Don Palathara hails from Karunapuram in Idukki, barely three kilometres from Kambammettu in Tamil Nadu. The 34-year-old director has four films to his credit – Savam, Vithu,1956, Central Travancore, and Santhoshathinte Onnam Rahasyam, two of which are being screened at the ongoing International Film Festival of Kerala. Considered as an auteur director by critics, Don is heralded as an exponent of contemplative cinema. Among other things he talks about his fascination for minimalism and why slowburn films matter:
Your first three films – Savam, Vithu and 1956, Central Travancore- were all shot in black & white. The latest one Santhoshathinte Onnam Rahasyam, though in colour, uses a limited palette. Have you changed as a filmmaker since your first film in 2015?
I was never stubborn about all my films being in monochrome. Initially, I had planned to shoot Savam in colour. But after a test shoot with cinematographer Pratap Joseph, we felt that certain colours would be out of place and hard to control. That we were low on budget also weighed in. But both Vithu and 1956, despite being shot in B&W, had grading to enhance them.
You are seen as a practitioner of slow cinema. Do you believe in the popular dichotomy of the mainstream being fastpaced and arthouse being slow? What does the aesthetic of slow cinema mean to you?
I was someone who enjoyed fast-paced films. It’s a taste that changed fast andis still evolving. I watch the filmmakers I like and make films in a way that I as a viewer would like. An ideal audience doesn’t exist. There’s always a demanding inner viewer that I need to satisfy. What is fast and what is slow is also a perception. The film 1956 has a scene from a play that was 14 minutes long, which I trimmed to eight because I felt it unbearable. In the hands of someone more patient than me, the film would become longer.
The average shot length in a commercially successful film would be two seconds to three seconds. The longest would be four. They do not want us to approach it analytically, the next shot would be thrust on us even before we can think, forcing a subjective view. I want to provide space for more objective viewing. People should be able to reflect. I don’t consider my own view as absolute and above all, it opens up a space for conversations. What filmmakers like Lav Diaz try to do is also political in that sense. To hold the viewers, not thinking of them as consumers alone and prodding them to wait and think.
Your films are often compared to the ones by Lav Diaz and Bela Tarr. In what ways have their aesthetics of slowness influenced you?
I am not a blind fanboy of any filmmaker. If I like a film, I would watch it repeatedly. I was greatly drawn to the film Butterflieshave no memories by Lav Diaz about a girl who migrated to the US returning to her roots. The minimal use of resources and the treatment of time influenced me. Another director I like is Tsai Ming Liang, not his new works, but his earlier films from the 90s. In the case of Bela Tarr, I like his later works more than the earlier ones which have a documentary character.
You always seem to work within a set of self-imposed restrictions, like setting out to write a poem with a set form, a limited palette, a static camera?
That’s true. But every time I impose such restrictions I would see if it would go with the story. If it tampers with it or negates it I would do away with them. I feel I can craft something more beautifully while working within limitations. Something that can be told in a single shot does not need three. Perhaps this sense of minimalism comes from the milieu that I was brought up.
You once referred to filmmaking as a kind of self-therapy. What are the traumas that you are trying to confront, the anxieties that you are trying to heal?
I’ve read somewhere that Vaikom Mohammed Basheer wrote stories to treat his own madness. People often go to therapists to talk. I am not someone who talks a lot. What calms me down is the act of writing and then visualizing them. I don’t make films to reform people. If you are not making films for yourself, how can you serve it to others? It’s more honest. If the food is not good, we say let’s give it to someone else? That would be hypocritical.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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