- Director: Don Palathara
- Origin: India
- Year: 2017
- Runtime: 84 min
- Colour: black-and-white
- Language: Malayalam
- Subtitle: English
About this film
The world is your oyster, one says. One can go places, one can do whatever one wants to do. The sheer number of possibilities can be overwhelming, not only for the individual, but for society as a whole. It changes the fabrics of society, of families, of relationships. In Don Palathara's film Vith, a son returns home to his father, a traditional, self-sustained farmer. Palathara follows him in gentle long takes. The soft greyscale tone reinforces here the idea of tradition but challenges it when the man's son arrives at home, a young man who is torn between traditional life and a life in the city, something that his father is asking from him. Vith is a story of conflicts boiling under the surface, a story of a father-son relationship which exemplifies a negotiation of one's roots, a negotiation between where one is, where one should go, and where one wants to be. Palathara shows the ways in which external demands strain the very tissues of the relationships we have with those closest to us.
Nadin Mai (tao films)
Interview with the Director
- Don, I’m very happy to welcome you and your film Vith on tao films. It’s a pleasure to have our second film from India on board. Can you tell me as a sort of introduction what your parcours into film was like?
Like most people from my native, I grew up watching commercial films. My taste in more contemplative films is an acquired one and this taste is still evolving I suppose. It was about choosing something to hold on to. After making a handful of mistakes, I got stuck with films.
- I know from other filmmakers, who also work in India, that making films like Vith, i.e. Slow Cinema, seems to be difficult. Of course, most filmmakers, if not all, who focus on a more contemplative style in their films, face challenges, but it seems to be particularly difficult in India. Can you tell me a little bit about the film scene in your country?
The way in which one expresses and receives information has a lot to do with the space and time they belong to, I think. I was exposed to a different kind of life and different perspectives about cinema. Many people from India don’t have that privilege. Also another aspect of the Indian society is that there are hardly any individuals. This is a society built by institutions. Making and watching movies also becomes a communal activity here. People don’t sit back and contemplate in groups, that is something individuals do. My films are for individuals. So, filmmakers who start off with personal themes, too, tend to start making the kind of movies that can be sold easily in a market controlled by the masses.
- For some directors, a slow film is a sort of accident. It is not always clear from the start that a film would (or should) be slow. It often turns out that the use of contemplative aesthetics is the result of a natural development on set. I wonder how your film became what it is today.
The approach was to place the instances of life as they are and connect them together to form something bigger. So, between the cuts, there is no distortion of time in Vith. How the two major characters experience time differently is also a part of the contrast between them, so I had the pace in mind while writing the script itself.
- I think we shouldn’t forget about the religious background to your film. Your characters are Christians, as opposed to Hindus, which the viewer might expect perhaps. Christianity, I believe, is the third strongest religion in India, but with less than 3% of the country following Christian beliefs, it seems more of a minority. This immediately makes me think of religious conflicts in the area. Was it a deliberate choice on your part to cast Christians in order to go against the grain of popular representations of Indian society?
I was born and brought up in a catholic family in Kerala. The way in which religion exerts power over individuals is similar in almost every community in India in my opinion and I just went with the religion which I was more acquainted to. The decision was not deliberate. The question of choosing a religion did not cross my mind to be honest.
- The film’s title, Vith (Seed), lets one think of several things. The first, and perhaps closest association is, of course, the seed as being the basis of life, the seed as producing life. It’s essential for our survival. But giving life to something is not always a positive thing in that we can also speak of seeds of violence, for instance. What is the meaning for you personally, both in the context of the film and outside of it?
The title had more to do with the relationship between the seed and the plant than the seed as an object. Giving life to something alone holds no special meaning to me. Vith is about that relationship and the inevitable detachment between the two over time.
- You have told me that you were born in India, but that you were an Australian citizen. You have returned to your country in order to make films. Many directors say that they feel they can only make films in their own country. Is this the case with you?
The major reason to return to India was that it was cheaper to make films here. The availability of locations and other resources was easier compared to a country where you have to worry about too many permits and insurance papers. Once I started making movies connected directly to my childhood, it felt more natural to make films in Kerala. But I am a person who likes to experiment with this medium, so I wouldn’t completely dismiss a potential future film in a different language and setting.
- What can we expect next from you?
With every new film, the attempt is to learn something new about the human nature. The process is an ongoing one. I am expecting to start the next shoot in 2019.
- Thank you very much for this interview.