Monday, 18 August 2014

Njan Steve Lopez: Finally A Character I Care For

I grew up reading the novels of Anand, a Malyalam writer who is considered by many as someone who explored totally new sensibilites in regional Indian writing, especially with his debut novel Aalkkoottam (The Crowd) much before path-breaking novels in English like Midnight's Children have appeared. As a young man, a character I came to care about beyond my own comprehension was Kundan,  the protagonist of Anand's Sahitya Akademi award winning novel Marubhoomikal Undakunnathu, available in English translation as Desert Shadows. Though many considered the character to be an example of a failed human being, he was my hero, if a non - hero can be a hero for someone.

Mainstream Malayalam movie industry could not ever conceive a major character who doesn't have some qualities of a conventional filmy hero, though not always backed by a heavy dose of innate virtue or machismo. For the same reason, I would never have cared for most of those 'hero' characters beyond a point, despite the many surprising ways in which our movies have excelled at various times even when they had the disturbing presence of heroic characters. I could only see these heroes as incompletely developed studies of human nature in situations where one's actions are guided more by popular expectations and acceptance than deep convictions. That was what I felt, till I came across Njaan Steve Lopez (I Am Steve Lopez ).  Steve, the protagonist of this movie, is stripped of major chunks of heroic qualities that he resembles Kundan in some ways. However, he is not totally reduced to the subhuman levels the latter ends up with, at least while he is still alive. The struggles both of them go through are solitary in nature. While the relatively mature Kundan's acts are based on deep convictions, Steve is depicted as a middle class youth protected by a lot of people around him. He just ends up taking some decisions which he can't even explain to himself. Just like Kundan was considered a 'failed' individual, Steve can be seen a 'foolish' young man - if we see the world in filmy terms.

The whole crew deserve praises for the way they executed the vision, without posing unnecessary obstacles. I am not a film maker, but as every imaginative viewer would, I considered other different ways in which the movie could have been made. I didn't succeed much. Which means, I feel Rajeev Ravi, the director, has made it in the best way possible. If I were as creatively accomplished I would just have changed a bit of the emphasis on 'authentic' Trivandrum-Parassala ambience through the songs, and used that space to expose more of the inner conflicts of Steve, and the other major character, Hari. I always have this problem with authenticity, though I know a bit of that is not much of an obstacle in getting into the real issues that are presented in the movie. I thought the young actors who gave life to Steve, Hari and and Steve's girlfriend Anjali did a great job to stay close to, and at ease with, the characters. All the other supporting actors were also selected with care, it seemed. I believe the cinematography achieved most of the vision of the movie as well. However, the strength of the movie relies on its thematic vision.The fact that the whole movie can leave different impressions on different people can be considered one of its achievements. While I was trying to figure out how Steve's mind worked, my sister was more concerned about Hari - it so happens that her teaching career in places around Trivandrum gave her experiences to interact with similar people, and to see them in various life situations.

The question revolves around the value of a human being's life, reflected upon in different ways in literary works like Doesteovsky's Crime And Punishment much earlier and Ian McEwan's Saturday in the not too distant past. Steve's responses can be interpreted as part of a rebellion against the upper middle class notions of leading a 'peaceful' life. A life based on the living room comforts. If you open your eyes to details, you see that the cosy sofas there actually sit smugly on a lot of blood. But that can be wished away if you ignore certain ethical issues of human existence.

Steve has all the problems that regular teenagers in Kerala these days have. I have seen a lot of them, in the role of a teacher. But the director has succeeded in instilling a deeper concern in the drowsy eyes of the otherwise unremarkable person who plays the part - Farhaan Fazil. I have seen the same in real teenagers too - but only in less than 5%, roughly. He worries about the injustices in the world, in his own useless ways. We feel he is just another shallow creature who thinks out a bit too loud on chats and updates in social media. He drinks too much and too carelessly for his age. He just follows his friends when they run away foolishly from the police. He is a pampered cat at home, allowed to sleep as he likes and to wake up late in the morning and to go around dreamily for the rest of the day. He has a cold war with his grandpa over the toilet timings. His father scolds him often, but in an affectionate way. There is enough emotional padding from his mother and sister. He is not as much middle-class-indoctrinated as his girl friend - about being focused in life, of making some sense of his existence. I loved these small details that delineated his character in the first few minutes.

And then, the epiphany. He witnesses a brutal crime in the street, tries to intervene, gets a tight slap on the face and is shoved off roughly. Even as the pain on his cheek is still very alive, he tries to process in his mind the act of violence that takes place right in front of him. He sees blood gushing forth from the body of the victim, and the onlookers' eyes are filled with disgust - not compassion. They watch it just like it's happening on a movie screen, with their wretched pity and fear, and the relief that it's not them who are attacked. He is drawn into a maze of questions from that moment. Questions that he dares to ask, despite the warnings he receive from the sane people around him, who know that it is better not to ask those questions. This is where the movie differs from those regular movies that use violence as a mere spectacle, or teenagers as oversensitive creatures who find the greatest fulfillment in their life through love, or success at any cost.

Steve has to be seen, to be understood. But all seeing him may not lead to understanding him, especially if you are going to write off his acts as stupid. That is one reason why the ones who produced the movie knew that it was not going to be a box office hit. It's not meant to be a movie for the majority. If not just for those 5% I mentioned, it can at least extend to a bit more viewers, who are willing to take Steve's decisions in an open-minded way. It is also possible that the movie could be seen as a cautionary tale - on how to desensitize your children, from a very young age, from the life and sufferings of the subhuman creatures around you. They are, after all, just a 'menace to the society'. To borrow a phrase from Salman Rushdie, Steve has failed to develop his 'city eyes'. Viewers in this category would have an aversion to the 'ugly' scenes in which the hired thugs get attacked and killed, while they would leave out a deep sigh at the suggestion of Steve being attacked in the same way. Because, hey, he is one among us. The question that the movie raises is - then, what about the thugs? You mean those are not ones among us too? Would the wives and children of real thugs feel things in a similar way when they watch the movie? Would they shed their tears for the thugs and not for Steve? If yes, they are not any better, than you.

