Viju Varma reminisces about the Documentary Film he made on OV Vijayan on the latter’s 90th Birth Anniversary
As the 90th birth anniversary of legendary writer from Kerala OV Vijayan on July 2, 2020, Viju Varma, who directed the documentary film on the legend for the Government of Kerala, Sandehiyude Samvadadoorangal, reminisces about his experience he had while shooting the biopic.
In a free-wheeling chat with the Editor of The Indian News, Jayashankar Menon, Varma speaks about the film and more. Excerpts:
TIN: Can you share your experience on making the documentry on the Legendary writer, OV Vijayan?
VV: I directed the documentary on OV Vijayan for the Public Relations Department, Government of Kerala. The faculty in the University College, Thiruvananthapuram and literary luminary, Sabu Kottukkal wrote the script. Praveen Panickar handled the cinematography. The technical aspects of the documentary was done by the Centre for Development of Imaging Technology (C-DIT) Thiruvananthapuram for the PRD. Except Delhi, I was able to visit and shoot all the places OV Vijayan had been, especially Palakkad. The film was able to capture the whole of the legend’s life in a comprehensive way. As a journalist, cartoonist, writer and what not…we were able to go through his life through his works. Rather being a peripheral documentary, we were able to make the film in a fictional form and that made me happy.
TIN: How did you go about the whole exercise of shooting the film on the legend, OV Vijayan?
VV: We were able to travel through all of his works including Kadaltheerathu (On the Seashore) and Khasakinte Ithihasam in the form of books and we could traverse through the paths he had tread. Palakkad was the main shoot location. We were mostly focusing on the verdant landscapes of Palakkad including Khasak and the peripheral areas. The sheer beauty of the rural landscape of Palakkad had immensely helped us in terms of shooting the movie in an aesthetic way thus justifying the legend’s works. Most of the fictional elements came from these hinterlands. We were able to cast Jayakanth who had lot of parallels with the legend in Palakkad. So, we cast him as Vijayan in the film as a suggestive character of the fiction. With that, we were able to create the presence of OV Vijayan real time in this documentary film. When it came to OV Vijayan, the availability of footages were between far and few and we had lot of restrictions for the making of the film. To a great extend, we overcame those restrictions by casting Jayakanth and thus making the presence of Vijayan felt through out the film.
TIN: What are the other factors that helped you to enhance the quality of your docu-fiction?
VV: We were able to get the reactions from the literary figures including Zakharia and Anandi Ramachandran. Unlike the usual documentary style of shooting full-fledged interviews with those who were close with OV Vijayan, what we did was making them speak about their memories of the legend in addition to the reaction from the Mullakka (Islamic Cleric) who knew OV Vijayan right from his childhood. Also, we got to speak to OV Usha, the youngest sister of OV Vijayan about her memories of her brother. We had only very limited number of people, nevertheless, the documentary traversed in two patterns. One pattern was the legend’s own soliloquy, extracted from his own book, Thalamurakal. The second pattern was the perspective of the director about OV Vijayan. So, the documentary was completely traveling through these two patterns.
TIN: Can you speak about the script?
VV: Yes, the script had the language which was standing close to the legend’s own language. So, the elaborate description of autobiographical elements from the book had immensely helped us to do the film with perfection. This has elicited humongous interest among those who watched the movie. Even we too were impressed with the script and this is one of the highlights of this documentary. We received the Best Biopic Award for 2010 from Government of Kerala. we also bagged Swaralaya Best Documentary Award,. Besides that our movie was included in the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala (IDSFFK) Award competition section, Mumbai International Film Festival, Act Award etc. More importantly, our film was included in the BA English course in Kerala University under the must watch rare documentary films. As an authentic documentary on OV Vijayan, I am very happy that the University had included my documentary film in the syllabus. For me, it was a great experience, as the expert panel of the varsity would have seen many a documentaries and found mine as the authentic piece and thus becoming part of the history.
TIN: What other documentaries you have made?
VV: I did a series of documentaries for UNESCO that adornes my profile. I have done about nine documentary films. It was 100 hours documentation covering legends of Koodiyattam art form, three documentary films on the musicality part of Koodiyattam dance form, including the acting possibilities and about the percussion instrument used in the music of Koodiyattam called Mizhavu. Thus, I was able to meet the legends of Koodiyattam including Sivan Nampoothiri in addition to the satisfaction of creating nine odd documentary films for a great platform like UNESCO and interacting with all these legends. This has definitely helped me as a film maker for bringing on the table, hands on experience of making films on these legends. I feel proud of all these achievements.
TIN: :What are the lessons you have learnt from making the documentary film on OV Vijayan?
VV: I had read the works of OV Vijayan, even before making this documentary films. As documentary films are dedicated to the scholastic purposes of the legends by documenting in the form of film, I was able to delve deep into the subject and educate myself the life and works of OV Vijayan. When I interacted with those literary luminaries who were associated with the legend, his contemporaries and those who lived in and around the place where Vijayan was born and raised up, it was a great learning curve and certainly a humongous experience as well. I have always been fascinated by OV Vijayan’s versatility. As I also hail from Patambi in Palakkad district, the inspiration for me to call a spade a spade would have certainly come knowingly or unknowingly from the legend. My varied passion such as film making, writing, sculpting and other creative pursuits might have had definite influence from these legends including OV Vijayan. In addition to that I take constant effort to look at the maladies that are taking place in and around us and take concerted effort to react to these imbalances in the society. Perhaps the competence of OV Vijayan in reacting to the social evils in the form of writing as well as in the form of his umpteen cartoons would have had an indirect influence on artists like us. Precisely for the same reason, being a social being, artists including me are not floating in an idle fashion to the inequities that are plaguing our society. Therefore, we delve deep into the undercurrents of these issues and resist those fissiparous tendencies with all our might. Probably, the enthusiasm to wade through the powerful undercurrent and still react to the social evils stem from the fact that it could be due to the paths the legends like OV Vijayan had laid for us to traverse. Yes, it is a constant struggle. Like what OV Vijayan says, life is full of struggles. In order to keep this struggle in mind, people like OV Vijayan would have influenced directly or indirectly. As a documentary film maker, I have first hand experience. Keep your eyes wide open, see and react. We have understood these facets. A man should have all these attributes, in his journey to attain perfection through his journey. This has helped me a lot during my sojourn. No one is complete. But, what we can do is to try our best to be genuine. When you think in those plain, the opportunity I got to make the documentary film on OV Vijayan has influenced me immensely in my character making.