And, then there is light

Ambika Shaligram
Monday, 22 October 2018

Chatting up filmmaker Rahul Riji Nair whose debut feature film Light in the Room has been shortlisted for Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival’s Gold section.

An engineer-turned-filmmaker, Rahul Riji Nair decided to make his first feature film on marital rape. Titled Light in the Room, the film is the recipient of the Kerala State Film Award. It has also been shortlisted in the Gold section of the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival that starts from October 25. We chat with Nair to know why he decided to turn to filmmaking and how he is learning to balance the commerce with the arts. 

You are an engineer, but you eventually turned to filmmaking. Can you tell us about the influence that the arts have on you? 
I was brought up in a time, when most of the youngsters either wanted to be an engineer or a doctor. I was also a part of the flow. I chose to go for engineering because it was the easier option in front of me. After that, I did my MBA and took up employment in an IT firm as a marketing manager for the APAC region. 
In 2011, I made a documentary and in 2012, I stepped into the film-making business. Then I came out with my first feature film after six-seven years of struggle.
 
You and your friends got together to form First Print Studio. Was that born out of a necessity to work with like-minded people? 
First Print Studio is today a full-fledged production house, but in 2011, when we did our first documentary, we had come out with an idea of a production house called First Film Studios. We wanted to form a group of like-minded people, good technicians who wanted to explore their talents and deliver good quality work. 
 
Your thoughts on commerce, economics vis a vis making a film that might not have a big audience, like Light in the Room. 
When we made Light in the Room, we had a specific business plan to it. The business plan was not to make crores of money, but to recover the money invested to make our next film. It wasn’t about taking the film to theatres or making a hundred-dollar business. We always wanted the film to travel the world, to make it to the best festivals in the world and to have an international audience. We made it in the safest budget possible. Today, when I look back after a year, the plan has worked for us. We believe that good content has its own journey. Getting shortlisted for the MAMI Mumbai Film Festival India Gold section is a moment of pride for all of us. I have been to MAMI as an audience before and I have always been its huge fan. This shortlist has opened doors for many other young filmmakers who want to follow their passion.
 
How did you go about directing a gritty drama on marital rape and domestic abuse? 
I did not plan to do a film on marital rape and domestic abuse. I started with this idea of light coming as a positive sign in the life of a woman. 
During the script developing process, it organically came about that we were going in the marital rape zone. We were touching upon a topic that was highly sensitive, but at the same time, highly ignored by the mainstream society. We live in denial about marital rape. 
We did some secondary research on survivors and the pain and agony they went through. We didn’t want to show nudity in our film to establish this point. We wanted to convey our message very sensitively and sensibly on this subject.  
 
Is there something new that you have realised or found about patriarchy while working on this subject? It is said that the north of India is more patriarchal and regressive. What about the situation in the South? The Southern film industry too was rocked by actresses coming forth about abuse and dominance from male actors. Your thoughts on it. 
I cannot make a generalised statement. I have seen both sides of the coin. A lot of men respect women, but, on the other hand, make undesirable comments on social media. I am very sure of the fact that we will never show any film that will glorify violence against women or sexism in any manner. Patriarchy has been there for centuries and will take time and a lot of perseverance from all of us to ensure there is no gender bias.
 
Can you tell us something about your future projects? 
My second film Dagini has recently released (on October 18). It is about four old women who are in their late 60s and early 70s, who go on a mad hunt against a deadly dangerous don. It’s a comedy.

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