Satori, Short film (2019) Duration: 17 minutes
Satori is an experimental, collaborative, personal, non-narrative, non-linear short film attempting to paint a portrait of a young Indian immigrant in Dublin. In this project, which challenges essentialism and categorization, I collaborated primarily with a single individual investigating his life in a documentary style, infusing it with my own life stories effecting a montage of visuals, values, and aesthetics. The project duration was ten months with nine collaborators.
Part documentary and part fiction, amalgamating multiple personal and social dimensions of the protagonist and the filmmaker, the film attempts to establish the uniqueness of a migrant individual. It portrays scenes of multicultural gatherings, depression episodes, public activism, lonely meditation sessions and intercultural friendships, revealing a multifaceted personality divided among a number of alternative and sometimes competing identities formed out of intersecting ‘microcultures’ of gender, race, social class, ethnicity, and personality type.
Shot without a script, Satori is entirely a product of process-driven collaboration. The film took shape during the editing process, undergoing constant change in structure and tone as and when new footage was added. Many scenes were improvised during preplanned dinners in my home and the home of my main collaborator along with other participants. Satori as a project also argues for the notion that the perspectives of marginalized and/or oppressed individuals can help to create more objective accounts of the world (Harding, 2005).
The short film qualifies to be a one-person filmmaker project. The benefits of collapsing the traditional collaborative roles of industrial film production into a skeletal crew, such as making a better integrated film with stronger artistic authorship, was realized in the project. Collaborating deeply with the subject in the frame, made the film a kind of political activism.
Box Short film (2016) Duration: 15 minutes
Box is a short film made in collaboration with Neuron, a Malayalee community of left-wing rationalists, supported by Arts Council Ireland through ‘Artist in the Community’ scheme, managed by Create Ireland. It explores religious extremism, racial and religious prejudice, social freedom in insular minority communities and feminism, among many other things in an Irish intercultural context. The project duration was one-year with 32 collaborators and a budget of 10,000 Euro.
With a vision to practice socially engaged art as an opportunity for a community to express itself, the process of collaboration in the film was extensively studied and experienced by myself and the community where 5 different nationalities participated in the production. Apart from the production being an intercultural event in itself, the short film investigates cultural diversity in action in public spaces focusing on events in a suburban pub and argues for transculturalism, ridiculing ethnocentric and religious fanaticism. With its title and planimetric shots in tight frames, this short film attempts to decry multiculturalism and its compartmentalizing nature.
When collaborating with communities the canvas became political. Representation, advocacy, group therapy, community bonding, marginality, challenging the status quo and collective expression came into play among many other things. Neuron’s strong commitments to its rationalistic ideologies shaped the concept of the film, thus pitting the film against mainstream, religious and insular culture of the Indian Keralite diaspora in Ireland. The film set out to speak to the ethnic majority, which Neuron is part of but in conflict with, and to the larger mainstream where Indians as a whole share the status of ethnic minority. This was a conundrum, which helped define the position of Neuron in the immediate local community context and within wider Irish society.
Neuron as a group with its left-wing ideology of grass root participation, found the ‘do-it-together’ approaches of community filmmaking-making very appealing. The project gave the participants an opportunity for visual media literacy and digital media participation. The process encouraged them to interrogate and discuss film and other media, rather than to be shaped as a passive consumer of the entertainment industry along with the experience of ownership of the means of production.
Parakayapravesham (To Take Another Human Form)Short film (2012) Duration: 14 minutes
This short film on immigrant angst is a dark comedy, the result of my collaboration with a Keralite/Malayalee family. With six collaborators, the project lasted six months and was filmed in suburban Dublin. Positioning itself within post colonialism, Parakayapravesham explores the identity crisis of a conservative immigrant father of three. The film narrative is sympathetic towards conserving the identity and integrity of the middle-aged father, who articulates his disdain for homogenization within neoliberalism, this is channelled into the narrative through the characters of the children. With distinct postmodern uncertainty, it reflects the contrasting frames of reference of the collaborators and makes a conscious attempt at viewing the world from the margins while making tongue in cheek comments on western culture.
