From terrorism to historical characters, Santosh Sivan has tried his hand at everything. And now he transcends borders with his period film Before the Rains which has Hollywood actors and producers.
The film, about a British planter in colonial India who wants to build a road to the hills to commercially tap the spices grown there, will be premiered at the Sep 6-15 Toronto International Film Festival.
Jointly produced by Hollywood studio Echo Lake and Sivan, the film revolves around the planter, played by Linus Roache, his wife (Jennifer Ehle), his lover (Nandita Das) and his assistant (Rahul Bose).
<b1>"I was approached by them with a script set in a colonial background. I thought it was a story that could be set in the hills of Kerala. I often wondered as a kid as to who made these long winding roads through thick jungle. So writer Cathy Rabin spent time researching and adapted it to those times," Sivan told IANS.
Though the Hollywood producers wanted to shoot the film in South Africa, Sivan was very keen on Munnar. And he had a valid reason.
He said: "It is one of the places that seems as if it's like the Brits left it, especially the Tata Estate and their buildings, and our sound recorder Paul Scwartz found it silent enough to do live sound."
Sivan started his career as a cinematographer with the acclaimed Aamir Khan starrer Raakh and thereafter went on to win five National Awards for cinematography. Later he turned director and his third film, The Terrorist, grabbed attention. The film had Ayesha Dharker playing a young female terrorist on a suicide mission.
The cinematography in all his films is simply breathtaking.
Asked about the importance of visuals in films, he said: "I think it is only the visual language that makes everything universal. Hence, I think a balance and harmony of both - visuals and characters - make scenes poignant."
Before the Rains, which was earlier titled Road to the Sky, is relevant in today's time, feels Sivan.
"Though it's a period film set in 1937, it has human drama. It has a very contemporary and compelling story," said Sivan, who had earlier made a period film with Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan titled "Asoka".
The director feels Indian films haven't made the desired impact on the world audience, despite India being one of the largest film producing countries, because of the traditional way of storytelling that distances it from the global audience.
"We don't really lack anything. It's just that we are very comfortable with our Indian tradition of storytelling with songs, etc. Hence it distances the viewers not comfortable with it. For this very reason it has also kept Hollywood from intruding into our market, unlike in Europe."
Do you believe that Bollywood is overshadowing regional cinema?
"In terms of visibility and media patronage, yes."
On the release of Before the Rains in the country, Sivan said: "I guess it will be only after the Toronto festival that everything will be finalised."
Sivan has bagged another prestigious project. He is making a film on Afghanistan for the BBC titled Wedding Party. However, he is not ready to reveal anything about the film as it is still at a nascent stage.
"We haven't quite finalised the details," he said.
And finally, any plans to make another Hindi film?
"Very much, and hope, soon."