Living A Dream – A Chat With Soumya Sadanandan !

The Director talks of her debut film project with Kunchacko Boban 

Doordarshan was the epitome of TV entertainment back in the 80s and early 90s and this little girl earnestly looked forward to watching every single malayalam movie aired by the channel on Sundays. She recalls how every minute of those precious three hours literally transported her to another realm of stories, lives, characters and new found emotions! As she discovered her passion for Cinema, she also started to look for the Director’s name at the end of each movie and secretly wished that her name would also light up on screen some day! Through the years, she slowly unravelled the secrets of story-telling and learnt the ropes, working hands on with different directors and styles of film making! Though she wasn’t sure how it was going to happen, in her heart, she treasured her dream of being a director. National award winning film maker and super talented Soumya Sadanandan, whose commercial directorial debut, ‘Mangalyam Thanthunanena’ just hit the screens speaks to RITZ.      

Interview: Riya Sonny Datson

What was the turning point that led you to Cinema?

As a child, I loved story-telling and was active in extracurricular activities but post schooling, like most children from my generation, I was given two options – engineering or medicine. I reluctantly chose the former and by the end of the first semester, I realised that this was not my cup of tea. As soon as I passed out, I asked my parents if I could join the film institute but to my dismay, they asked me to find a job first. They insisted that I will value my choice only if I earn enough money to fund my education. Heart-broken, I headed to Bengaluru to find work. I worked for four years and earned savings and also the maturity to understand that more than a college degree, hands on experience is what matters. I got an opportunity to work with Mamas K Chandran for a year when he had just started working on a film. And for me, that was like a one year course with the best hands on training I could get. I learnt about the various departments involved, production, direction, technical aspects of film making, teamwork – everything! Looking back, I have no regrets about my decisions. I eventually got to work with different film makers and was the associate director for ad films. That’s where I learnt the art of story-telling in a capsule.

You have also tried your hand at acting…

Yes, I wanted to learn every aspect of Cinema. Just as it is not easy to direct a film, the execution of a character is also not a cakewalk. It needs a lot of mental preparation and though I can act, I’m not an actor! It was very tough for me and that is when I started to harbour a new found respect for actors!

You were a regular at IFFK right from your college days, what draws you to it?

I started attending the IFFK from my third year of college. Every year, right after my semester exam, I would catch the first bus to the film festival. Initially, I never understood most of it but I believe that a story is a ‘life link’. It excited me to just watch them – the lives, thoughts, emotions and experiences of people who were living in a completely different corner of the world!  It was a great learning and I still enjoy it!

What was the inspiration behind the making of your national award winning documentary, Chembai….?

It’s been my habit to go on a holiday whenever I save money. And it was during one such time that I happened to read about ‘Chembai Sangeetotsalvam’. I read that music maestros like K J Yesudas Sir was participating in the concert. As it was dedicated to the renowned Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar, the show was open to public. I grew up listening to Yesudas Sir’s mesmerising melodies and have always wanted to watch his live performance. So I packed my bags and headed to Chembai, a small village in Pallakad. Coincidentally, it was the 100th anniversary of the festival and when I mentioned that I work for a TV Channel, the main organiser, Murugan Sir allowed me to stay as a guest at one of the homes in the village. Though Yesudas Sir’s performance was only on the fifth day, I didn’t miss a single concert and was at the venue every day! It was an electrifying experience and I learnt so much about music during my stay there that I wanted to share my knowledge with the rest of the world, especially the youngsters. The respected Bhagavathar and his vision was like a hidden treasure trove which had to be shared! The minute that realisation struck me, I started to save recordings on my iphone and by the end of the festival, I had enough content to make a beautiful biopic. But I couldn’t wait that long so I decided to try making a documentary. I knew there was a lot of prejudice attached to a documentary so I had to make it interesting, to ensure that it inspires the younger audience to reach out to Chembai. I am overwhelmed that we received the national award for our work!

What inspired you to do the famous short film ‘Rabbit hole’?

My inspiration was a puppy named ‘Peppy aka Pepper’. One of my close friends was going through severe depression and nothing we did seemed to help him. But one fine day, he got himself a Labrador pup and things slowly started to change and eventually, his pet literally healed him. I was very happy for him as I had watched the whole transformation very closely. Later, there came a point in my life, when I started to battle depression. I didn’t want to see or talk to anyone for months together and things were getting out of hand. Then I thought of Peppy and decided that I needed to find an anchor that would pull me out of it. My first and last love is Cinema and so I decided to make a short film about depression. That’s how we developed a thread and started work. With support from my family, we completed the short film and the response I got for it was just amazing. That was my stepping stone!

“As a person, I follow what my mentor once taught me – ‘Whatever you do, you must enjoy doing it and for that, you have to understand your subject thoroughly’. I must say that I have had a lot of support from my team especially Chackochan (Kunchacko Boban), without whose confidence and encouragement, we wouldn’t have been able to do it.”

What drives you?

My mom is a very perseverant individual. If she puts her heart to something, no matter what people around her say – be it positive or negative, she will get it done. I think I have inherited her genes!

How was the experience of directing a movie different from a documentary?

A documentary is easier as it has a small budget and I am the producer. Also, my documentary subjects were timeless, so there was no pressure to finish the project within a deadline. But for a feature film, I had to rope in a producer as budgets were higher. I was yearning to direct a feature film and although I had a script of my own, I knew that as a debutant director, I had to be practical and take up a story without an unreasonable budget. That’s when Tony Madathil approached me with a simple script that had no gimmicks but just feel good entertainment. I was thrilled and more than happy to take it up!  It took us 3-4 years to finalise a producer and get dates from actors. It was indeed a tough process to convey a simple thought in an effective manner but I feel we have managed to do a good job.

How is the response?

Am thrilled that the movie has been received so well and that it is running in packed Cinema halls. The family audience have wholeheartedly accepted it and am hoping to see it join the 100 day league!

What’s next?

I have a lot of exciting scripts and after the success of my debut movie, I am hoping that more investors will believe in my craft, which will enable me to bring more scripts to life!