Interview with Ligy Pullappally

AE: Definitely. I’m impressed that one was a non-actor, because that’s not apparent in the film. And it sounds too like you didn’t have to do a whole lot of convincing of people to come near the roles. It sounds like there was a lot of interest.
LP: It’s so funny, because I interviewed or auditioned about 40 to 50 women, and the funny thing is they all said yes except for one, who I thought might’ve been actually queer, so the role was too close. [Laughs] So she didn’t want to have to deal with her own personal issues. Yeah, I thought that that would be more difficult. A lot of people were saying to me that this is a role that rarely comes along, a once in a lifetime chance, just a rare opportunity.

AE: Can you tell me anything about the community that the girls live in, and the matriarchal traditions in the households and how that affects the story?
LP: Kerala is formerly a matrilineal culture, and I think that changed with the influence of the British, but I think there are traces of that culture still existing. And among the traces is that the women work in Kerala outside the home, as opposed to other places, where that’s discouraged and women are encouraged to work inside the home. Because the women work outside the home, it means they’re better educated. Women working outside the home can earn money and maybe as a result there are lower rates of female infanticide and virtually no cases of things like bride burning in the state. And perhaps like other countries, like anywhere, you get some very strong women characters in Kerala. That’s not unique to Kerala. But the characters, both mothers are very strong women–Delilah’s mother and Kiran’s mother–but in different ways.

Delilah’s mother is a widow who has had to raise her sons and her daughter by herself, and that’s part of the reason why she thinks the way she does, which is keep moving forward, focus on stability and financial wellbeing, and those things are tied into things like reputation. Because if a girl doesn’t have her reputation, what’s left? When Delilah’s mother finds out that two kids in her class have run away together, the Muslim girl and the Hindu boy, she says, “What’s the point going out and getting that girl back? Now that her reputation’s gone, nothing’s left.” That’s an attitude that actually prevails, not just in Kerala but in many parts of India.

AE: Delilah’s grandmother, maybe it’s because she’s of a different generation, has less concern maybe with community perception and more concern with her granddaughter’s welfare, would you say?
LP: She’s a person with an abundance of love, and, like people who have grown up with an abundance of love, she is generally not critical of other people. She thinks everybody is all right, you know? She’s not trying to criticize anybody for their choices. Part of it is as an older person, she has seen and heard a lot, and she knows what can kill you and what can make you stronger. She’s different from Delilah’s mother in that way. She’s like, Don’t act like this is the end of the world. Whether she would have wanted Delilah to marry a man or not is a question, but what we can say is that she didn’t want Delilah to be forced into a marriage as a result of finding out that she’s been involved in a relationship with Kiran. She thinks the forcing of marriage to save a reputation is a pointless endeavor. She’s also someone who knows about the relationship and doesn’t try to stop Delilah. As to why that is, I just have to say, she understands how risky it is, but she doesn’t think it’s the end of the world and she doesn’t think it’s bad. And maybe she had a relationship of her own…

AE: And despite her support of Delilah, she still isn’t able to change what happens, and maybe that’s a function of her generation. It’s really up to Delilah’s mother how things go with the marriage.
LP: Yeah, because Delilah’s mother runs the household, and her grandmother really doesn’t have a say about that. I mean, she can express herself, but in terms of the final decision, it’s up to Delilah’s mother.

AE: Had you ever done subtitling before this, and were you ever frustrated by not being able to translate certain things?
LP: Yeah, I was, because like with any language, words have connotations that are not directly translatable in the brief subtitling format that’s favored for films. A book like God of Small Things, which is about of Kerala, really captures the essence of the language. In long form those nuances can come out, but for film subtitling, because the images flash one after another, the subtitles have to be read in a flash. That was a little frustrating, but because I made the film as visual as possible, like if you turned off the subtitling and turned off the sound, you would still understand the film from the visual images. And because of that, the general meaning of things carries forward.

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