The sensational lynching of a tribal youth in Wayanad, earlier this year, one again exposed the pitiable state of the tribals and the atrocities they silently suffered. Soon, pointing to a new awakening in the marginalised community, Kerala’s first Adivasi filmmaker emerged in the form of unknown Leela Santhosh when renowned cinematographer and director Rajeev Ravi announced his new film project 'Karinthandam' to be directed by her. When Onmanorama caught up with her, the mother of four, narrated her own life and ambitious project on the tribal legend.
Leela, who is now in her early 30s, did not attend a regular school and rather attained an informal education at Kanavu, the alternative school set up by writer and activist KJ Baby. She spent 13 years there, learning everything about cinema. In the meantime, she became close to Santhosh Sankar, her classmate from Kanavu and got married. Sankar now teaches Kalaripayattu at Kanavu itself.
Talk about the biggest challenge she has, in making the movie and she says, “Writing is perhaps the toughest part for me. The language is a concern for me as I have mostly used our local dialect. Although the script is complete, I am still perturbed how the mainstream audience will accept.”
Then what made her choose such a complicated story for her very first filmy venture. “Coming from a tribal community, I always wanted to do something in the society. 'Karinthandan' is someone close to our community. He was a legend but many people have had misconceptions about him. I wanted to change that. What better subject could I take to address the tribal sect! She says.
Hailing from Nadavayal, Wayanad, Leela stepped into the industry with the documentary, 'Nizhalukal Nashtapedunne Gothrabhumi’, based on the life and rituals of Paniya community back in 2010.
On casting actor Vinayakan, Leela says, “It’s been quite some time that I am seeing people with regard to this movie. That is when I met Rajeev sir (Rajeev Ravi). He was happy with the subject and he himself had suggested Vinayakan.”
However, after the first-look poster of ‘Karinthandan’ was released online, the film has received a backlash from yet another filmmaker Gopakumar GK who claimed to have prepared a script with the same movie title almost a year ago. Leela denies to have known anything about it and says, “an artist can take a particular subject and can present in different ways. The 'Karinthandan' I have tried to present was not made by referring to any book rather by talking to our older generations. I created the thread for the plot through their narratives.”
When we tell her Gopakumar plans legal action, she says, “I have not been communicated on any such thing and I am not aware of it. Let whatever come, for that’s not my area of concern.”
How active is Leela on social media and she replies, “I am glad that the poster have got an amazing response on social media. Honestly, I get to know everything but it is my husband who handles my social media account as till now. With the poster being accepted by many, it comes as great responsibility to meet the expectations of the audience. I will try to give my best and work to bring the best result.”
On challenges on the domestic front, she says, referring to her baby, “The youngest of them is just six months old and he needs me all the time.” We ask her how, then, she manages work and she smilingly responds, “I make them all sleep by 10 pm and then start work. Since 2013, I have been working for 'Karinthandam'. Writing it, re-writing it, changing it and improvising it. With kids around, its been pretty hectic but with the help of my husband, I am able to manage everything.”
Before signing off she also reminds that all other cast for the movie are yet to be decided and auditions will happen soon. The movie will start rolling by December-end.