Steve's greatest realization is that the comforts that he enjoyed from a young age were built on top of a lot of corruption and inhumanity. If his father kept asking the questions that he gets attached to, there wouldn't be much to enjoy in life for all his family. While it is easy to draw that connection in the life of a police officer in Kerala who has to be a part of the crimes around him whenever he turns a blind eye to certain incidents, there are hints at the general ways in which all human beings who do the same at some point of their life, which are no different. There are examples in the movie itself - of doctors, journalists, students, tea shop owners...Steve's outrage against them is in fact greater than the one he has for the hired thugs who kill each other in a puppet dance, of which the invisible strings are pulled by many in the civil society, including his father.

But is it not 'foolish', you may ask again, to be your brother's keeper all through your life? You are right. Steve was foolish. But there is a lot of innocence and virtue in his foolishness. His innocence and rebellion are closely linked.  Steve's rebellion would not have been possible without his innocence. The movie starts with the Albert Camus quote which goes, “Every act of rebellion expresses a nostalgia for innocence.” The one good thing that his corrupt father had perhaps done was to leave Steve to his world, to not interfere with his views and to not expose him to the 'smart' ways in which one has to live in order to achieve success and peace in life. In other words, he never taught his son the tricks of his trade and Steve grew up with a certain amount of innocence that all his friends lacked. They all criticize him when he gets involved in the lives of criminals. His girlfriend chides him on this occasion the same way she does it about his lack of focus in life. Why does Steve differ from them? Perhaps it is not all in the bringing up. He is programmed that way too.

 Even as his unusual choices can be labelled unwise, Steve comes of age in many other ways. He learns about 'other' lives, so far hidden from him. He finds a lot of meaning in their little acts of affection and kindness. He could connect well with the tender feelings the leader of a set of hired thugs, Hari, has for his wife and kid. While many other directors would have gone overboard to humanize these 'others' in the movie, Rajeev focuses more on the effect their life has on Steve, fully realizing that some among the viewers would still consider him a fool, to allow himself to be transformed in such ways. Isn't he foolish to notice that Hari's wife and his girlfriend have the same name, that both of them have assigned ring tones in their phone that sing the name, Anjali, in two different ways? Isn't he foolish to notice that one among Hari's accomplices loves to play games on the mobile phone? Isn't he foolish to notice that no one in their right mind, and decent enough living circumstances, would dare to indulge in work that risks their life any moment? Isn't he foolish to care for the suffering of a seriously injured man and his life, even though he turns out to be a criminal? Isn't he foolish to think that a doctor and a police officer should be responsible for the lives of the people who are, in some circumstances, under their power? Isn't he foolish to see a bit of himself in Hari, when there is absolutely no need for that? (Perhaps Steve drew parallels between his epiphany, the decision to throw himself into an unaccustomed terrain in search of answers to difficult questions, and Hari's possible decision at a young age to consider having a dangerous profession as a means to support his family.)

You may say that we live in a world where we can't be drawn through Steve's dreamy thoughts to a dangerous maze that traps us at a dead end. That Life waits for us outside it. That Steve's coming of age leads not to the loss of innocence, but the loss of existence. That it's his nostalgia for innocence that leads him to trouble. That we can't revert the world back to its state of bliss, as we remember it, when we weren't bothered about justice, crime, punishment, value of life, or the lack of it. That it's better to realize that we can't be our brother's keepers. That every man has to care for himself, even if we don't make sure that there is a situation in which they can.

I don't agree with you. I know that big trouble awaits the 5% teenagers who are different. I care for them. That's why Njan Steve Lopez  is my movie.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Robin Williams. Are We Accidents Waiting To Happen Too?

I went to sleep a lot disturbed after watching a movie. That is not so unusual - if not a movie, it can be a book, a piece of telephone conversation that refuses to fade away from the mind, an unfinished work, or even the fact that there is nothing worth thinking about, working on, disturbed about.
I woke up to read about the death of Robin Williams. He was 63. I extended the disturbing thoughts to how much more quality work could have come out this talented actor. That is, if he could gather himself up despite his inner demons. And also, if people in his creative field of work could come up with the right kind of work for him. Perhaps he had left his best work behind him, much earlier in his career, and it is good that he fades away this way. Everyone has to fade away. It is good that he has left behind a lot of good work that would be remembered. 

But we wonder why he had to be a troubled man despite his 'success' in life. We are shocked to hear that he was so disturbed at times in his life that he preferred to talk about his failing health and alcoholism instead of the creative work that he was supposed to promote. He had played along for too long - kept up appearances, tried to be funny in public without fail, and even allowed himself to be featured in a tickle fight with a gorilla. We prefer to be content with it if they keep going on like that, and are shocked when we hear of Tony Scott jumping off the Vincent Thomas Bridge or of Philip Seymour Hoffman  losing his life in a struggle with drugs. There is even this idea going around that creative people are the ones who have to deal the most with their inner demons. But aren't we all creative in some way or the other?

Despite the range of characters Robin Williams had depicted, with the comical ones dominating his career, I believe the most memorable one played by him is that of John Keating, in Dead Poet's Society. I have made it a point to make a reference to the movie in 7 out of the 9 places where I worked as a teacher. It showed not only how a teacher can influence and inspire his students, but how disturbed a bunch of prep school students can be, and how difficult, and at times impossible, it is to save someone from a suicide. Every second counts in a distressed person's attempt to connect with the world, to find a straw to which s/he could fasten a grip, to cling to life. A release of creativity at a very young age may make someone immensely happy, but it may also make it impossible for her/him to go back to the banalities of ordinary life. Neil Perry, the character played by Robert Sean Leonard, has a great moment of glory, and satisfaction with himself, before his decision to end his life, much distressed by the way his life was to be controlled forcefully and veered to other directions. The images that stay in my mind are not the romantic ones in which John Keating could connect with his students or leave a deep impact in their character development through his creative thoughts, but his sheer helplessness regarding the loss of Neil. I believe that says a lot about our plight, as ordinary human beings who are at times in charge of other similar, creative, sensitive people in distress.

I just hope Robin Williams's life would be remembered mostly for the good work he has done. Sometimes, an artists' work merges seamlessly to the moments of his life and also death, much like what happens in Synechdoche, New York. The fight to remain alive is as important as the fight to stay in circuit, to matter something in the physical world. Success in life doesn't count in moments when one is tormented by extreme bad health or moments of depression. It is very difficult in other relatively trouble-less times, even for those who haven't tasted a wee bit of success in life, to consider their life totally worthless. If that were the case, those would be the ones who would be drawn to more ways of ending their life. 

