There is no denying his talent behind the camera but Santosh Sivan is one of those directors whose work always intrigues me while leaving me faintly dissatisfied. I can’t help but suspect that at time he relies on his undoubted technical brilliance to do most of the heavy lifting when directing a movie, at the obvious cost of the story.
There was The Terrorist, for example, which is either one of the best films I’ve ever seen or one of the neediest – I can’t make up my mind. Loosely based on the story of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, the movie tracks the emotional and mental state of a young woman gearing up for a suicide attack.
Then there’s Halo and Malli, two movies I haven’t seen but really want to. They might be categorized as children’s films but each carries within itself a hint of the larger, more disturbing world – in Halo it’s the 1993 Bombay riots, in Malli it is physical disability. I’d love to see how he’s tackled those themes.
And let’s not forget his ‘sell-out’ movie: Asoka, starring Shahrukh Khan and Kareena Kapoor. The writing was terrible, the ideas confused, the execution stuttered between arthouse and wannabe commercial, ultimately bombed at the box office – and yet managed to come up with the odd scene here and there that collectively left a greater impact than some blockbuster movies. People are still trying to figure out why it was such a big hit on TV a few years after its release.
Of late he’s stuck more or less to the arthouse circuit – his last two movies were in Tamil and Malayalam respectively: Navarasa and Ananthabhadram. The two films couldn’t be more different. Navarasa was the story of a little girl who discovers her beloved uncle’s transgendered identity and takes us along on a journey into a subculture that not many know or think about. Ananthabhadram was a fantasy about black magic, sex and family feuds. Fun. Or do I mean weird?
Now his latest film, his first English language movie, Before the Rains will make it’s debut at the Toronto Film Festival:
Before is set in the 1930s’ India when roads were being constructed through hills for spice trade. The story revolves around a Britisher who falls in love with his Indian housemaid (Das). He seeks help from his farm assistant, who is a member of the woman’s tribe (Bose) to cope with the situation. It isn’t a typical Raj film but more of a human drama, where the farm assistant is caught in a dilemma.
The movie stars Nandita Das (who seems to be doing really well these days), Rahul Bose, Jennifer Ehle, Linus Roache and John Standing among others. No word yet as to the date of general release but tickets to the festival are available now so pick them up if you’re in the vicinity.
Ananthabhadram: I have no idea what the hell is going on but it’s got Riya Sen in it.
Asoka: I still can’t believe Anu Malik composed this