Rarely do women who get a chance to migrate to the US decide to come back, let alone indulge in their creative passions. But Thrissur-native Shruthi Namboodiri is one of those rare few for whom the creative possibilities in her home, Kerala, were more luring than the comforts of the West. The postgraduate in mass communication went on to direct and script a handful of exquisite short films and documentaries, bringing together some of the best talents in dance, music and the performing arts, without falling into the commercial trap. Her works Baale and Charulata are nothing short of visual masterpieces, while her latest production, Itharam, a 35-minute documentary, treads on an unusual subject — cross dressing of male and female Kathakali artistes on stage.

Itharam (the other)
“Itharam showcases the lives of two people; a female Kathakali artiste named Parvati Menon who specializes in playing male villain veshams (characters) on stage, and a male artiste named Peeshappilli Rajeevan whose forté is female veshams. I have explored the dichotomy between their characters on stage and their off-stage personas, where they are like any other man or woman. Parvati is a conventionally feminine person who does everything a homemaker would do — but on stage, she transforms into villainous men like Keechaka or Kali! The way she flirts with the women characters and does the rape scenes is beyond imagination. And ironically, she shares the stage with artiste Peeshappilli who would be in a female role. The legend that he is, Peeshappilli can carry off female roles with ease, even those of a beautiful seductress. In the film, he talks about how he transforms into a woman when he sees himself in the mirror, in his female avatar. The film is basically about identity, on what is real and what is not, rather than being a feminist statement. We will be releasing it online on March 9.”

How it all began
“One of the electives of my post graduate degree was documentary making, but my first few years of working in TV channels in Delhi didn’t help with what I wanted to do — filmmaking. So, I quit and started working with a production house, which exposed me to a lot of creative projects. But soon after, I got married and moved to the US. For a year I was in the US, but I was bored as there was absolutely no scope for working there. So, I returned and made my first film; but today when I look back at it, I see a lot of flaws. Again, I had to take a break as I became pregnant and had twins soon. But by then, I had secured a scholarship to study in the UK where my husband had moved to. My parents were kind enough to look after my kids, so I did my second post graduate degree in CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) focusing on sustainable development. All through I was craving to do something creative, so I returned to India again, and in 2016, I worked on my first proper music video — Baale. It was a dance video on womanhood, featuring six renowned musicians and dancers each – including Arushi Mudgal, Kapila Venu, Meenakshi Sreenivasan, Nandita Prabhu, Haripriya and Rima Kallingal. The lines were mine but each dancer choreographed their own sequences. In fact, Rima did hers impromptu! The video got a great reception after we released it online and that’s when I realized that dance is a universal language.”


“Charulata was my third production and was the most popular among Malayali viewers but I had done another production in between — Manumalayalam — which featured reputed dancer Manu Master. It was a simple video but was a hit among the foreign audience, interestingly. My version of Charulata was a tribute to Satyajit Ray on his 25th death anniversary. It was based on the original but set in a different location and era. Charulata was played by the beautiful and talented Bharatanatiyam artiste Parvati Menon, who looked so much like a Bengali in the film that we ourselves were astounded! Director Bijibal and lyricist Harinarayanan played the characters of her husband and lover, respectively. I would call it a musical fiction, a fusion of music and films.”


Being an independent, woman filmmaker
“To be honest, I want to enter mainstream films and even wrote the lyrics for the title track of Anjali Menon’s Koode. But more than that desire, I feel I have a moral responsibility to tell a lot of things which need to be told, before I go into films. For an independent filmmaker, I feel things are much easier today than before, thanks to digitalization. Today, we can make a film of better quality with `25,000 than we did with `4lakhs 10-years-ago. We have more platforms to release them on too. And I would say the #MeToo movement has helped women filmmakers immensely. There is still gender bias and discrimination, but every potential offender has a bit of fear in his mind that this might affect his career. The industry was and is male-dominated still, but there used to be only a few women on a set and they used to be made aware of their gender more intensely earlier, which is not the case now. There are more women working on sets now than ever before; Uma Kumarapuram has done the cinematography for one of my films. We don’t feel the gender bias that much now. There are still many young men and also women who refuse to take a stand, fearing their futures; they just lack a spine, I would say. But the patriarchy is slowly but surely, crumbling. The industry will get cleansed of such elements soon, I firmly believe.”

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