There is much more to human life than what is projected to the onlookers. Let us respect that. And let us be alert to the signs when someone is losing her/his grip on life and let us try to be available, to be of some assistance in our own ways - though there is always the possibility that we are helpless in many cases, especially the ones in which old age, illnesses and depression break someone down. But the hugs we give others in their moments of distress are not totally lost. Those are stored in one's essence and are even carried to the grave while their cells are intact - they disintegrate for sure in the grave, but are apt to return in search of us when our time comes. I salute Robin, for the hugs you gave others, and I salute all those, including Koko the gorilla, who gave Robin a hug.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Should Poetry Exist After Gaza?

I am still doubtful whether thinking OUT LOUD helps at all in an issue that is already much discussed all over the news media. I sense a lot of distancing from the part of people who claim to be philosophers/thinkers/writers whenever the word Gaza is mentioned. I respect their personal decisions and would never point a finger at anyone who chooses to stay away from certain debates. In fact, I would respect people who speak only when they feel convinced that speaking is inevitable. Gaza brings forth some uncomfortable issues related to the extent to which it is talked about. When we see and hear too much, we tend to turn suspicious of the politics behind it. While journalistic debates revolve around the politics of it for obvious reasons, those who don't have many reasons to be involved in the political, regional and religious aspects of it are worried whether their statements would sound harsh or insensitive to some ears. Many assume that silence is the best solution here. Where do we place arts and literature in this context?

My previous posts dealt with the way the issue is represented in a novel and a few films, and one post made clear some of my own views regarding the whole affair. Here, my attempt is to draw your attention to the role poetry plays in the Gaza affair. Hamid Dabashi's well researched write up on the topic here, which came out yesterday in the Al Jazeera web page will be of interest to many of you who are willing to spend some quality time reading. His arguments derive from a well known view of the culture critic Theodor Adorno, better known for breaking quite a handful of sacred idols in commonly/superstitiously perceived notions of arts and literature in relation to culture. Dabashi opens his arguments by referring to the Adorno quote: "To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric. And this corrodes even the knowledge of why it has become impossible to write poetry today." The parallels and paradoxes that come out of this, when placed next to the Gaza situation, is explored in an erudite manner by Dabashi. He draws attention to the fact that the word 'Auschwitz' sounds and feels so much like 'Gaza' now.

Moving on to the real state of affairs, one could see that the exact opposite to what Adorno said and hoped for is the case now. You see a barrage of thoughts on the issue , wherever you turn to - TV, radio, social media, YouTube, blogs - and many of them are in 'poetic' forms. I agree that social media has liberated us from traditional views on poetry, though my reaction to it is mixed. While I wouldn't dictate terms to anyone who wants to be a poet in her/his own terms, I am a bit worried about the reluctance of many new writers to take time to read, and understand a bit, about the medium in which they aspire to express themselves. Many literary groups request their members to refrain from posting their doggerel five times a day on the pages' wall. I understand the temptation to share whatever you think and write with the world, now that the task is made too easy. It thrills every one of us when someone shows interest in what we think, what we express artistically. Gaza seems to have let out numerous rivulets of poetic thought. But if you work further on that cliched line of thought, would you see them enriching the rivers and oceans of poetry, or contaminating them? I'll just leave that an open question to you readers. 

Dabashi thinks out loud what the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish would have done in these times, if he were still alive: "He would have either committed suicide like the magnificent Lebanese poet Khalil Hawi who did so in protest against the brutish Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, or he would respond with his poetry" (Dabashi). The way the act of writing poetry is juxtaposed to an extreme act of sacrifice for a cause looked very interesting to me, just like the way the statements by Plato and W. H. Auden that are quite often mindlessly used by the detractors of poetry. The irony in Auden's misquoted line "poetry makes nothing happen" is lost on those who fail to place it in its context. And what poetry makes happen is the concern of those who follow Plato's advice and want it to be banned in modern democracies and other forms of governance. But Dabashi's worry focuses around the power of Gaza to contaminate our thoughts, quite similar to the fear I expressed in my post on Children Who Live, With No Choices. Are we ready to acknowledge the fact that by the simple act of living through a carnage helplessly, we also allow us to be transformed by it? Do we see the ways in which our thoughts are contaminated by our ability to look at a situation and dissect it mindlessly, in ways that are ultimately beneficial to us? It should be a case for serious introspection to all those who try to express their views through their chosen medium of (artistic) expression.

Darwish himself has tried earlier to contain some of his thoughts on the issue in poetry. In Silence For Gaza, which appears like a poem in prose in the translations I have seen, he raises these pertinent points: 

Gaza is far from its relatives and close to its enemies, because whenever Gaza explodes, it becomes an island and it never stops exploding. It scratched the enemy’s face, broke his dreams and stopped his satisfaction with time.

Because in Gaza time is something different.

Because in Gaza time is not a neutral element.

It does not compel people to cool contemplation, but rather to explosion and a collision with reality.

Time there does not take children from childhood to old age, but rather makes them men in their first confrontation with the enemy.

Time in Gaza is not relaxation, but storming the burning noon. Because in Gaza values are different, different, different.

The only value for the occupied is the extent of his resistance to occupation. That is the only competition there. Gaza has been addicted to knowing this cruel, noble value. It did not learn it from books, hasty school seminars, loud propaganda megaphones, or songs. It learned it through experience alone and through work that is not done for advertisement and image.


The 'full' version of this is available here, and as it turns out, an even fuller version is available here, though I thought some of the poetry is lost in translation.

I would like to share two other poems that appealed to me for their genuine concerns in the issue and the willingness to address the extent to which our existence is transformed in many ways including the contamination of thoughts/perspectives. 

Here is a poem titled 'Gaza' by the Indian poet Sudeep Sen, published here in The Hindu (August 3, 2014). Sen is a poet whom I admire for the extreme care he takes in the choice and juxtaposition of words and thought patterns. I have read many other poems by him that weave a complex web of thought, but this one in tercets is simpler and direct when compared to them,for obvious reasons. I felt that there was a pull in the subconscious level to make it accessible to readers around the world, regardless of their ability to appreciate the specific form in which it is written, or the poetic devices employed in it. I felt it could also work the way Darwish's 'Identity Card' works in many school/college/university classrooms. I will leave the poem here for your appreciation and responses:


~ By Sudeep Sen

Soaked in blood, children,
their heads blown out
even before they are formed.

