Home > Events/Current Affairs > Filmmaker P. Baburaj traces his cinematic journey with recently deceased activist and filmmaker C. Saratchandran

Filmmaker P. Baburaj traces his cinematic journey with recently deceased activist and filmmaker C. Saratchandran


Source : Time Out Delhi ISSUE 3 Friday, April 30, 2010

P Baburaj remembers C Saratchandran, the filmmaker and activist who died in a freak accident in April.

The personal, professional and political were all so tightly woven together in the documentary filmmaker Chandrasekharan Saratchandran that it was impossible to separate one from the other. Saratchandran died in a freak accident on April 1 – he fell off a moving passenger train while returning to his Ernakulam home from a wedding. The 52-year-old director and environmental activist was a well-known name, especially in Kerala, where he participated in several popular movements against the government and corporations, made many documentaries, and tirelessly promoted world cinema and documentaries by organising screenings. Documentary filmmakers in several cities are planning tributes to Saratchandran. In Delhi, Kriti Club and the Delhi Film Archive will organise screenings of two of his films at the India Habitat Centre.

Before becoming a filmmaker in the 1980s, Saratchandran assisted leading Malayali offbeat filmmakers like John Abraham and G Aravindan. He made four films with P Baburaj, including the acclaimed Chaliyar…The Final Struggle, and The Bitter Drink. Baburaj tells Time Out about the influences on Saratchandran’s work, and his contribution to the state’s film and political cultures.

“Saratchandran, KP Sasi and I were all born in 1952. My father, C Unniraja was one of the first Communists in Kerala. Sasi’s grandfather MP Manmadhan, is one of the great Gandhians of the state and his father Chandrasekharan Nair is one of the leading Hindi scholars of Kerala. Sasi’s father is K Damodaran. So activism runs in our blood, but we all chose a different path – neither Marx nor Gandhi.

Sarat had always sought an alternative to the mainstream, whether it was in films or art or developmental issues. I met him around 1983 while he was working on a feature film. It was a culturally and politically active period in Kerala. There were alternative poets and magazines, John Abraham [a Malayali filmmaker] was active. Sarat and I later assisted Sasi on Living in Fear, about the hazards of radiation caused by the company Indian Rare Earths in Kerala. We became close friends and associates.

Both of us were a part of emerging non-party political movements linked to human rights and the environment in the ’80s. Sarat had a video camera which he was using to document meetings and campaigns. The VHS camera had mostly been used to shoot weddings, but Sarat made three documentaries with it. One was Save Western Ghats March – The Kerala Experience. Then a film about a campaign against a hydroelectric dam, called No Two Big Dams. Then Before Everything Heads, about several developmental issues in Kerala.

In between, Sarat went to work as an educational consultant at the British Council office in Riyadh. His idea was to save money for equipment. He returned in 1998 with a digital camera. I was working with Sasi in Delhi at the time. Sarat and I decided to document alternative initiatives in Kerala. An agitation against industrial pollution in Mavoor was going on, so we went there and shot a film, which later became Chaliyar… The Final Struggle.

Before we actually started working together, we decided that we wouldn’t make weepy documentaries, but instead focus on showing collective action. As concerned citizens, we were also involved with these struggles. So the films followed our social involvement. The Chaliyar film won us the certificate of merit at the Mumbai International Festival of Films in 2000, which established us as a filmmaking duo of reasonable repute.

No two people could be any more different. Our concept of cinema is as different as our physique – I’m much taller than he was. Our films developed through intense arguments. We would shoot and argue, edit and argue. The strength of the four films we made together, apart from the issues we took up, was the constant arguments.

Sarat was working on several projects when he died. He was shooting for Sasi’s documentary on Kandhamal. We had finished about 70 per cent of a sequel to the Chaliyar film. We were also working on two more documentaries, and he was making a documentary on his own. I plan to complete all the films.

Sarat was also the founder of Nottam, a touring festival of documentaries. Earlier, he used to show world cinema classics from his collection all over the place, to film societies, schools and reading rooms. Then Sasi suggested that he start showing documentaries too. Sarat dubbed Anand Patwardhan’s Ram Ke Naam into Malayalam and showed it in Kerala. He showed the films of people like Amar Kanwar and Sanjay Kak. A friend of ours called C Venkateshwaran wrote an article in The Hindu calling Sarat a ‘conduit of images of resistance from all over the world’.

He had gone from Ernakulam to Thrissur to attend the wedding of a close friend. The train he took to return was very crowded, and he seems to have fallen off onto the tracks. I got a call from his wife at 2.15 in the morning. For days, I was haunted by the image of him falling from the train.”

As told to Nandini Ramnath

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