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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From catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalised by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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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.