Gauze, gauze, more gauze —
interminable lengths
not long enough to soak

 all the blood in Gaza.
A river of blood flowing,
flooding the desert sands

with incarnadine hate.
An endless lava stream,
a wellspring red river

on an otherwise
parched-orphaned land,
bombed every five minutes

to strip Gaza of whatever 
is left of the Gaza strip.
With sullied hands

of innocent children, 
we strip ourselves 
of all dignity and grace.

Look at the bodies 
of the little ones killed — 
their scarred faces smile,

their vacant eyes stare 
with no malice
at the futility of all

the blood that is spilt.
And even as we refuse
to learn from the wasted

deaths of these children, 
their parents, country,
world — weep blood. Stop

the blood-bath — heed, heal.

And here is another poem that drew me in with its chilling account of details -  'Running Orders' by Lena Khalaf Tuffaha. For a poem that has come out immediately after the carnage in July, this exposed me to a genuine insider's voice that I believe could make a difference in the coming years in the poetic world. It was published in Vox Populi here

Running Orders

~ by Lena Khalaf Tuffaha

In July 2014, before the Israeli military would fire at a structure in Gaza, they would send a warning “bomb” to let the Palestinian residents know they had less than a moment before the next bigger bomb. They called this “roof knocking”.

They call us now.
before they drop the bombs.
The phone rings
and someone who knows my first name
calls and says in perfect Arabic
“This is David.”
And in my stupor of sonic booms and glass
shattering symphonies
still smashing around in my head
I think “Do I know any Davids in Gaza?”
They call us not to say
You have 58 seconds from the end of this
Your house is next.
They think of it as some kind of
war time courtesy.
It doesn’t matter that
There is nowhere to run to.
It means nothing that the borders are closed
and your papers are worthless
and mark you only for a life sentence
in this prison by the sea
and the alleyways are narrow
and there are more human lives
packed one against the other
more than any other place on earth.
Just run.
We aren’t trying to kill you.
It doesn’t matter that
you can’t call us back to tell us
the people we claim to want aren’t in your
that there’s no one here
except you and your children
who were cheering for Argentina
sharing the last loaf of bread for this week
counting candles left in case the power goes
It doesn’t matter that you have children.
You live in the wrong place.
and now is your chance to run
to nowhere.
It doesn’t matter
that 58 seconds isn’t long enough
to find your wedding album
or your son’s favorite blanket
or your daughter’s almost completed college application.
or your shoes
or to gather everyone in the house.
It doesn’t matter what you had planned.
It doesn’t matter who you are.
Prove you’re human.
Prove you stand on two legs.

I leave the question 'Should Poetry Exist After Gaza' for your instrospection. I hope the poems I shared here give you an idea of the kind of poetry I believe in, for my own reasons. I wouldn't claim that I represent a majority. I haven't been able to write a poem on the issue yet, and I wouldn't consider it a necessity until I feel up to it, until I feel it is necessary that I speak up in that form.  

It is up to you to speak up or not, and to be aware of the various forces around you that affect your ideas. Some worry whether anyone else can speak for the Palestinians, forcing one to take the big Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak question, 'Can The Subaltern Speak?' and place it in this context. One may need to get rid of foolish notions about the burden of speaking for others, when there is no 'we' and 'they' in the larger context. The whole idea of the difficult act of speaking may have to be reflected upon constantly. 

If anyone decides to speak up these days, it has to be done after a lot of thinking. And rethinking. That applies a lot in the case of poetry.

Note: Please do feel free to post your poems and responses to the issues mentioned here. I am so glad to receive a couple of remarkable poems as responses, by the well known writers from Ireland, William Wall, and from Pakistan, Naseer Ahmed Nasir. They were kind enough to make them available below in the comments section.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Hany Abu-Assad's 'Paradise Now'

Paradise Now, directed by Hany Abu-Assad came out in the year 2005. I could see it only recently, thanks to my friend Gopi Sait of Mulberry Films, who is kind enough to give me a lot of valuable advice and assistance in appreciating films and the art of movie making. My response to the movie now is purely based on its thematic structure though. This is in fact an extension of my thoughts in the earlier post The Gaza Blame Game and Children Who Live, With No Choice

There had been quite a lot of movies that trace the traumatic events that lead to the making of a suicide bomber. The ones that I have seen and that have made an impact on me are Theeviravaathi: The Terrorist (1997) by Santhosh Sivan, India and Rabia (2007) a short biopic on Wafa Idris, Palestine's first female suicide bomber, directed by Miguel Ali (aka Muhammad Miguel Ali Hasan). 


While these two movies have female suicide bombers and exploit their feminine aspects in contrast to the supposedly heinous act they commit, Paradise Now distances viewers a lot for the most part from the two men who do the same. While all three movies have a lot of significance in the way they humanize the protagonists, I was a lot more drawn to Paradise Now and the way its director tackled the issue of dealing with the mental make up of his characters. 

Said (Kais Nashef) and Khaled (Ali Suliman) are the young Palestinian men chosen for an 'operation'. They were working in pathetic conditions as garage mechanics, tormented by the general situation in Palestine, menacing employer and clients and their own bad temper. They take the task of crossing over to Israel and blowing themselves up as a serious one, and are seemingly committed to it. They spend their last nights with their family in a remarkably calm demeanor. Said even overcomes his feelings for the beautiful Suha (Lubna Azabal), born in France and brought up in Morocco. Despite her great reputation in Palestinian community as the daughter of a much respected leader Abu Assam who sacrificed his life for their cause, she keeps talking about 'other ways' to deal with the situation. She even tries to influence Said with her logic that violence just results in more suffering, especially for those people who are left behind to live, with no choices at hand. 

The first effort by the young men takes place after a lot of training. They are transformed fully. They get a shave and their hair is cropped. The bombs are well hidden under their western formal outfits. They undergo tedious procedures that are very demanding at times, but also comic in some unexpected parts. They are supposed to give some video messages about their decisions, and the recording is quite often interrupted because the cameras don't work. The impatient Khaled once tries to give a message to his mother during one such recordings about some better, cheaper water filters. There is some mention of contaminated water in a few other places, even the possibility of an easy way of finishing off the Palestinians just by poisoning the water.

I wouldn't give any spoilers now. The film focuses on the way the two young men deal with their lives at crucial moments, and how their responses keep changing unexpectedly. It is better that you see the movie to come to your own conclusions. What appealed the most to me was the way the character of Said is presented in the movie. He is seen as someone who opens his mouth a few times to say something important, and then leaves the idea as someone else speaks. He speaks mostly through his eyes, which keep giving you varied impressions depending on the contexts.

