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19. Deep Focus
     Kairali, February 2003

Welcome to Deep Focus.

There was a time when Malayalam cinema drew its strength and content from the wealth of its Malayalam literature. But then for a long time, it was as though Malayalam cinema forgot literature. Later people like Bharatan and Padmarajan brought this connection back between the two. Then again, the divide persisted for a while. In the recent past, director Shyamaprasad has been at the forefront in mining this richness of Malayalam literature and bringing it to celluloid. In his works we see a beautiful blend of the written word and the visual medium. Today we have with us in Deep Focus, director Shyamaprasad sharing his creative perspective, personal viewpoints, and experiences. We welcome him to this edition of Deep Focus.

Shyam, you are a product of Drama School. But not many are aware of your work in theatre, or your contribution to this medium. So could we begin with a note on that?

(Laughs) Well that's probably because there hasn't been much of a contribution! Anyway, after learning direction from Drama School, I did a play named 'Laura' for the Cult - a repertory theatre group of the Calicut University, in '82. It was based on 'Glass Menagerie' by Tennessee Williams. The play was shown widely in Kerala. Later while based in Delhi, this was before joining Doordarshan; I did a few more plays - Chekhov's works, among others. There was a theatre group called 'Thiranottam' in Delhi staging Malayalam plays.

After joining DD, for the same Cult I did 'Moscow 1906' based on The Just by Albert Camus - which was to later become Uyirthezhunnelpu - it was the same cast, the same theme, the same pattern. There was another production, Midi Theatre in Ernakulam (later to become Living Theatre); for them I did Woody Allen's 'The Death'. And that was my last so-called theatre production.

But surprisingly, you have carried over the same works into your television career too. Now obviously there's a difference in the visual language used in these two media - it appears you were the first to attempt this crossover into a more technically advanced, electronic medium. How did you manage to bring about such a change - that too with the same cast, the same people involved?

When we choose a play to stage, we are touched by its fundamental premise, its context, the characters, its moments, the dialogues - these intrinsic merits are what impress us the most and remain even after the production. And when we move to another medium, we are inspired to express these very impressions, these thoughts. And so, it wasn't the structure of theatre, or its format that I carried over from my Drama school upbringing or my theatre productions. On looking back, what I really transplanted from my theatre education was a reading of prominent theatre works, an interest in the human condition, in its myriad moments; how to make acting appear more natural, engaging and suchlike.

So as I see it, there wasn't anything deliberate, anything forced in the transition. From Camus' The Just, staged as 'Moscow 1906' in 1995; to the television production Uyirthezhunnelpu in 1996 the transformation was very natural, quite effortless.

But for you, on crossing over to another medium, the picture would be very clear in your mind wouldn't it, 'cause these emotions, these thoughts are at the back of your mind, - But for the actors Murali, Kukku Parameswaran, Murugan - these are people who are trained in theatre - did you have a difficulty in converting them to a cinematic language?

Well no, if you look at it all as reality recorded within the frame of a camera - which is the language of cinema; it is intended that people behave naturally, as they would normally do. But in this play, the premise itself was a little stylized. And since the premise was derived on ideological leanings; (it was a solid premise), it has an innate stylization - which has perhaps seeped into the telefilm. I haven't sidelined this aspect entirely. In some instances, I do see flaws which are probably due to the actors, actresses being from a theatre background, my own education in theatre too - all this has affected the film in some of its moments. I'm not sure whether a complete transplantation has worked here. But that is mainly because I wasn't bothered about a transplantation. It was all an unconscious process of translating the essential thought into a language of the camera.

 
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