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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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.