At times you feel Said is a confused person, but at times he surprises you with his clear will. He lets out only a few things about himself. He tells Suha once that his father was a collaborator, and he was executed. He stresses the fact that he was just 10 years old then. His mother tries to see the image of her husband in a grown up Said. The director presents very briefly the disturbing face of a young boy who serves tea to Said and Khaled in a wasteland next to the garage. He has a confusing expression on his face as he waits for a little more money from Khaled, or Said. Khaled commands him away with his eyes, while Said doesn't get involved in the whole affair and just fiddles with a matchbox. The expression on the boy's face haunted me. Was it sadness, helplessness, or anger? Said's reference to his ten year old self brought this boy's face to my mind. The siblings of the young men, on the other hand, didn't leave such a lasting impression on me, though their mothers did.

Some of Said's arguments make his case more intriguing. They sometimes serve as a critique to the way movies about wronged people and their 'wrong' decisions are perceived by the public. Here is a dialogue between Suha and Said after Suha gets infuriated by the fact that there are 'martyr videos' and 'collaborator videos'  for sale, and for the same price, in the shops around. 

Suha: Do you think it's normal that those videos are for sale?
Said: What's normal around here?
Suha: It's sick. Three million people are struggling to survive. Nablus has become a prison. I don't know what I am doing here. What a load of...
Said: My father was a collaborator. He was executed. I was ten.
Suha: I am so sorry
Said: No need to be. 
Suha: How did you deal with that?
Said: It was Okay. It's not as bad as you might think. 
Suha: Do you want to talk about it?
Said: What's there to talk about? Will it end the occupation? Will I stop remembering that my father was a collaborator? The whole world knows. 
Suha: I didn't.
Said: What do you know? You come from a different world. Abu Azzam's daughter. Living in a fancy neighborhood.
Suha: What are you talking about?
Said: Why talk? To get your pity? To entertain people whose life is a bit better?  

Said gives Suha a fleeting kiss and runs away to his father's grave after this. It is Khaled who takes part in the discussions on sacrifice and a paradise for the martyrs while Said is someone tormented by his past. However, the radical views of Khaled's arguments come to a comical end once again, when Suha cuts him short in the midst of a rant on martyrs to point out that if he doesn't drive carefully, they would end up being traffic martyrs. 

The movie's climactic moments revolve around the attitudes of the two men and who among them would stick on to their determination - Said, who is much loved by Suha, and has qualities that would suit a family person, or the short tempered, religiously indoctrinated Khaled. Khaled's brotherly love for Said from their childhood is also evident in many parts, and it is curious how the reticent Said would ever be able to return that. 

The moments that troubled me the most were the ones regarding Said's lack of choices, as a child and as a young man. He opens up a bit to the leader of the terrorist group, who is upset by the failure in their first attempt.

Said: I was... born in a refugee camp. I was allowed to leave the West Bank only once. I was six at the time... and needed surgery. Just that one time. Life here is like life imprisonment. The crimes of the occupation are countless. The worst crime of all is to exploit the people's weaknesses... and to turn them into collaborators. By doing that, they not only kill the resistance...they also ruin families... ruin their dignity and ruin an entire people. When my father...was executed, I was ten years old. He was a good person. But he grew weak. For that, I hold the occupation responsible. They must understand that if they recruit collaborators...they must pay the price for it. A life without dignity is worthless. Especially when it reminds after day, of humiliation and weakness. And the world watches cowardly, indifferently. If you are all alone, faced with this have to find a way to stop the injustice. 

It is curious that a martyr's daughter Suha gets involved in human rights groups and talks of peaceful ways of intervention, while a collaborator's son Said grows up with so much pent up anger that comes from his helpless situation. This is where the question of children who have to live with no choices become relevant. Said remembers his childhood vividly, he never forgets what happened when he was six and when he was ten. Suha's exposure to other cultures and her mobility help her look at the situation differently. But what about the many who are trapped in a situation forever, with no opportunity to distance themselves from it and to look at if from some sort of an informed position? What about the scholasticide that people don't consider as a serious crime? Just like many think certain historical balancing is inevitable, the only decisions that young people like Said are capable of taking become inevitable as well, if we leave them with no other choices in life.

And far more serious would be the lack of choices that the 'spectators' have in this case, whose lives are perhaps a little better, as Said says. There is no choice other than to be 'entertained' by the images we keep seeing. We end up dissecting the lives of those children who are dead, or those children who are alive and will have to go wrong, to take the 'wrong' decisions. And we raise our children to be such passive spectators, deriving pleasure from tears for others, and blaming the world around them for things they think they cannot change. Said doesn't ask you to continue doing that. In the plans he and Khaled has to blow themselves up, there is some space for a plan to put an end to many ways of thinking which they think are not right, just like the way we are bent on thinking that their plan is not right. 

Perhaps that is the complex issue dealt with in the movie, as its tagline goes, "from the most unexpected place comes a bold new call for peace." A peace that's beyond mindless slogans.   

In Search of Other Lives: A Dialogue with Konstantin Bojanov

It was on a rainy day that I met Konstantin Bojanov the first time. He was staying in a heritage hotel at Fort Kochi. It was a week day, but he was very thoughtful to give me an appointment at 4.30 p.m., and I could easily manage to be at his place after my work. I heard about his arrival from our common friend Gautham Subramanyam the Indian documentary maker, and I was excited to meet this acclaimed Bulgarian director working on a book of which I enjoyed every page, every word - The Nine Lives by William Dalrymple. The work on  the second issue of Lakeview Journal was in progress and we were very excited about a Skype interview my colleague Alicen Jacob did with Dalrymple, on his latest book Return Of A King. I thought an interview with Konstantin would add some more value to the issue, which many consider a collector's item now.

We decided to carry out the interview at the hotel patio, and while I fumbled with my video camera, Konstantin offered help. He went to his upstairs room and came back with his tripod and fixed the camera for me. There were some glitches in the beginning - the rains, the heavy noises of some repair work in the hotel, visitors talking loudly... we had to switch off the camera a few times. Finally he asked me to go up with him to the balcony of his room. We settled down there once again, to the beautiful sight of rain falling down on the Arabian Sea and the all green terrain surrounding it. The noises were at a safe distance to distract us. "This is a place where I would love to have my home, some day" he said, half seriously. His girlfriend made some nice tea for us, and offered some cakes too. Everything was perfect, and I did trust him fully for the camera setting once again. The only trouble was that we didn't realize that it took us around two and a half hours to wind up the whole thing - small talk, off the record discussions/comments and yes, the interview, which was in fact a freewheeling chat, though I succeeded in asking him everything that I had in mind. He realized he was late for another appointment, but made some quick alternatives, Kochi style, and was back to his warm, friendly self by the time I shook his hands and said goodbye. 

