Shailaja Padindala is one of the most exciting cultural presences around and has proved this once again with her video ‘Vote Haaki’ which is rocking youtube. Ashley Tellis caught up with her to ask her some questions about her method and her politics.
Your film Memory of a Machine raised issues of child sexuality and the complexity of sexual experience in an unprecedentedly bold and sensitive way. How did you conceive of that film and how did you get its clarity of vision on a difficult and controversial subject that most people are conservative on?
Yes, it is from my own experience that I made a fictional such as Memories of a Machine. Yes, there were moral confusions analysing this situation. As I grew up, other peers in a similar situation felt victimised or raged, something that made me curious . It was the longest struggle with myself whether I should feel victimised or let it be as is. And that was how the film Memories was conceived by bringing a cinematic contemporary narrative and fictional elements to it.
‘Vote Haaki’ also questions every convention from heterosexuality to monogamy to marriage. Once again, these buck the conventional LGBT trends. How did you come up with the idea of the song and what is the film about?
‘Vote Haaki’ is a part of a queer Kannada feature film I have written and directed called Naanu Ladies, yet to be released. This film addresses reproductive rights and queerness as a lifestyle. This song and the film are a culmination of my own experiences, as I was and still am queer and to fit into a heteronormative world was a challenge from childhood. So, the song is a way to laugh at all these experiences addressing the heteronormative drawbacks within a society.
Musically, the video is upbeat and rhythmically brilliant so even if someone does not identify with the lyrics, they would dance to the song. How important is form to you in relation to content? How did you meet the musicians who made the song? What about the cinematographer?
‘Vote haaki’ came about as a tune from an old guitar of my dad's that I play sometimes, as a pastime. I had written this song and at one such moment, this tune came to me which I recorded and sent to musician Sylvester who was looking for opportunities and a break in films who later arranged the music beats to the composition I had made and sent him.
It is a small production and shoot as JLT films did not have much money and it was also difficult for me to find a funder for queer content and also a personal challenge to myself to make a film cost effectively breaking capitalistic norms that cinema is trapped in, thus the crew were all first timers.
The film Naanu Ladies is about embracing error without glamorising it. I am deeply inspired by Dutch filmmaker, Lars Von Trier, whom I also quote at the beginning of memories of a machine. Lars invented the method of dogme style shooting, where its spontaneous and the narrative abides by technical errors, merging error to the narrative. I wanted to try something like that with Indian scenario, with a "middleclass production" budget.
The camerawork is done by two women, Komal Khiani who comes from a non- cinema background and is self taught, but with a massive enthusiasm and newness in her approach to deliver a visual, and Chehek Bligi who is a graduate from Whistling Woods in cinematography who also had to unlearn the academic approach of film making to embrace a new method of production.
How do you identify and why?
I identify as a queer woman, as I never could naturally fit into the heteronromative understanding of life.
You work across several languages. How did you learn all of them?
Well, Bangalore is such a place, I guess, it gets you in touch with diversity. I speak Telugu and English at home, (I am half Anglo Indian) and grew up in Bangalore, thus I know Kannada as well. Later, I did my postgraduation in cinema and worked in the media in Chennai where I learned a lot about Dravidian (my own) culture. This led to a huge shift in my political views. Chennai embraced my queerness, my skin colour, and everything that was otherwise looked at as errors in the city I grew up in. I found survival and acceptance in Tamil Nadu and couldn't help but learn this beautiful Tamizh from where on I understood that craft of an art was a secondary aspect, while the content and its politics was the primary part of any art expression in order to have the art survive more generations, for a long time.
I must say I know most Dravidian languages, yes, and Hindi from 5th std till 10th std as it was compulsory, but over the years since I have never used the language after SSLC. I hardly remember any Hindi.
When I wrote Memories of a Machine, I wrote it in Kannada and looked for an actress who knew Kannada , but not many producers and artists within the city I grew in connected with the idea of memories of a machine. I couldn't help but look for talent outside Karnataka keeping language as the second priority, as the film demanded accuracy in innocence, without any sense of victimised perspective nor anger. So that's when I found the actress , but she couldn't pronounce Kannada accurately and I wanted to sync sound record the dialogues, thus I had to forsake my desire to shoot it in Kannada and went ahead with Malayalam. After memories of a machine, my network and desire to learn Malayalam grew and I have been in the process of learning Malyalam further. This is how I'm a culmination of all the Dravidian languages and feel connected to all of them in many aspects.
Do you believe in the term ‘intersectional’? What does it mean to you?
Yes, I believe that all forms of activisms and life design should be thoroughly intersectional. it must include all the minority voices, across various divisions and categories. To me, intersectional means the most important and direly needed form of understanding politics. We must see the systematically woven link between caste that was given birth by patriarchy, patriarchy by capitalism, capitalism by fascism, fascism by feudalism, and all of these controlling freedom of sexuality, financial freedom, information, the vulnerable, and the women, through religion, class, caste race, color and what not! OF COURSE, YES, we must intersect through these divisions and unify the voices of minorities.