Mai Ghat Nomination for Festival de Cannes: “Meeting Prabhavati Amma, what struck me was not poverty, but innate dignity, Script Writer C.P. Surendran

Mai Ghat Crime No.103/2005 Nominated for 73rd Festival de Cannes

C.P. Surendran, English poet, former Editor of Times of India and the Script Writer of Mai Ghat, the Ananth Mahadevan directorial Marathi movie that has been nominated for the online screening at the Festival de Cannes.

While speaking to The Indian News in an exclusive interview about how they approached the real life mother of the custodial death youth, Prabhavati Amma, said that the poor in India smell and sound pretty much the same across space and time. In fact, they even look the same, Surendran said and added: “What struck me was not her poverty, but an innate dignity and that is a rare quality, not because humans are not born without it, nevertheless, circumstances and the people around you tend to discourage you from displaying it.”

English Poet, Film Script Writer and former Editor of Times of India, C.P. Surendran.

In a free-wheeling chat, CP Surendran speaks about the script part of Mai Ghat and his plans of writing more scripts in the Malayalam film industry to the Editor of The Indian News,  Jayashankar Menon. Excerpts:

TIN: Mai Ghat has been selected for the screening at the Cannes, what is your reaction?

CPS: Surprised. We are living through such insane times when almost every person secretly wishes the other the very worst, pleasant things are a rarity. Recognition of one’s talent is always welcome. But please note, recognising another person’s talent is often the equivalent of denying one’s own worth. That’s why awards have become motivated and suspect.

TIN: You are an English poet, Independent Journalist and a columnist for various international dailies. How did you venture into writing script for a cinema, especially with Ananth Mahadevan?

CPS: Chance. Ananth’s brother, Ravi Mahadevan has always been a close friend from college days. When they were discussing the subject of a movie (Gaur Hari Dastan), the story of an Indian freedom fighter who was forced to wage his liberation struggle twice (once against the British, and the other against the Indian bureaucracy) Ravi suggested my name. I was not enthused at first as the subject seemed dry. But, as I learnt from Ananth, that was the challenge. Tarkovsky, in Sculpting in Time, talks about his interest in those characters who are static outside but seething inside. The reason why he depends on poetry and imagery and trance inducing rhythm is that it is so difficult to bring out that kind of conflicted personality to screen. The reason too why cinema in general takes to external conflicts like fights and loudness is because the other way is really hard, and a risk as well. To come back to Gaur Hari Dastan, my first script, it was a tough job because I had not watched enough good cinema then. But eventually, with Ananth’s help, I guess I pulled it off.

TIN: How did you approach Padmavati Amma and how did you make the changes to suit the Marathi milieu?

CPS: The poor in India smell and sound pretty much the same across space and time. They even look the same. When I met Prabhavati Amma in Thiruvananthapuram what struck me was not her poverty, but an innate dignity. That is a rare quality, not because humans are not born without it, but because circumstances and the people around you tend to discourage you from displaying it. And she dreaded sympathy as sympathy might weaken her resolve from fighting for justice for her son who died in police custody. I thought she dreaded the touch. The human touch of acknowledgement,  what she lost could not be acknowledged enough. The touch slighted the memory of her loss. The challenge was to get her unforgiving character right. The transplantation to Marathi was not a problem. I turned her into a washer woman. Because laundering clothes has to do with washing away stains. In the movie, the only time Prabha Mai lets go and shows her feelings is after she wins the case.

TIN: What was the experience you had when you completed the script for Mai Ghat?

CPS: I was going through a very difficult time at the time of writing the script. But writing it was the process that saved me from dysfunctions and depression. In retrospect, I believe writing that script was an assertion of will and character in the face of extreme isolation and trauma. So traumatised in fact that I remember walking down a narrow lane that ended in a small temple looking for Prabhavati Amma’s house, thinking all that was happening to me was someone else, someone known to me , but not me, looking for an elderly lady who was even more traumatised than me .

TIN: As a poet, can you elaborate on the works you had published so far? What are the new assignment that are on the cards?

CPS: My selected essays are coming up. A selection from published articles and columns. I have just finished a novel, “One Love, And The Many Lives of Osip B.” It took me well over six years. Let’s see what fate awaits it. These days I feel like poetry, a form of writing that renders me usually dysfunctional. So I am hesitant. And I have a movie project to finish. I will probably focus on the last. I forgot to add, in the last eight months, I have finished another shooting script. Malayalam Super Star  (I believe) likes it very much.

TIN: Contributing articles to various international dailies including the Gulf News, engrossed in the literary activities and now you are focusing on the Malayalam celluloid world, how do you manage all these things?

CPS: I work 16 hours a day. A lot of people may think an artist or a writer is wayward. Not in my experience. Few trades are as demanding as professional writing. In my case, the various departments of writing, to a large extend, balance each other. My political columns, for instance, keeps me rooted to reality as opposed to a life of imagination that movies and fiction demand.

TIN: What is the trigger point, being outside Kerala for a number of years, to get into the script writing for Malayalam movies?

CPS: Not just Malayalam. I have offers from Hindi and Marathi as well. But, of late, I seem to spend quite a lot of time in Kerala. Hence my interest in Malayalam. Besides, Malayalam cinema is open to new ideas, I think. which is an incentive for a story hatcher.