Here is the interview in full, which was first published in the Vol.1. Issue.2. of Lakeview Journal, August 2013. He talks about how he came upon the idea of doing a film version of The Nine Lives, why its characters appealed to him, his relationship with India and its culture, how he plans to work on this project, his major influences, his previous work and his areas of interest.


In Search of Other Lives: A Dialogue with Konstantin Bojanov

Bulgarian producer Konstantin Bojanov, born in 1968, is a quadruple-threat producer/writer/director/visual artist. He graduated from the Sofia National Higher School of Fine Arts and received his M.A. from the London Royal College of Art. After a period of documentary film studies in New York he became a visual artist and filmmaker. He shot and produced his first documentaries and shorts: in 2001 - Lemon is Lemon, in 2002 - 3001, in 2004 - Un Peu Moins and in 2005 - Invisible. In the same year he established his first US based company, while three video installations marked his carrier (Quintet without Borders2007, Crash, and Burning Ghats, 2008).  Bojanov found international success with his first feature Avé (2011). The bitter-sweet hitchhiking story of two young people crossing the post-communist Bulgaria took part in 60 festivals and received nineteen prizes and over twenty nominations. It has been commercially distributed in France, Switzerland and Poland and sold to HBO Latin America and TV channels in France, Turkey, UK and Switzerland. Among his various projects now is an adaptation of William Dalrymple’s Nine Lives. He was in Kerala in connection with the research for this work and was gracious enough to share with Jose Varghese his first impressions and his views on how to tackle the challenging project.

Konstantin Bojanov    - Photo credit: Jose Varghese

Jose Varghese (JV): Hello Konstantin, welcome to Kerala. Hope you enjoy the monsoons here.

Konstantin Bojnov (KB): I am trying to make the best of it. It is quite an experience. I have always been here during the dry season. This is the first time I am here during the monsoons. And it is a concern for me how it would affect my research on Nine Lives - the reason why I am here. However I didn’t want to postpone this trip one more time. So, I decided to go on with it. 

JV: Can you tell me bit on how this project on Nine Lives evolved? I guess you are going to call it ‘Other Lives’. 

KB:  ‘Other Lives’ is a work title. It’s a very challenging project. Challenging for a number of reasons. I believe that my research trip now is going to help me finalise the way I want to tell the story. I need to see whether all the nine stories become part of the film, or they are to be reduced to a small number of selected stories. Hence the work title ‘Other Lives’.  And the idea is to produce a theatrical feature which hopefully will not exceed two hours. So, in order to be able to go in depth into each story, nine stories in a two hour format might be a lot too much. The work title reflects the idea that the stories might have to be fewer, since we couldn’t at this time give the original title. 

JV: How did this project materialise? Did you get a proposal from someone? Did you think twice before accepting it?

KB: Actually, I originated the project. One thing that I do very often is to go to the local bookstore. Nine Lives was in the shelf on one such occasion, for the newly released non-fiction paperbacks. It caught my attention.  The reason for that was my love, interest and obsession with India for over the last ten years. I didn’t know much about William Dalrymple. I read a summary (blurb) of the book. And in some ways, not being able at the time to physically travel, I wanted to transport myself to India through this book. I really didn’t know what to expect and I was very surprised with what I actually discovered after reading the book and how the book affected me and what it made me think. So I was so fascinated by the book and the characters that almost immediately I contacted William Dalrymple. 

JV: When did this happen and what was his response?

KB: This was in April of last year. He responded within minutes. I told him about my interest in turning the book into a film. And then we had to take the next step and deal with agents and lawyers and had negotiations and so on. In the mean time, Dalrymple was working on and finishing his new book The Return of the King. And he shut himself up and disappeared for several months. I didn’t really know what to make of it. But for good or bad I am a very persistent person.  So, although I was not hearing back from Dalrymple or from his agent for a long period of time when I wasn’t sure of what the reason was, I kept at it, and kept sending emails and kept making phone calls until at the end of November when William Dalrymple finished his book and he apologised for not being in touch and for neglecting my emails and said he had to finish his book and couldn’t think of anything else and then he went on a six month tour with his book. And we managed to sign the auction agreement in April. So, it took me a year to get the agreement in place. So since mid-April things went off in a fast track. I was first expecting that we could sign the agreement in September so that I could be here in October-November. I didn’t want to lose the momentum, the energy, and I decided to go ahead and come to India and research some of the stories. 

JV: Do you believe it is necessary to know India a bit closer before you start the project?

KB: It was for me very important to have a first-hand experience of the characters and locations before I could solidify my ideas of how I want to tell these stories. It’s a challenging project for many reasons. Because it is very important for me as a film director to not fall into the trap of creating a film that deals with exotic subjects. That is so far removed from my intentions.  On the contrary I am trying to strip all exotic elements as such and to focus on the human story, on the human condition, on the specificity on the lives of these people, and also to try to tell these stories in a way that they have a universal resonance; that they would be understood anywhere. 

JV: Why do you think they will have a universal appeal?

KB: They are stories about human aspirations. They are about people reaching a point of no return and drastically changing their lives. This is where the surprise came for me. Basically I was looking for an escape when I first came across the book. And yet what I found were characters that I could strongly relate on many levels despite the differences in culture; despite the fact that most of them live their life, from the European perspective, in an extreme way. Most of the characters basically possess nothing.  They have these solitary pursuits of transcendence; of trying to transcend their daily lives. 

JV: Which is the first story that you are going to research?

KB: It is the story of the Theyyam dancer in Kannur, Haridas  - for me what was really fascinating about the story was not the dance itself; it’s not the anthropology and origins of this tradition. What was important for me was this is a person, a human being, who leads a kind of dual life. Ten months out of the year, he does menial jobs. He digs wells. For a long period of time he was a prison guard – in a very violent prison. He belongs to a low position in social ladder and hierarchy. Yet in the two months when he becomes the Theyyam, when he actually practices his art, he transcends that life. He becomes something different. He is treated differently, and the way he comes across in the book is basically that he lives for that experience. 

