Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s S Durga is clearly one of the most controversial movies of the recent time. The film hit the roadblock due to its title and was unceremoniously ousted from IFFI Panorama and other established Indian film festivals.

Originally named Sexy Durga the much debated Malayalam movie faced criticism and the maker received threats from fringe groups.

Interview Highlights:

Video Transcription:

What is S Durga all about?
(Sanal): It’s dealing with a lot of issues in our society such as hypocrisy and the invisibility due to the darkness in our lives. It talks about that kind of mindset. As a society, our perception and treatment of women due to the patriarchal mindset is also an issue.

How did you decide to make this film?
(Sanal): Film is more than just a medium to tell stories. Most of the times, filmmakers try to find out a good and unique story with different climaxes and treatments. I wanted to try something different, like a documentary. That was the idea behind Sexy Durga.

What were your challenges while making the film?
(Sanal): While making the film, it was very quiet, when you compare with what happened later on. From the making to the point where I got an award at the Rotterdam film festival, it was quiet. People asked me why I chose the name. I explained to them that it is due to the fact that I am talking about two kinds of Durgas. One is the Goddess, and the other is the common woman. It is very essential as to how we are treating the women in the streets when they need help. It was easy for me to answer these questions. But when I got the award at International Film Festival of Rotterdam, people thought that I got the award because I was talking about Durga in a different way. Then I’ve gone through different kinds of mess regarding the filming of the movie as well.

What was the controversy with respect to the title?
(Sanal): Controversy is good for a commercial cinema. When you have the elements to appeal to the common crowd, then it’s okay. They’ll watch the movie for the controversy and entertainment. When you are making an art cinema, controversy is not going to help you. It may keep you out of platforms which are meant for art cinema. I have lost a lot of platforms because of the controversy such as IFFI. I only lose from the controversy. My film is not good for reaping the controversy.

What’s your take on the importance of film festivals?
(Sanal): I think festivals are very important. Without the support of festivals, there will be no platform for experimental art cinema. In festivals, you expect that kind of an audience who is exposed to that kind of thought process. They are good receptors of experimental films. We can’t expect the normal crowd to enjoy the cinema. Outside the festivals, such cinema is kept out. So festivals are very important.

What about organising your own film festival?
(Sanal): There are lot of films happening. Last year, I was studying about the state of films in other languages. Almost all good films, which are accepted in international stages are not accepted here, in IFFK. Such film festivals are needed which can showcase these kind of films, which are accepted widely internationally. So, I thought that we will start a festival. That was the reason.

Your comments on threats from extreme fringes
(Sanal): I don’t think that they’re capable of doing this. They’re poor people. The system which makes them say this is more dangerous. There is no point in blaming these people and saying that they threatened me. They are doing with any consciousness. The system should change. I don’t blame them. The system says that we should make our films in certain ways.

Indian cinema synonymous to Bollywood
(Sanal): The people who don’t recognise it are the common audiences. They still think that Bollywood is Indian cinema. They don’t have the opportunity to watch regional films. When there are film festivals like that of Kerala and Kolkata, only then will come to know of another kind of film, that is happening in another language. We have very few spaces. So you will not get a large audience to understand the difference in these films. It will change, I think, slowly.

Switching careers from lawyer to filmmaker
(Sanal): When I was in 5th standard, the teacher was asking what I wanted to do. I told them that I wanted to make films. They took it as a joke. In my village, there was nobody to support me. My family was not keen that I was making a film. Early childhood was not allowing me to make films. It was quite fun. My situation was not allowing me to go for that profession. I thought that I should choose a job with more acceptance and dignity. That’s when I studied law. I practised it for six years and then I started.

What does cinema mean to you?
(Sanal): My idea is that people should think. It is not about inciting emotions in them, but it is to make them think. That’s my idea.

Upcoming projects
(Sanal): I just finished my last film. It is a film about freedom, freedom of dreaming. Nowadays we have a lack in freedom of speech and expression. What if our freedom of dreaming is also under censorship? That was the subject of the film. It was finished. I’m waiting for a film festival. It was selected in ACF and APM. It was selected in APM in Busan. APM is Asia’s largest film market. They support all kind of independent cinema around Asia. They’re becoming the largest support of Asian films.

Message to aspiring filmmakers
(Sanal): I don’t believe that people should follow others. I think they should walk a different path otherwise they will just follow in the footsteps of others.

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