Intercultural dynamics between two generations is a central motive dealt with in many of my films. Featuring ethnocentricity, immigrant angst and intergenerational conflict, Parkayapravesham attempts to acknowledge and honour local truths within the traditions of the community. First generation Kerala community members are hesitant to directly challenge the social norms of the community which are often protected by religious institutions. It is the second generation who rebel and depose the traditional cultural values, enforcing a replacement, thus asserting their western identity in the household.
Being away and lost, yet deeply belonging to ties one has left behind, an immigrant needs to reinvent himself/herself by evolving. Parakayapravesham juxtaposes the inevitability of this identity transition against the intimacy lost between the first and second generation immigrants. Focusing beneath the surface of individual events, this short film evokes past and its developmental and cumulative effects played out on the lead character, penetrating to the meaning of these events. Driven by an urge to engage sincerely to change while simultaneously impelled to conserve with an ironic detachment, the project was inspired from actual events at a Malayalee household.
Vattam (The Circle) Short film (2014) Duration: 28 minutes
Considering many of my collaborators interest, Vattam with its unique combination of complex narrative structure, surreal elements, dark comic tone and stylized acting underlined by a music score is an attempt at the mystery thriller genre. Itdeals with in-group politics in the community, focusing on the process of conforming individualistic strains to the larger conservative agenda of religiosity and the rule of the church — symbolized as authoritarian criminal organizations in the film. Members from two Kerala theatre groups in Ireland, Imandala and IFC Dublin  participated in the project, which with a total of 22 participants and collaborators, it took 6 months to complete.
Devoid of opportunity for civic participation in wider Irish society, largely because of their own self exclusionary lifestyle and an emasculated status of not being the main bread winner of the family, most Kerala men as a reactive compensation immerse themselves in Kerala religious congregations in Ireland. These organizations endeavour to forge a religious and social setting in the ‘little keralas’ in Ireland, and act as an extended family for its members who are experiencing alienation as immigrants, by reproducing what has been left behind in the imagined homeland. Church offers these men a sense of belonging and helps them rediscover their masculinity by offering leadership roles barred to women while exercising its authority by exclusionary measures on members who do not conform. Arguing against this authoritarian religious position on individual freedom Vattam opens with a ‘Thanks Dinkan’ title card mocking Kerala traditional film, the opening sequence is a representation of a Thank god, Dinkoism is a parody religion invented by atheists in Kerala.
Although Kerala has a history of strong leftist political presence and is famous for having elected the first communist government in the world, the proportion of politically left members in the predominantly Christian Malayalee community in Ireland is lean, as Christians traditionally stood in opposition to ‘godless’ communism. Approximately twelve of us declaring ourselves progressive and atheistic positioned directly against the Syro Malabar Malayalee church which controlled the majority of community activities, challenging its silo mentality. This group later on turned into Neuron and we collaborated for my next short film which explored traditional attitudes towards religion.
- Similarity Short film (2009) Duration: 13 minutes
Similarity is a character driven, metafictional drama where a slow witted, hot tempered, unsophisticated Malayalee male character drives a comic narrative with differences in personality type, social class and lifestyle among Keralite immigrants as the main subject matter. With seven collaborators, the project duration was 3 months and filming took place in suburban Dublin.
Shot in a day on two consumer grade camcorders at a friend’s house with audio dubbed using a laptop microphone with free audio software, the project was realised with many production and direction flaws. However, my philosophy of DIY zero budget films continued to be a key production method. Most of the improvised acting turned out to be inconsistent in style and I struggled during editing to build a formally stable narrative with very limited usable footage. To devise a style for the film in keeping with my aforementioned non-mainstream aesthetics, and yet suitable to accommodate collaborators performances was a challenge. The collaborating nature of the process turned out to be a result of solutions to problems of amateur, no-budget filmmaking, rather than any political intent. However, despite my earlier claims, Similarity, my third attempt at amateur community filmmaking helped build a sense of aesthetics in a film grammar I was comfortable with and would be the first film, I arguably started to develop a style as an amateur filmmaker. [AH1] Seeking to ‘interpret one culture to another’ (MacDougall, 1998: 141) this short film displays the transnationally recreated norms and meanings of a Kerala household. Norms and traditions around how women and men take up traditional roles in the family imported from Kerala is reassigned and appropriated to suit the lifestyle of Ireland. It reflects how the ongoing connections of our tightly knit community with the motherland shapes the discourses and practices of our everyday lives here. A key point of reference for us is always Kerala and never Ireland. Reading this film as a cultural text of a minority household, these re-located traditions and meanings become undercurrents for the negotiations of class and gender relations in the community. The featured households, and the lead character asserted his authentic personality, speaking from the margins. The film functions as a counter hegemonic space, the explicit differences in social class, status of cultural integration and personality type of the characters in the film speaks to the intersectionality within the community. As an intertextual reference the lead character of Happy Independence Day, also walks into a scene in Similarity denoting a spatial and temporal continuity of the two plots running in parallel.
