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"The kind of money I've been offered by commercial filmmakers is obscene"
Santosh SivanFlush with the success of his film The Terrorist, which won him many awards and rave reviews around the globe, Santosh is all set to launch his next film. In the meantime, there's another feather that has been added to his cap. His children's film Halo has also been released now in India, and has already won awards in the Canadian and Egyptian film festivals. Unfortunately, for all the acclaim that The Terrorist received, it remained for barely a week or two after it was released. But Santosh is not deterred by that.

The eminent John Malkovich (who is working in France on his next film, The Dancer Upstairs, which he will be directing) has given the film a thumbs up in The New York Times. He recommended the film to a lot of distributors in Europe and presented the film. The Terrorist won three awards at the Cairo International Film Festival, for the best film, best director and best artistic contribution.

Malkovich calls the film 'a small masterpiece of economy, grace and precision,' and Ayesha Dharker's (who plays the terrorist) performance as 'absolutely hypnotic'. The film was very highly lauded in the American Cinematographer, the international journal of film and digital production techniques, one of the magazines that Santosh himself was brought up on, and which every cinematographer regards as a Bible.

"It is such an honour to be the first Indian to be featured in this journal. I never ever thought it would happen," says Santosh modestly, but unable to prevent a broad smile from bursting out on his lips. In between, there was the completely commercial Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani, Shah Rukh Khan's home production, which was a far cry from the work we've witnessed of Santosh's. Yes, he shot some of Pukar, which was spectacular.

"The kind of money I've been offered by commercial filmmakers is simply obscene. Sometimes I wonder how far they'd go. But I'm realistic enough to accept that commercial films give me the money to experiment with my kind of films. If I do one commercial film, then I get to make at least two of the kind of films I want to make."

"The next film he will be directing is the story of Emperor Ashoka. Again an experimental kind of feature film doing both, period stuff as well as contemporary. Arguing that it was too premature to talk about his film, which was still in the ideating stages, he revealed after some badgering: "This will be a bigger budget film, on the scale of regular commercial films. The Terrorist was made in 16 lakhs, this film will be at least a crore. I want to go out to Kalinga, I want to use a lot of locals and natives, use a lot of colour, music, art and dance forms from the East."

Santosh is known to work with completely unknown names and faces and yet, his films have been perfectly cast. "I want to use commercial film stars in this film," he confirms. Is he planning to take his buddy Shah Rukh Khan in the film? "I've talked to him about the film but it's unlikely that he'll be in the film. Nobody has any dates and at the rate I'm progressing, it looks like I'm going to have to play Ashoka myself," he guffaws. "But seriously, I really don't know who will be in the film. I need one hero and three heroines. But nobody seems to take me seriously just yet. I know I can get the finance. Will you be my heroine?" He asked earnestly, betrayed by the impish gleam in his eyes. "Only if you're playing Ashoka," I shot back grinning.

In the meanwhile, he continues to do the cinematography for films like Khalid Mohammed's Fiza, starring Karisma Kapoor and Hrithik Roshan. As he says: "Cinematography for me is as natural as breathing. So when people make a noise about it, I feel strange. It's so much a part of me, I don't think of it as something separate."

--Suguna Sundaram