As the countdown to the final list of nominations for the Academy Awards draws near, Sohan Roy's controversial debut film, Dam999, faces another countdown in Roy's home country, where the Supreme Court of India recently challenged the ban on his film. The film is listed among the 265 films in the Best Picture and Best Original Song categories.
tabloid! caught up with the director who juggles his time between his UAE-based marine business organisation, Aries Group, and Marine Biz TV, the maritime television channel.
On his film making it onto the Oscar's list of nominations:
"It's a great feeling no doubt. We have worked hard to qualify ourselves. This is the first time a film from India has ventured into the mainstream at the Academy. Usually, India sends a film in the foreign category where the film is assessed only on one aspect. By joining in the mainstream, our film gets an opportunity to be considered for an award in all aspects of filmmaking, be it cinematography or music.
"Unfortunately, most music directors from India are not aware about the cue-sheets they have to prepare. This is a document that legalises each song mentioning every minute detail pertaining to it. For the Academy, we prepared cue sheets for all nine songs of Dam999. Getting into the list of Oscars is a big hurdle. We did it, opening the doors for more Indians to follow."
On the ruling by the Supreme Court to the ban by Tamil Nadu government:
"Prior to this feature film, I had made a documentary, Dams — The Lethal Water Bombs, on the Mullaperiyar Dam. However, in Dam999, there is no mention of this dam at all.
"My story dwells on a new dam that has been built and is leaking, thus becoming a threat to the lives of several. A love story has been woven into the story and the film refers to the navarasas, with each character representing one.
"Unfortunately, without even seeing Dam999, politicians have assumed that the feature film is an extension of my documentary. There is no basis for allegation."
Working with music director Ouseppachan:
"Initially, I had wanted to work with Mr Ilayaraja. After meeting him, I realised that we differed in our style of working, especially since I was keen on working with a large Indian crew. With Ouseppachan, I found he understood my concept. He worked on my lyrics that merged with the situations in the script.
"I was comfortable working with him. He has done a remarkable job."
The main challenges while making the film:
"Shooting the five-minute climax of the story, showing the dam disaster, was the biggest challenge. In Hollywood, with advanced technology, this scene is often protracted to more than half an hour. But I preferred my film to carry the ‘Made in India' stamp. Hence we worked with Chennai- and Mumbai-based companies for the water graphics and 2D to 3D conversion.
"Huge models of the dam were constructed under the artistic guidance of Thota Tharani. And we had to be careful to get the scenes right, as the sets were expensive and time-consuming in their construction.
"Another challenge was shooting scenes onboard a big tanker. Braving two to three hours of travel every day, we would reach the tanker. And while shooting, we had to take precautions in averting an accident and keeping it gas-free."
Mythily Ramachandran is an independent journalist based in Chennai.