Interview with Ligy Pullappally


AE: So it seems you’ve gotten a lot of exposure so far; it’s been booked in a lot of festivals.
LP: Yes, and around the U.S. quite a bit.

AE: And have you been traveling with it and doing Q & As at these screenings?
LP: I have been so far. Not every festival but a large umber of them.

AE: And have you had any questions that keep coming up at the Q & As?
LP: Yeah, there are the questions that people really want to know. There’s “How did you get the actors–what is their background?” and “What’s the budget of the film?” and “What was the reaction in India?” Indians are perceived as conservative when it comes to LGBT issues. Yeah, just questions along those lines I get very often.

AE: And are you tired of the comparisons to Fire?
LP: [Laughs] Actually no, because I really liked Fire, despite its premise about the characters’ homosexuality being a fallback position because of the failure of heterosexual relationships. But I thought Fire was a well made film. It’s beautifully shot with a storyline that moves forward quickly. It wasn’t a tiresome story at all. And I know one of the actors in the film, so I don’t mind comparisons to Fire at all. But Fire and The Journey are two different films. That film is English language, for one, and mine is in an Indian language, Malayalam.

AE: You grew up in Chicago, is that correct?
LP: Yeah, from the age of six I have been living in Chicago. I grew up on the north side.

AE: And why did you leave India?
LP: Well, I was only six, so I came with my parents. I had no choice. But I went back to India after having practiced law in Chicago for seven years.

AE: Was that the first time you’d been back?
LP: Not the first time but my relationship after immigrating to the United States with India was really just vacations, like a summer holiday. I’d been back to India three times since I left in 1975 and when I moved back in 2002 it was basically to live there and start the research for my film.

AE: At that point how long did you live there for?
LP: I lived in India, all told, for about two, two and a half years. I came back intermittently. I came back to the U.S. a couple of times during that period, but basically between the research, the writing, pre-production, production, and post-production, it came to about two and a half years.

AE: I’d imagine you have a lot of memories from your early years in India. Was that experience reflected in the film? Or were you in an urban area?
LP: It absolutely reflects it in the film. My family is from mountains and valleys in the north of Kerala. So my experience of India is really a rural, South Indian experience, and that’s very much reflected in the film. In fact, when I had finished the script and was showing it around to get comments, somebody asked me, “Why didn’t you make it urban? That’s so much more interesting than rural India.” That’s entirely subjective, but I actually didn’t feel like I had enough background to represent urban India. And Fire was also urban, so… But my family lived in rural India so what I show is a rural setting.

AE: It seemed that the natural surroundings in the film, they almost functioned as an additional character. Is that something you were striving for?
LP: You know, there’s a lot of biblical imagery in the film because I come from a Catholic background and twelve years of Catholic school. And, in fact, the setting is the Garden of Eden. It’s really delving into the pre-writing thought process, but yeah, it is that sort of perfect, natural wonderland.

AE: And innocence lost.
LP: Yes, and knowledge gained and being changed therefrom. The first shot you see of Delilah as an adult, she’s offering fruit to Kiran, which is a deliberate Eve metaphor–the giving of knowledge.

AE: Getting back to Fire for a second, for a lot of Americans, Fire is probably one of only a handful of Indian movies that they’ve seen. And there’s also the lesbian element that makes the comparison come forth. So, how do you think your movie might change American viewers’ perspectives about homosexuality in India?
LP: I think that, most importantly, what makes it distinct from Fire is that the girls make the choice based on love, just love and not the failure of heterosexual relationships. And I really wanted to make that film, because Fire had existed out there since 1996, and I didn’t want that to be the only thing representing lesbians in India. So that’s the primary difference. And there are other issues.

For instance, it doesn’t hit anybody over the head, but the two women in the film are different religions. Delilah’s Catholic and Kiran’s Hindu, but a secular Hindu, which is very common in Kerala, where people are Hindu, but it’s very much a lifestyle. It’s not something that’s advertised but they’re actually two different faiths. The thing is, in India people can find the little things that draw that distinction. One girl wears a cross all the time; you can tell from her jewelry, from her house, from the fact that she prays with her grandmother–things like that. But Kiran you can really tell from the family names, like Priya and Narayanan, that her name is Kiran, that the house is a Hindu architecture, that there’s a basil plant growing in the front yard, which is part of the Hindu faith in Kerala–these types of things. These are two people of different faiths, but at no point is the issue ever about a clash of faith. You don’t really notice that.

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