interview: g aravindan


I rate ESTHEPPAN as the best film I have seen.
Many have told me similar things. Personally also, the theme I like most is that of ESTHEPPAN.

In the film there is one person giving two stories of the same event. At this rate we don't know what is real and what is mythical. The issue here is which of the stories about Estheppan is right. Perhaps all of them are right, perhaps all are wrong.

Is there any real character like ESTHEPPAN in Kerala?
Not that I know of. ESTHEPPAN grew out of the many stories I have heard from different religions. A lot of my imagination has also gone into it.

Why did you then give it a Christian backdrop?
The story is also linked to the beliefs and practices of the fishermen. There is not any particular reason that the film has a Christian backdrop. However the structure of the Church, the seashore and the fisher folks together has given the film a depth and meaning, which may not have been the case with some other backdrop....

Can you explain the duality of reality and myth in ESTHEPPAN's individuality?
Actually, he was a very ordinary man. You understand ESTHEPPAN only through the stories people relate about him. There are people who tell one story in many different ways. In the film there is one person giving two stories of the same event. At this rate we don't know what is real and what is mythical. The issue here is which of the stories about ESTHEPPAN is right. Perhaps all of them are right, perhaps all are wrong.

Each episode in ESTHEPPAN is a story told about him. How did you bring it together?
The film begins with the shot of Estheppan coming from the sea. This is a story being told by the fishermen making their nets beginning with "Oh what an unusual brightness there is. It is like the sun has risen from the sea itself..." When this story ends another one begins... "It doesn't matter, let us find what exactly happened at the Church" and so one story begins and merges into another. It is not the type of story with a beginning, progression and end. In our tradition this is called 'Shakha Chamkramanam'.

We started with simple statements about Estheppan, going on to simple stories and then progressing to more complex ones. By the time the story grows complex, one 'event' has more than one interpretation. In the story of a boatman there was a person called Estheppan... who now is the guardian and protector of the fisher folk, whereas, the Esthappan who saves the grandson of the contractor is someone who is living in our midst.

So Estheppan is someone who lives beyond time and space.
Yes, there is a timelessness about him... He is said to have been seen at Ernakulam and Iddukki at the same time. At one moment he disappears into the space. That is the time people make a search for him. Then the priest tells them, "where can he go, he will come back to us" The film ends with the dance drama of the fishermen when the camera makes a 360-degree turn and you see Estheppan sleeping on a nearby rock.

After becoming a well-loved person for the villagers through his acts of generosity, Esthapan disappears from the village.
Estheppan shares the pain of a prostitute who has been ostracised by her family and society. Telling her "I will share your burden and you share mine" he takes money from his bag (bundle) and gives it to her. Later he extends a similar gesture of help to all the people in the village. With that gesture of goodness, people who disliked him earlier begin to accept him. He finds no meaning in continuing to stay and therefore he disappears.

Can you explain about the last dance drama? What does it signify?
First of all it is an art form, which is practised by the Latin Christian fishermen in our region. Secondly it is a miracle play in which there is one scene where an angel arrives. Everyone who has been telling stories about Estheppan is watching this play. I thought somewhere this play might help in understanding the myth of Estheppan - because the viewers themselves create the myth. Somewhere the play helps to sum up the film.

Is it not the characters in your film themselves who transform Estheppan into a miracle figure? Is it not true to life for people to create stories, than allow the same story to control them, their lives and beliefs?
There are people who live their lives through the stories and myths they create for themselves. It may be their way of regaining energy and the hope to continue living.

Even if Estheppan is a concept created by society or a character in a film, he also seems to be somebody searching for something propelled by an internal force... for example when the Vicar of the Parish asks him whether he would like to lead a normal life, Estheppan's answer is 'no' and that he will be content with some incense. What then is Esthapan?
Estheppan is a righteous person. He has teased the contractor who drops stones in the sea; he has drunk a whole bottle of whisky in the landlord's house in one shot. Through these gestures he is trying to say something. In every story he is portrayed as very human - a person who loves people and is sympathetic to their pains - some people blame him. Some ignore him. Yet he is largely talked about as very compassionate.

The character Estheppan is also shown as an artist whose paintings centre around figures with agony writ large on their faces.
Yes he paints Christian motifs, the figures of Christ, angels etc. In fact the actor (Estheppan) Kakanadan himself is a painter, whose work has contributed to the essence of this film.

Can you tell us also about the dialogues of Estheppan. The whole film thematically, moves on the plain of Christian thinking and concepts. However, the conversations of Estheppan are lyrical, stylised in a rhythm, which reminds one of the 'folk form' of Kerala. Normally such Christian themes and 'folk' dialogues do not blend. How did you bring about this creative merger?
The dialogue was written by Kavalam Narayana Paniker in a folk rhythm and style. A lot of biblical images are used in it; that is why it blends with the personality of Estheppan. While the rhythm helps to underline the personality of Esthapan, the biblical words and images create and maintain a Christian atmosphere.

What about the music in it?
The music in this film is mainly the sound of the waves and the Gregorian chanting from the church. The Gregorian music is part of the Latin Christians prayer services.

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