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Cannes Questionnaires #4: Vimukthi Jayasundara

We talked to the energetic and charming Sri Lankan auteur at Cannes about his life and his new movie.

The fourth and much delayed part of a video interview series from Cannes by myself and Daniel Kasman.  We sat down with Vimukthi Jayasundara, director of Chatrak (Mushrooms) in Directors' Fortnight, on Thursday, May 19, 2011. The delay was due, at least in part, to the atrocious sound recording conditions in which the inteview took place.  We hope the video gives some sense of the filmmaker's charming character; we've included a transcript of the video interview below. For the Notebook's coverage on the film, see Marie-Pierre Duhamel's snapshot from Cannes.  


THE NOTEBOOK: How did making your first feature in another country come about?

VIMUKTHI JAYASUNDARA: …it's quite crazy, you know. Normally, you know, when you do an art house movie you have to write something, a synopsis, and then you're in the process of a screenplay and then you pitch that—you know, you have to get a producer—it's very complicated. And this happened totally the other way, which is really crazy.

So I landed in Kolkata [India, where the film was shot], and I was ready to meet someone. I don't know who. He didn't even tell me what he'd look like or what kind of person he'd be. And then I was looking here and there and I saw a gentleman standing there with a bucket of flowers. So I… "Are you…?" And he said, "Yes, I am!" And he took me in a taxi and we go into the city.

On my way, I saw this crazy city. Building after building—a total new township. Which I've never seen before. Just like in a film, like a cartoon, structured endlessly with buildings. And I said, "Why are you doing this?" Normally you build a city in, like, a hundred years. Or more than that. This is like building after two years, three years. A totally different city. And I was thinking, "How are these people going to transfer from one into the other one? Where are the real cities?"

So I entered the real one, the old Calcutta, the colonial capital of India. And it hasn't changed. It's exactly the same. There's no impact on the other city from this city. People are living in the same conditions—the poverty, the beauty, whatever—everything's together. So I'm thinking, "Okay, what are [they] going to declare? From now, you leave; take your luggage, take your stuff and move to the other city? Or what is going to happen? […] How's this transforming going to happen?"

So I thought: this is going to be a great idea for the film. I mean, there were many stories, but this should be the main topic of the film. And, of course, the producers for the film wonderfully said, "Okay, whatever you write, you tell me, and I'm going to produce it." So, this is kind of crazy. And I said, "Okay, let me do something real crazy, because you are already crazy."

TN: How do you spend your time when you aren't making films? 

JAYASUNDARA: Most of the time, thinking about it!

Well, like, just living. I'm not doing anything special. I can't say I'm listening to certain music that's special or I'm following any writers. Nothing like that. Whatever comes to me… I want to be really relaxed. I'm not planning my next day. I'm here and I'm here. I look around and take whatever's possible. 

I can't say I'm going to the library to read or researching, no, I don't really live like that. I'm fairly free for any time. Apart from filmmaking I'm not busy at all. I have a lot of time to whatever. Sometimes I'm totally free. I don't know, I need things to do, you know?

I'm worried, like, why can't you be like the other people—they're so busy and they are researching—I'd love to do this but it's difficult. I'm not used to doing that. It's difficult for me to do the same thing the next day. If I read a book today, I feel like I shouldn't do that again—I need to change it, find something else. So I think it might be an irony but that's what I'm also doing: something different, wanting to change.

So inspiration comes from being with friends, to talking, to partying, whatever. Everything's possible.

Ryan&Daniel, You just fulfilled the first of my thee wishes that you had granted me here. Now for the drink. Thanks and Cheers!

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