- Happy Independence Day Short film (2009) Duration: 11 minutes
Happy Independence Day is a short film project where I collaborated primarily with a family of four. All were of Keralite origin but were born and brought up in different parts of the world. The film production was a duration of two months. This melodramatic short film primarily deals with the acculturative stress (Berry,1990) experienced by a pair of recently migrated Keralite teenagers. The sudden culture shock and discrimination pushes them into a liminal space where they identify themselves as sandwiched between first and second generation immigrants and undergo an identity crisis forcing them to take a binary position, to either assimilate or segregate rather than integrate. With a total of 6 participants, filming took place in Suburban Dublin inside and around the collaborating members’ homes.
The story focuses on the formation of a transnational identity by transcending and negotiating between two identities and cultural languages (Hall, 1990) to occupy what is refered to as a Third Space, where two cultures meet and transform into a third culture (Bhabha, 1994). The teenagers’ world view and personality are reflected in their characters. This character-actor verisimilitude in most of my projects is a natural progression of the pre-casting method I employ. Participants and collaborators asserted their unique personalities whereby the socio political context was generated through prototype characters in the narrative. [AH1] I discussed the story with the family and their objections and suggestions were central to constructing the narrative and finally an agreed script which underwent many changes throughout the project. Progressive politics was central to the film where integration and freedom from a conservative ethnocentric mentality largely prevalent among the Kerala community in Ireland was foregrounded. Most of the characters represented, shared the political position of the actors who played them. For example, identities are partly made by the vision of the ‘other’. The way we perceive people can be either liberating or limiting experiences for them. The peer pressure migrant teenagers experience shapes and continuously changes their identity. According to Irvin Schick (1999) identity makes sense only in juxtaposition with alterity. Thus, the othering of the original native culture is necessary to an extent for the immigrant to liberate and move beyond it, to attain the perspective of the cultural hybrid, as portrayed in the film.
- Duality Show Short film (2008) Duration: 20 minutes
Duality Show, my first fictional project in Ireland – a collaborative venture between myself and a Keralite/Malayalee music organization called Mehphil. explores the possibilities of the reality/fiction dichotomy through a metafictional, experimental plot, a tension created by the differences in the two worlds a new immigrant inhabits — the world she/he left behind and the world she/he lives in the present. Filmed over a period of six-months in Surburban Dublin, the film production includes 17 participants. The film production was financially supported by IRIS.
This short film explores the duality of the everyday reality albeit fictional by depicting a day in the life of a group of Indian immigrants in Ireland attempting to make a short film. The cast were members of Mehphil who were interested in acting. The process included hours of filmed conversations and discussions around filmmaking and the subject matter of Duality Show, an attempt at producing amateur cinema (Shand, 2009). Filmed without any conscious notions of an aesthetic in opposition to the hegemonic mainstream film industry practices. The film was an attempt to democratise the means of cultural production.
The passion and niavety involved, the act of forming a film society to drive the production, mustering support of the whole community to rally behind the project and the free public release of the film into the community itself are all factors which find synergy with the production and distribution strategy of maverick Kerala filmmaker, John Abraham. The Odessa film collective , which John founded drove his productions by resourcing funds and in kind support from villagers. Odessa conducted public open film screenings in the villages of Kerala making filmmaking an activist undertaking with collaborative overtones, empowering ordinary people in the process.
As a community film, Duality Show is representational; foregrounding the integrity of the minority culture by depicting a postcolonial identity undergoing a crisis ‘being not strong enough to assert another way of life in front of the non-migrant compatriots’ (Percot, 2012: 84).