Thirty years after the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, women are still giving birth to deformed children. The situation isn’t any different in Kasaragod district of Kerala either. The spraying of deadly chemical endosulfan pesticide on the cashew plantations in this district has created havoc in the lives of the people. Children are still being born with scale-like skin, eye deformities, respiratory disorders, memory loss, protruding tongues, extra fingers and toes. Valiya Chirakulla Pakshikal (Birds with large wings), directed by National Award-winning Malayalam filmmaker Dr Biju, touches upon this deadly issue.
Having been a homeopathic practitioner in Kasaragod, Kerala, Dr Biju has witnessed the situation from close quarters. Known for making films on political and raging environmental issues, Dr Biju was in Kolkata to attend the screening of his new film at the 21st Kolkata International Film Festival. HT caught up with the director on the state of Malayalam cinema, parallel cinema and more:
Your last film, Perariyathavar (Names Unknown) won the National Award for best film on environment conservation. This film too revolves around a raging social and environmental issue.
This time, it’s not only an environmental issue but also touches upon medical and social problems. The film also talks about social justice because the victims of endosulfan disaster haven’t got any compensation or help from the government. I select to do films on social issues because I firmly believe film is a medium through which we need to address the social and societal problems. I don’t believe cinema is only a medium of entertainment.
My new film, Valiya Chirakulla Pakshikal (Birds with large wings) depicts the aftereffects of endosulfan spraying through the eyes of a photographer. The film has political statements. The people are still on strike in that district. Kids are still being born with abnormalities.
What’s the present scenario of the Malayalam film industry?
The commercial film industry is thriving by churning out rubbish year after year. However, in the last two years, new filmmakers have started making arthouse films, which have different subjects.
You mentioned that award-winning parallel films hardly get theatres.
In Kerala, the arthouse movement is really in a bad shape. There’s neither any support from the government nor from the theatres. If an arthouse film gets appreciated at international film festivals, you will have a tough time releasing it in Kerala. The theatre owners don’t want to screen those films, since they have already been appreciated outside. Today’s audience too is corrupt. Yes, that’s the exact word. The taste of the audience has changed. There are a few people who appreciate good, sensible cinema but we don’t get a proper platform to screen award-winning films. It’s an alarming situation in Kerala because we hardly manage to sell satellite rights for award-winning films.
But your films are aired on television.
Yes, but a major reason behind that is my films star some popular actors and hence they manage to sell satellite rights. That’s the only criteria for the television channels. If a popular Malayalam actor stars in the film, the television channels are willing to air that film.
Has the government come forward to help in such a situation?
If a filmmaker wins a National Award, the government doesn’t really care much. The government runs 10 theatres but those theatres are not given to award-winning films. The government gets excited when an actor or an actress wins a National Award.
You were a member of the jury that selects India’s official entry to the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film (2015). Why are Indian filmmakers fascinated by Oscars?
The Indian people run after Hollywood and glamour. We don’t celebrate the movies which enter Berlin International Film Festival or other important international film festivals.