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Creative bend: Debutante director Satish Menon

Satish Menon, director of Bhavum, which has won critical acclaim, comes across as a simple human being devoid of hang-ups. A close-up view:

 


BY SAPNA ANU B GEORGE

Changing course from your academic stream to a creative one must be quite a challenge. From an environmental engineer to directing stage plays, evolving documentaries and producing and directing short films, calls for mental abundance and focus as we see in the career of Satish Menon.

A home away from home in Florida is where life blossomed for Satish, since his father pursued a career at the University of Florida-Gainesville. Beyond family relationships, the experience of living and indulging in Indian culture was never thrust upon him.

The career re-mapping led to desired results -- he was able to direct, produce and film, documentaries and short films from an Indian perspective. In a candid confession, Satish Menon states that his profession, as an environmental engineer, was an occupation which sustained him from starving and provided a roof over his head. His respect for his academics is also admirable, when he says, “environmental engineering is not any less glorious; it has its purpose and avenues for creativity, but my dream seemed more in tune with the cryptic sense of expression which films facilitate.”

The initial decision of "I want to make a movie" was not just a thought that crossed his mind one fine Sunday afternoon. It was his love and involvement in evolving quality local stage plays that triggered his dormant potential to write, produce and direct four short fiction films and a documentary. Under the flag of Visual Possibility Inc., where Satish holds the office as a founder and managing partner, the full length feature film Emotions of Being was made. His prominent short films Awake (2001; 6 minutes 16mm), Where does Storm water go? (2001; 26 minutes Mini DV), Cookie (1998; 3 minutes 16 mm), Lost in the Garden of Eden (1998; 47 minutes Super VHS), The Soiled Plate (1996; 42 minutes Super VHS were directed, produced and screened.

Reflecting on his first south Indian feature film Bhavum, which revolves around the people of Kerala, Satish was brimming with excitement and his thoughts were expressed with profound intelligence. This is what he had to convey - films and drama are a mode for creative expression. “Since I like to reflect upon contemporary society, selecting a theme and story that fit the current state of mind of the middle class life in Kerala was an utmost necessity."

Bhavum, Satish’s first full-fledged South Indian feature film subscribed to an in-depth theme that was a viable fit in a post-globalization Urban India. The film captures the struggle between the conscious and unconscious mind of a young couple whose happiness is stretched when their love, lifestyle, and fidelity are challenged with the arrival of the wife’s sister, a woman with a mysterious past.

Making this film was part of that revolutionary process required to be sustained and further subscribe to an advanced learning of the technical side of film making. Therefore, working on economies of scale, Kerala, located in South India, was selected as the knowledge imparting centre.

The finances at his disposal, and the characters to fit the script were evaluated and validated, which brought in the likes of Murali Menon and Jyothirmayi who play the lead role. Mitha Vasisth brings to life an intense role, which justifies her presence. Cinematography was handled by Sunny Joseph, an experienced hand.

The awards and acclaims that followed Bhavum were enormous. State awards for Best Debut Director, Best Film 2002, and Lead actress received Special Jury mention at the National Awards 2002. The high emotional intensity that set in for being one of the coveted movies to be screened in many film festivals namely, Indian Film Festival in Los Angeles, Key west India Festival, Asian Film Festival of Dallas, Cinefest Doha, 5th Cinefan Delhi, Indian Panorama IFFI’ 2003 needs a mention. The film has been selected to be screened at the Cairo International Film Festival in Oct -17th.

It is not an independent effort that brings success. The team work, to which Satish subscribes calls for praise. Satish showers compliments on his cinematographer Sunny Joseph. “From the perspective of a director, especially a first-time director, it was wonderful to have Sunny as my cinematographer, because he was never intrusive. He was patient from the word Go. Read the script, made his suggestions, gave his opinions, but most importantly, listened to what I had to say and then moulded his response to maximize my intentions. As the production progressed, it seemed like, Sunny knew exactly what I was thinking, and that helped the push-forward. For a an amateur director, where every other thing was going wrong, the support and his ability to adjust to work within my time and resource constraints were crucial and I could only stand in awe of him”.

Ruggedly handsome and a very pleasant human being, Satish Menon is a shy, self-involved individual, who prefers to be left alone. Surprisingly, just plain and ordinary, lost in self thoughts, and living to achieve, his own dreams. Poignantly devoid of any vices, this man of recluse, is a vegetarian and loves food, ranging from Thai, Italian, Mexican, and Indian but mentions” I am not picky, I love food”.

A workaholic by nature, Satish Menon is composed, and able to put “First things First”. His love for music transformed from Rock n’Roll while in his teens to Jazz and classical (both Indian & western). On his friends' circle, his thoughts were- “I spend most of my time on my own, with the exception of a few close friends with whom I loved spending time, I usually find my home (my apartment in Chicago) a place for solace and quiet contemplation."

On evolving stories, he says: “Stories develop out of experiences and assessment of the environment around you. I collect my memories, random but frequent. It takes its time to metastasize and get a form, which invariably starts as an idea, then as a concept and then, it takes a shape of a story that evolves organically. “So the process of my writing is very long. I let it embryonicalIy grow in my thoughts for a while. Further, once it develops in parts, I distribute them to a page and keep moulding it, until it is coherent.”

Since the time I remember, I loved movies and as I grew up, I began to sense the importance of movies in being able to express what words alone could not accomplish. Therefore, I'm using movies to express my self, if I might be so bold to suggest that.

Does one have to be married to know what marriage is about? “My life is filled with experiences that help me relate to most human conditions, although I am single and relatively young. The fact that I can observe, experience and understand the condition of people apart from me, lends to tell stories that can be universal. But let's put it this way, “does a man have to be a woman to understand and write about her wants and desires?” I do not think so. Again, the movie stands for itself. The fact that I have never been married should not prejudice my interpretation of a marriage..."

"During several public screenings of Bhavum, I was delighted to witness the rapt attention of people and the joy they derived from watching the film. usually, the screening followed a Q&A session, which is mostly very polite, but good to hear people’s perceptions, curiosity, and what they admired in the film. Relating elements of the film that I would not have thought of, which helps me see the film, in a new perspective."

When asked about the next project, Satish mentioned that he was currently writing a script based on a novel... which could not be revealed at this juncture. Simultaneously, Satish is working on a documentary highlighting the conditions of battered immigrant women. The scripts contain fictitious and real individuals who are personally known and the characters are combination of people within the circle of friends and outside. Therefore, in a sense, they are real people and the stories are bona fide. He promises it will be a complex human relation, in the midst of this non-interactive world.

BY SAPNA ANU B GEORGE

God save the Malayalee

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