Neglecting theatre going audience due to OTT not good for cinema, says Sanal Kumar Sasidharan
Streaming content on a computer screen can never match the distinct "vibe" of theatrical screenings, believes director Sanal Kumar Sasidharan who says filmmakers must respect loyal cinegoers no matter how small a community it may be.
Sasidharan, known for acclaimed Malayalam titles "S Durga" and "Chola", said films are meant for the big screen.
"I shoot cinema with a different perspective. (When I direct) I'm not thinking about making a film with a specific idea of projecting it somewhere. If you ask me where I'm going to show it, I don't have any clue at the time of making it. But I feel cinema should be for big theatres, the community watching," the 44-year-old director told PTI in an interview.
Even if it is for a handful audience members, the makers should primarily screen films theatrically and then look into its OTT (over-the-top) options, he added.
"Some people never go to theatres, they wait for films to come on the TV or OTT. But there is a good amount of people who wait for the film to come in theatres and want to watch it on the big screen. That is a community and we must respect that community. If you are neglecting them because their size is small or they are not giving you economical benefits, I don't think it is good for cinema or even the community sense."
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, streaming platforms became the go-to choice for the many filmmakers to release films when shutters across the country were down on theatres as per government regulations.
As cases dipped in the second wave of the pandemic, states like Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Telangana and Karnataka allowed the exhibition sector to resume operations.
Some regions such as Maharashtra haven't yet granted permission to reopen, but Delhi has sanctioned theatres to operate at 50 per cent capacity and Chennai, an important market, opened on Thursday.
For his film "Kayattam", Sasidharan is waiting for theatres to reopen in Kerala.
The director said he wants to project his films on the big screen and make people watch cinema together in the darkness of a closed room.
"I believe in theatres... There is some other vibe. I feel theatres should be there even if it is for a few audience members. Then you can release it on OTT."
It may take some time but the theatre experience will eventually come back, he said.
"When you read a book, you are reading it alone. It's very self centric and you don't care about the emotions of the other person who is reading the same book.
"But in a theatre you are not watching a film alone. You are caring for other people's emotions also. That's why you can hear a (collective) loud laugh or sometimes when people cry you also feel sad. Cinema has that ability," he added.
"Kayattam", which means 'Climb', stars Malayalam star Manju Warrier as Maya, a woman in her 40s who starts a trek in the Himalayas with a younger man. The trekkers confront questions about the nature of existence.
Completely shot on an iPhone, the film fundamentally deals with the concept of 'maya' (the finite world), which he touched upon in his feature directorial debut "Oraalppokkam" (2014).
"I wanted to revisit the idea and this story came into my mind. Reality is what we see because of our consciousness. We are actually creating this reality, otherwise there is nothing to the world. So, we can create peace, war, love, or animosity, anything," he observed.
Sasidharan said the team created a new language, named 'A'hr Samsa', as there was an almost indescribable and philosophical aspect to the film.
"We have another title 'A'hr' attached to the film. It's a new word we coined for the film along with the language," he shared.
On the surface, "Kayattam" can be viewed as the story of a group of people climbing a mountain, the filmmaker said.
"But there is a subtext which can also be unfathomable. So I thought we needed a new form of language that is non existent. If you want to attribute meaning to the language you can, if not, that's ok too."
Since he wanted to shoot the movie in the Himalayan peaks, going lightweight and cost effective with a smartphone and minimum additional equipment seemed like a fitting choice.
"It is difficult to shoot with the regular equipment with power generators and all at that height. It is a magical environment up in the Himalayas. You can't predict what is going to happen next, rain or snow. We all wanted this magic of nature to be appreciated and captured.
"So we needed to be always ready. That was our primary intention for choosing the iPhone. These days almost every other smartphone has a good camera. It's a good choice for filmmakers who want to capture something rapidly."
Last week, Sasidharan received the inaugural Disruptor in Cinema award by the Government of Victoria at the 2021 Indian Film Festival of Melbourne for "Kayattam".
Much like the title of the award, the director said, he wants to create "some disruption" in his film journey as well.
"We mainly attribute the term (here: disruptor) according to the situation. So I consider this as a positive thing. I always try to create something which is non-existent. I don't want to follow any pattern," the filmmaker, who courted controversy over "Sexy Durga", the original name of his film "S Durga" in 2018, added.
Up next for Sasidharan is the Kani Kusruti and Tovino Thomas-starrer "Vazhakku (The Quarrel)", which is in the post-production stage.