, did join in in the revival of the punk culture in the 21st century. Her Instagram picture of a poster at the AfroPunk Fest 2016 best represents her London, she emphatically insists. The AfroPunk movement is trying to make the Punk culture more racially inclusive and diverse. “My London is multicultural, with an abundance of accents. It’s open, it’s alive,” Shyla says. The tolerance and openness of London is best showcased in the famous Christmas lights at Carnaby Street, a street that has always been popular among members of London’s alternate cultures.

Christmas lights at Carnaby Street (Source: Roger Green on Wikimedia Commons)
Christmas lights at Carnaby Street (Source: Roger Green on Wikimedia Commons)

“London is always buzzing with activity. There are always free talks, poetry slams and festivals. A lot of museums are free. London culture, London art, London creativity are kept alive this way. And of course, with the smartphones navigating is easy,” Shyla adds. And she’s onto something. Manian similarly describes his ‘80s rendezvous with London’s culture, “The art museums and places of interest were very illustrative and helpful. I could tour around the place with a road map and the Tube was very convenient.” Mohan, with his wife, too made the most of London’s cultural offerings. “We went to see ‘Swan Lake’ at the Royal Opera House and ‘The Mousetrap’ by Agatha Christie. As an overseas graduate apprentice, I also had the pleasure to visit the House of Lords and take tea on the terrace.”

For the casual stroller along London’s streets today, the city would indeed look quite different from what it would’ve to their grandparents. Soho - once a poor suburb known for its crime and sex industry - is today a fashionable district of upmarket eateries and fashion stores. Most of the big British high street brands have been replaced by large international stores and the London skyline too has changed, with The Shard being the latest and the most impressive addition. In fact, Shyla is quite positive that her grandfather would not recognise most of the city anymore.

Shyla, though, isn’t complaining. She assures that alternate cultures are very much alive in the city. “I’ve seen some underground LGBT clubs, drag clubs, comedy clubs, after midnight dance-offs and empty-warehouse-converted parties. There’s a space for everybody.” London’s cosmopolitan nature remains a huge point of attraction for Indian visitors even today. Aditya is especially impressed by the culinary diversity of London and swears that, “some of the best chicken tikka rolls I have had in my life were in London.” “An array of accents flood the streets. These are the people who make London...LONDON,” says Shyla.

It’s clear that London has changed a lot, but not really all that much. Another aspect of Indians’ London experience that has remained consistent over the past decades is the connectivity of British Airways. With a presence in India for over 90 years, British Airways has been helping generations of Indians discover ‘their London’, just like in this video.

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For more information on special offers on flights to London and other destinations in the UK, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of British Airways and not by the Scroll editorial team.