Directed by Jude Anthany Joseph, Sara’s is a Malayalam language coming-of-age drama that revolves around a couple and their marital conflict. The protagonist Sara (Anna Ben) refuses to accept the weighted norms forced on her by society and meets Jeevan (Sunny Wayne), a carefree youngster with whom she shares similar traits. They fall in love and are compelled to marry due to familial pressures, with the storyline focusing on breaking stereotypes. Sara’s released on Amazon Prime in July 2021. I recently interviewed Joseph about the genesis of the project, his aesthetic decisions and shooting in the new normal.
Dipankar Sarkar: What attracted you to the Sara’s screenplay?
Jude Anthany Joseph: Before making Sara’s, I was shooting a film based on the Kerala flood. We had finished the first schedule of the shooting and were about to begin the final schedule. But unfortunately, the COVID situation happened and I could not complete the film. In the meantime, I put up a post on Facebook looking for stories written by people who are not associated with the field of filmmaking and involved with another profession. I mentioned in my post that it is an opportunity for individuals who wanted to make a career in filmmaking [to] send [a] synopsis and we can make it into a film. I received more than a thousand emails out of which I shortlisted seven synopses and asked the writers to develop them into a script. I liked the subject of one of the scripts, but I knew that due to the restrictions related to the lockdown, I would not be able to shoot the film. So, I asked [the writer] if he [could] develop some other subject into a script that can be shot under the current situation. He shared a concept with me where a girl does not like kids and does not want to give birth. I liked the idea and, within a month, he wrote the screenplay and we shot the film.
DS: In your previous films as a director, you have shared the role of a screenwriter. But Sara’s is written by the debutant Akshay Hareesh. Did you make any creative changes to the screenplay before shooting?
JAJ: I usually work on the script until I am satisfied. Even during the shooting, I was making corrections. The early draft of the script had dark shades where the forensic surgeon was mentioning postmortems, abortions and death. I told Akshay about my disinclination towards such dark subject matters, and I wanted the script to be light-hearted. So, we re-wrote many scenes, including the final scene of Sara, where she is seeking the opinion of [Jeevan’s] father regarding her decision to abort the fetus. The scene was written just before the shoot. I wrote a few scenes in the film even though my name is not there in the credits. In my first feature film, Ohm Shanthi Oshaana (2014), nearly half of the concepts and scenes were written by me, so I shared my name in the credits. And my second feature film Oru Muthassi Gadha (2016) was written completely by me. For Sara’s, I did not share my name in the credits because Akshay is a great scriptwriter and he should get the full credit. Secondly, my contribution is very less and that does not make me a co-writer.
DS: Like your first two films, Ohm Shanthi Oshaana and Oru Muthassi Gadha, Sara’s also looks at the plights of women from a female gaze. What is the reason behind such perspectives?
JAJ: My three films didn’t happen quickly, one after the other. In my first film, I liked the story idea of a girl following a boy for seven years. My second film was the story of a grandmother who helps to change her daughter’s older mother-in-law’s repressed behavior by fulfilling her bucket list. Such a kind of story [has not been] told before in Indian cinema. And Sara’s also has a unique story. Whenever I hear stories or choose a screenplay, I always take into consideration the freshness of the idea. So, the three films that talk about the female perspective are purely coincidental. I do not understand women like other men of the world, but I do understand how they feel. Most of the time, I get messages from women who tell me that the story of my film are their stories, and they ask how [I came up with the] stories. They inquire if I had followed them. And I reply that it is my intuition that has helped me to come up with such stories.
DS: As an actor, you have performed in several films. How has that helped you hone your skills as a director?
JAJ: I find acting in films an easy thing to do. But directing a film is a different thing for me, as it requires the right exposure, meeting people for pre-production, then shooting and finally post-production. So, it involves a lot of stages. I had observed a lot of directors directing a scene and actors during the shooting of a film. I also watch a lot of films to hone my skills as a director.
DS: When Reethamma meets Sara for the first time, she politely asks her to wipe urine from the floor. Reethamma is having a bad back and cannot bend. But in the later scene, we discover that she was lying. What was the motivation behind her deceitful behavior?
