Through Karinthandan, I'd like to show the rise and fight of a real tribal leader: Director Leela Santhosh

Rejimon K

Jul 12, 2018 16:02:38 IST

Taking on a mantle in a field that is considered a male bastion is tough, but a gritty lady director from Kerala is determined.

Leela Santhosh, a 30-year-old female director from Wayanad, has announced her first directorial venture Karinthandan, in which 2016 State Award winner Vinayakan will be playing the lead role.

"There will be hurdles. Especially in the current atmosphere, where women in Kerala’s film industry are facing several issues. However, I am very confident that I will be able to do this project successfully," says Santhosh, one of India's first tribal female directors.

Through Karinthandan, Id like to show the rise and fight of a real tribal leader: Director Leela Santhosh

Leela Santhosh.

Excerpts from an exclusive interview to Firstpost. 

Who is Karinthandan and why have you chosen to make a film on him?

Karinthandan was the local chieftain of the Paniya Tribes in the Wayanad district of Kerala. It is believed that he lived between 1700-1750 AD. While some call him a mythical character of the Paniyas, others believe he existed. He knew every hillock of the Adivaram region and helped foreigners find a way through the dense forest of Wayanad.

The British Viceroy had announced a reward to those who build a road across the tunnel. To gain the reward and fame, the engineer planned to kill Karinthandan. He guided him to a peak area and shot him dead. However, the people of Wayanad believe that Karinthandan is still alive.

There are a lot of misconceptions about him. Many believe that Karinthandan was a legend and not someone who helped invaders, as it is often depicted by non-Adivasis. Through my film, I would like to show the rise and fight of a real tribal leader and quell the misconceptions.

Could you a bit about the homework you had to do for the movie?

I have been working on this project for the last five years. I had to visit many places, speak to elders, read books, watch dramas, and listen to tribal songs. After three years of hard work, I was able to shape up a plot. And now, the script is ready.

Will the story be fictionalised?

No, I won’t fictionalise the story. I will tell people who Karinthandan was and how he fought and rose, without losing the true essence. However, we will have all the elements to draw the crowd. Additionally, I don’t believe that there are award-winning movies and commercial movies. A movie is a movie. I will try my best to stick to the original story, which we have heard from our forefathers.

A poster of the film Karinthandan

How has the production process of the film shaped up?

Collective Phase One, a producers’ collective that includes the likes of sound engineer Resul Pookutty, cinematographer Rajeev Ravi, production designer Sunil Babu, editor B. Ajithkumar and cinematographer Madhu Neelakandan, will make the film.

During the last few years, Collective Phase One has made films like ID, Kammattipadam, Eeda, Kismath, Njaan Steve Lopez and Abahsam. The making is scheduled to begin in December. A detailed final discussion will be held in the coming two weeks to fine-tune things. Scouting is almost done. Casting directors are looking for other characters. As the story is of our tribal leader, maximum casting will be done from Wayanad itself. Music will be traditional and lyrics will be of our own colloquial language.

How confident are you about movie making?

This is my first movie. In the past, I have made a documentary called Nizhalukal Nashtappedunna Gothrabhumi (the tribal land that has lost its shadows). It threw light on the life and rituals of the Paniya community from Wayanad. It had a lot of shortcomings, however, I have learnt from those mistakes. I have done a lot of homework to avoid such mistakes. So, I am confident that I will be able to make it happen. Moreover, Vinayakan, Collection Phase One and actress Geethu Mohandas are quite supportive and encouraging.

You might be aware of gender issues in the Kerala film industry.

I've heard about the gender disparity issue from the news and colleagues. But I am not afraid of it. I believe that I can overcome those issues. I have an aim and I am working hard to achieve it. So, I am confident that I can do the film. There will be hurdles, but I am not afraid of facing it.

Recently, a director has claimed that he had registered the name Karinthandan for a movie before you. Is it true?

I had registered the name last year itself. I am not aware of his claims.


(Note: Leela is a student of Kanavu, a gurukul school, in Wayanad. Leela spent 13 years from 1994 to 2007 in Kanavu and is now helping the same school which shaped her thoughts and understanding. Kanavu, which literally means dream, was set up by social activist K J Baby to resist the high dropout rates among tribal students in Wayanad.)

The author is a member of The NewsCart, a Bengaluru-based media startup.

Updated Date: Jul 12, 2018 16:02:38 IST

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