JV: Were you struck by his religious fervour?

KB: All these stories have religion as a major element. Yet I am trying to not ignore, indeed it is impossible to ignore, the religious aspects with these endeavours, but to again focus on the deeply human aspects of these stories. 

JV: Will you have the story of the Jain nun in your project?

KB: Yes, indeed. One of the guiding principles of Jainism is that of non-attachment – to places, to people, to objects.  And it’s something I had always been grappling with – the meaning of possessing objects, the meaning of attaching yourselves to someone to the point that you could get easily hurt. The meaning of attaching yourselves to places. In the case of this nun, she goes against the basic principle of her devotion and develops this life-time bond with another nun, going against the principle of non-attachment, of solitary life. For me, this is a love story not in the romantic sense, but in the human way. And when her companion nun decides to put an end to her life because of suffering, because of advanced cancer, she decides to do the same. Here it’s about how you could almost choose the option to give away your last worldly possession, which is your body. She goes on this eighteen months of gradual fasting until her body slowly withers away. 

JV: Did you have to face some challenges to convince your producers about the way these stories could work in a visual form?

KB: It’s difficult to convince producers and financiers that I can tell the story in a way that it doesn’t end up being an anthropological study; but it becomes a film that can be seen everywhere. The goal of my research trip now is to be able to generate the written treatment of these stories that can convey the way these stories can be retold. I am not doing something unlike what Dalrymple did in several of his books. That is, taking a text, often an ancient text and transforming it. Even in his very first book, he took the writings of Marco Polo and followed his route from Jerusalem to Xanadu, which was the summer capital of Kubla Khan in the Fourteenth Century. Later in his third book From Holy Mountain, he took the manuscripts of these two Sixth century monks who went through the Middle East visiting different religious figures who live in remote places. I am doing the same with the book that is not centuries old, but only a few years old. But I need to find my own unique perspective, and I need to bring something from myself. Otherwise, what is the point of me making the film? 

JV: Are there any films on India that have really impressed you, to the extent that you might include a few technical and thematic elements from them in your project?

KB: The French director Louis Malle made a film in 1969, which is a film that I really love. I have watched it countless times. It’s a six hour documentary, in seven parts. And it is called Phantom India. He came here to India and spent a year, along with a cameraman and shot this cinéma vérité– documentary. It’s almost like a personal diary. It’s a masterpiece of observational cinema. There are a lot of things that I really like about the film. First is the level of dignity and respect and sort of appreciation for the subjects of his film. Second is that he inserts himself as a narrator – an off-screen narrator – of these stories that he had seen, these people he encounters, and I am planning to use a similar tool in narrating the story. I will try to be the off-screen narrator of these stories. I am not planning to produce a traditional documentary - there will be no sit-down interviews. I would like to film their daily life now and to tell the story of their past and how they arrive to this point of their lives. Because this is extremely important for me – the personal journey up to the point of now, up to the point when the film takes place. So I guess it will have a different tool than what is used in conventional documentaries. 

 From Louis Malle’s Phantom India (1969)

JV: What will you call it – a docu-fiction, or a non-fiction feature film?

KB: Non-fiction feature film - and I would also like to mix fiction and non-fiction together, which is also a necessity, since some of the characters are no longer alive, and I need to tell their story as well. Where the real characters are unavailable, I would like to find similar characters to play the real ones from the book. 

JV: So, you will use real characters when they are available?

KJ: Yes. The book was researched and written just six years ago. And yet, four out of the nine characters are no longer alive. The Sufi Fakir from the book ‘Red Fairy’ passed away only three weeks ago. And also the Devadasi from ‘The Daughters of Yellamma’, as far as we could assume, is also no more. She had AIDS. Her story is extremely tragic and touching at the same time – someone who so violently protested against the decision of her parent to commit her life to that of a devadasi, she did the very same thing to her two daughters, and both of them died in their twenties. Her dream was to save enough money to stop working. She bought some land, to be able to have some cattle there and live out of that. As long as we know, she is no longer alive. The Jain Nun is no longer alive. And the Story Teller also passed away while the book was being written. His wife and son now continue the tradition. 

JV: How could you connect with all these stories, as a film maker?

KB: These are very very different lives from one another. Extremely different from my own life. Yet, in all these lives, I could find something that I could relate to. I could recognize, if not myself, people that I have grown up with. The book actually succeeds extremely well in not drifting to exoticism and orientalism, and instead to really focus on the human being. The book deals with religion as well, but the core of it is not religion, in my opinion. I could connect well with these characters because they are real human beings who can have a similar existence in any part of the world, with their passion, solitary goals and so on.

JV: In what way is it going to be different from, or similar to, your earlier documentary Invisible?

KB: I think there will be both the elements of Avé, my last film which I made two years ago (in 2011), and Invisible which I made a very long time ago (in 2005). I came to Films from Fine Arts, I was educated as a fine artist, many years I made art, and in fact I continue to make art these days. So, I came to make films late in life. Invisible was my first feature length film. It was a documentary. It deals with a very harsh subject of six young people of various ages addicted to heroin. In the late Nineties and early Two Thousands, Bulgaria was flooded with heroin. The country has always been on the route of drugs coming from Asia into Europe and then the States. This was the first time in the country’s history that the drugs became available in the streets.  The film is very flawed, but even in this case I tried to give platform to the characters to tell their own story and how they view the world, rather than me being the interpreter of these stories. So as much as also possible, I would like to do the same thing here with Nine Lives. As an off-screen narrator I would like to connect the stories, give them a personal touch, but give voice to the characters themselves. It’s important for me to create the context of each, but it would be in such a way that the characters would tell their own stories. Another way this film would relate to my previous project would be in terms of imagery. I would like to keep the images as simple as possible. I may try to create a poetic realism. Indian films from the Seventees onwards, for instance the ones by Satyajit Ray...I love that kind of poetic imagery that is very different from what Bollywood generally creates. In that respect, visually, I believe this film will have a lot in common with my last film Ave. Something else that I may have this one in common with Ave is that I would structure it as a read movie, with me going on a trip to discover these people. So, it will have very different location in one part from the other. And it will be an essential part of the story to try to connect them together. 

JV: I have just started watching Avé and it looks like an intense, unique film. And even though you say that Invisible was flawed in some ways, I found it deeply engaging too. I even wondered whether those six people depicted in it were real people or just actors. 