JAJ: I had met so many old ladies in Kerala who are sensitive and cooperative, but they do have some issues with the individuals of the new generations. They consider this individual as nothing but irresponsible. Some of them get angry if their lifestyle is disturbed. So, in that scene, before Sara meets Reethamma, she was pressing the calling bell continuously. So, Sara’s act has provoked Reethamma, who was doing some important work. She was very much disturbed by the sound of the calling bell. So, Reethamma naturally took her revenge on Sara by asking her to wipe the urine from the floor. Moreover, Reethamma is not a very progressive woman, but she also has some good characteristics.
DS: Jeevan begins to have second thoughts about Sara as he moves up the corporate ladder. Secondly, when Sara pitches her story to Sandeep, he hints at the bitter actuality of how the film industry is biased towards female directors. Thirdly, Anjali needs her husband’s permission to appear in ads, judge a reality show and even resume her career in film acting. Is this a way to address the patriarchal outlook of our society?
JAJ: You can say that, in a way, it addresses the patriarchal outlook of our society. Our society has lots of people like that. There are many couples, where if the boy wants to go to an office, meetings or party, he can go there very easily. Whereas if a girl wants to go to the same place, she has to make sure that the children are taken care of properly. The rise of ladies in Kerala is very limited in comparison to gents. The ladies also have to face difficulties in their careers too. Men go to the office, and the mother takes care of the child until they reach an age when they could be sent to schools. About 60 percent of men do not bother about their children going to school. I needed to address this issue. At the same time, the character of Sara’s father is very sensible. He is a progressive person and supports Sara. The only time he questions Sara is about her decision to abort the child. So, there are also men in our society who support women in their decisions and career. And there are also men who do not do that. The percentage of such men is very high in Kerala, and such patriarchal thinkings should be changed.
DS: The film that Sara is trying to make is a hardcore thriller with forensics. Is there a particular purpose for choosing the genre?
JAJ: There is a popular notion that when a woman is making a film, we expect them to do something light-hearted that deals with a story that explores family and relationships. Most people do not expect them to do a bigger project. So, I wanted my character to do a film that most of the men are doing. I wanted to make the point that a women director can do any kind of film she wants to, just like men.
DS: Could you talk about the final scene of Sara’s? It is humorous but at the same time delivers a strong punch.
JAJ: When the screenplay of the film was completed, I felt like something was missing. The audience should have a satisfying moment in the end. So, I decided to stay with this character of the woman with four children. She is the one who cared and looked after the children. But her husband was only concerned about sex. I have seen in a lot of films that the husband usually gets drunk and then forces himself upon his wife. So, I wanted the scene to happen a different way. I wanted to deliver a punch-like effect on the viewers. And as the scene ends with the kick, I wanted my name to appear on the screen, which was a part of a creative decision.
DS: What was your experience of shooting Sara’s during the pandemic-related restrictions?
JAJ: Due to the restrictions, we were allowed to shoot with only 40 to 50 people. All the technicians and artists got themselves tested. There were certain scenes in the film, such as the theatre scene, where hundreds of junior artists were required. We made sure that all of them got tested and no one was infected with the virus. There was another scene in the film where a girl was selected for a particular role. But she got infected and then I had to cast someone whom I had not auditioned. She came to the set just before the shoot. The situation was quite challenging. The scenes that we shot inside the metro rail were also equally challenging. The official charges lakhs per hour for hiring the location. I had to shoot the song and scene the same day. There, I met with one of the artists just before the shoot. Also during the shooting at various locations, there were so many people around. The fear of getting infected was always there. It was a big experience to shoot the film during that period. At the same time, I would say that we were lucky to wrap up our shoot during the first wave and did not have to wait until the second wave had arrived.
DS: What are your thoughts on the current trend of Malayalam films streaming on various OTT platforms?
JAJ: The OTT platform became very popular during the period of lockdown. Before that, very few people had the habit of watching web series of films on the OTT platform. During the lockdown, people had no other source of entertainment, so they started watching films in other languages too. Now people can watch their favorite films at their convenience. The popularity of such platforms hiked within four to five months. Because of such platforms, we now have the freedom to make films. But at the same time, we should also take the responsibility of making good films and live up to the expectations of the viewers. There are so many good films screened nowadays on the platform that it has become like a healthy competition amongst filmmakers like us.
Dipankar Sarkar is a graduate in film editing from the Film and Television Institute of India and currently based in Mumbai. As a freelancer, he frequently contributes to various Indian publications on cinema-related topics.