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Surreal experiences

Published : Dec 31, 2010 00:00 IST


From 'Your Momentis Waiting'. The director notes: "It's a completely different language for a commerical, and to wean our minds off what is visually expected and to introduce a new thought can be a risky proposition."-COURTESY KERALA TOURISM/STARK COMMUNICATIONS

From 'Your Momentis Waiting'. The director notes: "It's a completely different language for a commerical, and to wean our minds off what is visually expected and to introduce a new thought can be a risky proposition."-COURTESY KERALA TOURISM/STARK COMMUNICATIONS

Interview with Prakash Varma, director of the film.

PRAKASH VARMA is the director and creator of several well-known television commercials and the co-founder of Nirvana, known for its eye-catching productions such as the Vodfone Zoozoo and the Hutch Boy Pug advertisements, the Neo Sport commercial that won an award at Cannes, the Incredible India! campaign and a commercial for the Indian Railways. Your Moment is Waiting, meant to entice global audiences for Kerala Tourism, is a strikingly different film that has won him more admirers and critics. Excerpts from a telephone interview with him:

What was the film's concept and which audiences were you aiming at?

The target was mainly the foreign tourist. There were a lot of stories that we had recorded from international tourists who have travelled a lot [in Kerala] and said they had been in situations where they could not explain the experience, like for example, when they were in the backwaters the silence, they just could not explain what they felt. There were people who came back to the same spot, every year, during the same time. Maybe they got inspired by things that they could not put their finger on. And then there were people who returned to get married there and settle down. The whole campaign is based on such feelings.

The brief was to get that mood. For a film-maker it was even tougher because one was being asked to explain what was going on, something really fantastic, spiritual, real, but surreal, sensuous and all that.

I was born and brought up in Alappuzha, I have seen a lot of tourists, I have interacted with them, and the kind of experiences that they share is something really remarkable, and I thought it was a fantastic point. Everybody knows how Kerala is. It has backwaters, it has houseboats... all that remains the same and you don't need to make a film again [to depict all that]. This (film is made) completely out of pieces of a different angle altogether.

What were the most challenging aspects of making this film?

The challenge was basically and initially to structure the film, to get this point that it was not about just connecting visuals. Visually, of course, Kerala is really stirring. But when you have to plot a situation like this... the challenge is to get the soul of the film, to structure it properly. The visual stuff comes much later, just before the shoot perhaps or while shooting. But it was really about the thought process in each and every sequence.

Basically, it was all about a traveller's point of view or an experience of travelling. The first sequence is like a point of view of the traveller. It almost looks like the guy [the fisherman] is a branch [of a dead tree] and suddenly you figure out a little later that he is a human being.

In fact, it is a great moment for anybody, but it is not something that he will go and explain to somebody that he saw something like that. Like for example, the Theyyam sequence, it is such a surreal thing.... Those are moments that are common but perhaps which you may not be able to see tomorrow. So basically it is a combination of everything together; the film has got backwaters, it has got all the art forms that we have. It is the true form of Kathakali that you see there, without the make-up....

That was a nice touch, the Kathakali artist on the veranda of that typical Kerala village home, emoting without make-up, with all those old photographs on the wall....

It's all there [in Kerala].... I've seen it all in my family. My father and others, they all used to do such things, do the mudras and such stuff. Imagine, for a stranger walking along watching something like that, it is so strange and difficult to explain.... It seems like it is a Kathakali performance, but in that form it looks real, but at the same time it is not real. Thus there are so many layers to the sequences in the film and to put everything together on paper was the most difficult challenge. Once that was done, then the shoot began. There were so many challenges but I truly, truly enjoyed the process of this particular project. The creative director B.R. Swarup [of Stark Communications] and the Secretary, Kerala Tourism, V. Venu, gave me a lot of freedom and rarely do you get that.

There are several criticisms about the film: that the scenes do not look like Kerala, the music is alien, the model is Swedish, a London-based group has composed the music, and so on.

To start with, the film has got a universal angle to it, and there are a lot of surreal, spiritual angles to the whole thing. So there is a mood, there is a language to that mood. To have that it was very important to have a sound design. I am not selling the music of the State. I am selling the State. For me the most important thing was the mood. So the sound design was very important. I tried local folk, all kinds of world music. For me the most important thing is the communication of the film, the mood of the film. So whatever goes right at that particular moment that is what I will go for. And this is an international film. It will go all over the world and I want more people to watch this film and to try to understand what I'm trying to say. It is not for a small audience, a particular State or a country. So if you are looking at the universal angle, this music works brilliantly.

Now, the point about the Swedish model. As I told you, it is the tourist travelling. It is either the point of view of the traveller or the traveller experiencing situations in Kerala. How can I use a Malayalee girl there? I'll have to use a foreigner.

What was the music meant to convey? It sounds so African, are there any lyrics in it, one may wonder...

The voice has got a very, very universal appeal to it. And that particular voice was to suggest the mood, which is why there are absolutely no lyrics it. It's purely an aalaap. It has no meaning and he [the singer] is not seen...

How long did it take for you to make Your Moment'?

For planning, to get it on paper, and first of all for me to get a grip on the film, it took around eight months. Swarup and Venu gave me a lot of confidence, and the shooting, I did it in 10 days in Kerala. I know, people have expressed doubts, but it is Kerala. There was no way that anybody would think of shooting a tourism film outside the State. It would be stupid and foolish.

The Thekkady sequence was shot in Thekkady, the backwaters sequence in Alappuzha, the Theyyam sequence, that yellow grass sequence, was shot at Madayippara in Kannur, the elephant sequence was made in the jungle in Kannur, the part where she [the model] is rolling in the grass was shot in Munnar, and where she walks in through that village path towards the Kathakali artist, again, was in Kannur. That house is a real house in Kannur.

People are comparing Your Moment' with a Mexican tourism commercial and finding similarities.

There is absolutely no comparison. When something very unique comes out like this, such reactions are bound to come and they were expected.

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Dec 31, 2010.)



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