KB: They were very much real people, with very real addictions. I got rather attached to some of them. And I kept in touch with some of them. It was indeed a very difficult project. 

JV: So, the transformation of the characters is also real?

KB: Yes, the transformation is also real. There is a four years’ gap between the beginning and the end of the film. After I finished the film, it became very difficult for me to get out of it emotionally. Because of how difficult their lives were, to just keep engaged with them was tough. I had to selfishly pull myself out of my engagement with them, and to preserve my own sanity. 

JV: After your research, how do you plan to proceed with the project? Are you going to have discussions with William or, are you going to keep him out of the picture and interpret it your way?

KB: That was one of the stumbling blocks before the signing of the agreement. And I can understand his position. This is a book that was written years ago. For him it is a thing of the past, and he didn’t want to re-engage with the book. He has been very helpful in putting me in touch with people like Gautham Subramaniam who put you in touch with me. He was also a researcher for four of these stories. He worked with William. I am actually yet to meet Gautham in person, but I am seriously considering collaborating with him as a writer on the project. For me, creatively having an Indian viewpoint, an input on this project is a must. As a ‘foreigner’ trying to tell these essentially Indian stories, you could very easily drift into the territory of a singular point of view, which I would like to avoid. I am also considering other creative elements to be used in the film, like working with an Indian cinematographer. At this point, there is an Indian co-producer, a Kolkata based company called Overdose. As a director, I would approach this as a collaborative process. The creative producers, the’s a team that works together, not a dictatorial director who says, yes, I have a vision, and then everyone should facilitate that vision. I am just not like that. It would be a collaborative process with the characters, the co-writer, the cinematographer and so on.

JV: It seems you have a keen interest in Indian books and movies. You have already mentioned Louis Malle and his documentary. Do you have other favourite Indian writers or film directors?

KB: I must confess that despite my love for India, I am not much familiar with contemporary Indian literatures. I am a little more familiar with Indian films, especially from the independent film scene. One thing that directors like Anurag Kashyap achieves is that they don’t fall into the trap of Bollywood rules of making a film, and they manage to make their films on their own. They do everything the way they are not meant to be done. There is a whole new generation of young film makers like him here as I understand. In terms of contemporary Indian literature though, I have a lot to catch up on. 

JV: Have you seen the recent movies Midnight’s Children by Deepa Mehta and The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mira Nair? 

KB:  I actually tried to watch The Reluctant Fundamentalist. I found it incredibly artificial. On many levels I found it plain bad. Short of the first film with which she became famous, Salaam Bombay, I haven’t liked her other films. Her previous film The Namesake was an okay film, but that is not really the type of film I am interested in. 

JV: Do you have a soft-corner for sidelined people – who inhabit the underbelly of cities?

KB: I definitely do, and I also definitely care for the way they relate to the world that surrounds them. I am very careful when I use the word spirituality, but it is the question of evoking yourself to endeavour and pursue what you consider significant. When the centre of your being becomes how you relate yourself as a human being, how you reflect on the world that surrounds you.  I have always been attracted to people who pursue with extreme conviction solitary goals. And with no exception, the characters of Nine Lives represent that. In many cases, from a Western viewpoint, they would be considered as artists, although they don’t view themselves as such. The by-product of their devotion is in fact art, whether it is music, whether it is dance or whatever. These are people who can, like me, pursue their goals against material lobbies. So I have a soft-corner for them. 

JV: Your characters in Invisible refer to the Indian culture and attitudes to ‘time’ in a dreamy way.

KB: But that is an illusionary viewing. But if you look more carefully, India spends much more time to spiritual betterment. There is something distinct in the approach of the mystic and the metaphysical here in India than in Europe or America. And I have an attraction to that part. 

JV: You are also a film editor?

KB: Yes, but I often try not to edit my own work. But apart from directing my own films, I am involved in the editing of the work of the younger generation of directors. 

JV: Can you talk a bit about your recent movie Avé? You have mentioned in some interviews that it is an autobiographical work. And what connects the two unlikely characters in that movie?

KB: Although it is a work of fiction, there are some autobiographical elements in it. It is essentially an unusual love story. It takes place on the road. Two young people meet while hitchhiking. These two people can also be considered outcasts. They could not be any more different from others. The girl is a compulsive liar. She invents different personalities for herself. She does that not in order to have personal gains, but to protect her own fragility. The boy is more like a Catcher in the Rye type of character. He is compelled to tell the truth no matter what, no matter how much he can hurt someone. And these two very unlikely characters meet on the road. The boy is hitchhiking to the funeral of his friend. And the girl is looking for her troubled brother. They spend four days travelling together, on the road. And at the end both of their lives are changed. Although it is a very simple and low-budget film, every element of its production was difficult and lengthy. 

From Avé (2011)

JV: What do such situations teach you?

KB: For me, part of making films is learning to be patient.  It so happens that a film takes a long time from me. A friend of mine often poses the question how to eat an elephant, and the answer is, one bite at a time. I am going to approach this new project that way. 

JV: What is your take on the short movies that are all over YouTube these days, most often made by young students?

KB: Like anything else a majority of them may lack any significance, but a few of them are brilliant. Both directors and actors start by making short movies. Even in my case, I made a number of short experimental movies in the beginning, which were shown in galleries. I find the short movie format quite challenging. It’s not easy, it’s like a short poem – you have to be very precise. It all depends on the intention. As long as the story that they narrate engages you, and makes an impact, that’s all I care about. Technical aspects are secondary in that case. If you could sympathise with the characters, or find something about humanity revealed in a movie, that’s a work worth watching. 

JV: You are also a writer and visual artist. Do you write anything other than for the films? 

KB: No. If I write something like that it would be my own personal reflections. Years ago, in my teens, I used to write poetry, and some of them got published.

JV: What about the visual artist part of you? Which medium do you use?

KB: I make photographs, digital art and sculpture. 

JV: This should rather have been the first question – when did you realise that you wanted to be a director? What is your academic background in arts/films? 

KB: This may sound like a cliché, but I have always wanted to make movies. Even when I was very young, even as a kid, I used to write scripts for films. When I was at college, I made short films. I went to London Royal College of Art for my Masters and did Documentary Film Studies in New York. But it is not always necessary to have an academic background in the craft before you start making movies. If you look at the large number of famous directors, there are many who never went to the university to do a course on film making. A course may help in some cases, but it is never a must that you do it.