“Ottal’ is more than an environmental film” even though it won a national award in that category, says Jayaraj. While planning to make a film based on Anton Chekhov’s short story ‘Vanka’, director Jayaraj had never thought that it would be interpreted as a movie on conservation of the environment. According to the director, ‘Ottal’, which bagged the award for the best film on environment protection, was in fact conceived as a story on child labour narrated through the life of a small boy. He is dedicating this award to the children who are still being tortured.
Jayaraj was asked by his friend Biju, a long ago, to make a film based on Chekhov’s short story ‘Vanka’. In between he directed other movies. ‘Vanka’, the Russian short story from which the movie has been adapted, revolves around the pangs of nine-year -old Vanka Zhukov, destined to lead the life of a child labourer under a shoemaker in Moscow, ‘Ottal’ tells the story of Kuttappayi, a child labourer hailing from Kerala and his inseparable bond with his grandfather and nature.
According to Jayaraj, The movie, set in the scenic Kuttanad, also narrates how the boy, destined to work in a fireworks factory away from his near ones, missed his childhood. It is a touching story of the relation between a boy and his grandfather. The scenic nature of Kuttanad also becomes a character in the film in one way or the other. But that does not mean that it is completely an environmental movie.
Ivan Zhukov, known by the diminutive “Vanka,” is an unhappy orphan who has been apprenticed for three months to the shoemaker Alyakhin in Moscow. On Christmas Eve, while his master and mistress and the senior apprentices are all at church, Vanka sits down to write a pleading letter in Christmas days to “Grandad” Konstantin Makarich in the nearby village where Vanka lived before being sent to the city, scribbling that he had been torturing and at any cost, he wanted to escape with his help. Little Vanka added in his letter that to keep a small star for him, when makes stars for Christmas. His homesickness and misery emerge heartbreaking as he writes his letter.
Jayaraj was in a dilemma, whether this story thread is sufficient to make a film. But he was haunted by seeing a photo of a boy, he belongs to a flood affected family in Assam, moves with his goats in a boat. That proved to remind him, that this is the apt time to do Vanka’s story. The overwhelmed emotions of a sensitive director turned into a good script named ‘Ottal’. ”The photo caught my imagination straightaway and I wanted to recreate a similar scene in my film, he says. Vasudevan, a local person of Kuttanad, plays the main role in this film. When Jayaraj was in a search of characters, as he really wanted the local people to perform, accidently he met Vasudevan and was fixing him as the central character. The film will hit screens on November 6th.
Jayaraj has had a stint in all types of movies. Jayaraj, whose movies attract both the classes and the masses, said that although the short story tells only the darker life of the child, the movie tries to incorporate a number of positive aspects about his childhood in Kuttanad.
“The film tries to present a handful of colourful visuals and thoughts regarding childhood. I tried to minimise the negative aspects and include positive visuals and characters, which are not there in the original text, he said.
He said it was shocking to know that child labour was still a major concern and added that his film was a tribute to those who sacrifice their childhoods in brick kilns and firework factories.
“Chekhov wrote the short story with child labour as its theme some 130 years ago. Even after a century, there is no change in the situation. Millions of children are working as bonded labourers around the globe, sacrificing their childhood and dreams”.
Jayaraj says literature has always been a source of inspiration for him and he wants to adapt more classics following his latest film Ottal.
A multiple recipient of national and state awards, he says, literary classics, irrespective of language, culture and time barriers, are treasure troves of endless story threads which can be developed into any number of quality films.
And the director of the films on the classics concludes, “We generally call a literary work a classic when it stands the test of time. These may have been written decades or centuries ago, but they are relevant at any time or period.
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