Interview with Ligy Pullappally

AE: If you consider that there’s a social cause along with the entertainment that you’re trying to get across, has film enabled you to accomplish things in that area that you hadn’t been able to do in your prior career?
LP: It enables me to do different things. As a lawyer I was doing what I felt was the right thing, but as a Chicago-based trial lawyer, there wasn’t much I could do in Kerala that would reach the mainstream. Film is an amazing medium because of how it gets out, how accessible it is to people. To make my intentions for Kerala come true, which was to try to do something, anything that I could do about the lesbian suicides happening there, I think that this was probably the best thing, or the most direct thing that I could do.

AE: I heard that it was inspired by a suicide, a young woman who was a university student in Kerala. Is that true?
LP: Yes, that’s true.

AE: What made you decide to make your film in Malayalam?
LP: I made this film in Kerala in the Malayalam language because it is very much a Kerala story. Circumstances, like the one described in the story have happened time and time again in Kerala. In another such story, two young women tied themselves together with a dupatta and threw themselves, together, into a rock quarry. These desperate stories are frighteningly abundant in Kerala. The stories are sometimes reported in newspapers, but most go unreported, as the surviving family members have an interest in keeping the shame and scandal fallout to a minimum. There is a watchdog organization in Kerala keeping track of the incidents, they are that frequent.

AE: And had you made your short film Uli before you heard about that suicide or after?
LP: Before. It was just one of these bizarre coincidences. It really just stayed with me, the story of these two young women in India.

AE: And can you tell me a little bit about Uli?
LP: It’s actually the sequel to this film. The story is about after Delilah comes to the United States with Sebastian. But the story is about her adult daughter and how the daughter finds out about her mother’s secret history that’s basically traumatized her for all her life.

AE: Is there a suicide referred to in that film?
LP: There is. In fact, in the short film, the lover of Delilah does commit suicide.

AE: Is that Kiran?
LP: It is Kiran, but in the feature film I did not want a suicide there because I had different intentions for the feature film. The short film was just basically something I’d written the script for and thought, "Let me just shoot this and see what it looks like." I didn’t submit the film to festivals except for two or three short film festivals in Chicago, but that’s as far as it went. I put it away and then dragged it out when some friends came over. Other than that it had no particular life.

AE: There might be more interest now after The Journey. It seems, though, that it’s quite a different thing to have basically a short film that takes place with a suicide sort of in the background–having that happen in the past and showing what happens surrounding it–as opposed to if you had made The Journey end in a suicide, in terms of what you were saying about homosexuality being pathologized.
LP: Yeah, when I originally wrote the feature-length script I did have a suicide in there but it was so unbearably sad, I could barely take it. And when I described the story to my mother, she started crying, it was just so sad. And then I showed it to my friends and they were like, “Oh my God, please take out the suicide! It’s so sad, it’s unbearable.”

AE: So it was by popular request.
LP: It’s not only really sad, it sends a bad message. So I took it out and I was much happier with the triumphant ending rather than that.

AE: So, if you don’t mind, can you tell me how you found the actors and what their backgrounds were?
LP: Sure. Kiran and Delilah are portrayed by Suhasini V. Nair and Shrruiti Menon. Suhasini, who played Kiran, is formerly a soap opera star. She started in her childhood, she was a child actress and into her teens she was still acting. And the way I found her was I was watching a feature film and she was just a side character who walked in with a group of girlfriends and talked to the heroine of that particular film. And when I saw her she just was amazing. So beautiful and such am amazing presence, and so I called her up for an audition and she was so intent on this role. Maybe because she’s a professional actor, she know exactly how. She called me all the time, a couple times a week. She told me, “I have been in character for the past week, and I’ve been walking like the character, talking like the character, and I really feel that I can pull this off.” And I was going back and forth between her and one other good actress. Finally, I saw her on her soap opera and I couldn’t believe how expressive her face was. She conveyed so much with her eyes. And then I was frantic. I though, What if she books another film during my dates? So I called her up after that and said to just block the dates and she was thrilled. So that’s Suhasini.

The other actress is Shrruiti Menon, and Shrruiti lives in Bombay, and she is a professional model and a full-time student in Bombay. She’s also Miss Kerala 2002; she’s a beauty queen. And that’s how I found her. I cast a pretty wide net in the screening process because I was looking for people who were very young, and so I looked through all kinds of different channels, not just casting agents and stuff like that. So I saw her at the Miss Kerala Festival headquarters, and when I saw her the look sold it, because she had so much fire, and this was sort of like the reckless beauty. And I just hoped she could act. So she came down for the interview from Bombay and it was going to be her first feature film, so she was a little bit rough around the edges, but we did one week of rehearsal and the two of them got very comfortable with each other. And we rehearsed all of the difficult scenes until I felt they could just relax into it, and it finally came out on the big screen very naturally. Some chemistry was there between the two of them, and they turned out to be good choices, I think.

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