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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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