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netribution > features > interview with biju viswanath > page one
iWhat leads an Indian teacher turned cinematographer to direct an English language feature with a British cast in India? Biju Viswanath shot Deja Vu on 35mm with a crew of 55 on a remote, and very hazardous, Indian lighthouse during the monsoon. As the British and Indian film industries see increasing cross-over and co-production, we found out more from this most empassioned of filmmakers. The story of his shoot is every producers nightmare waiting to happen, and the film - yet to get a UK distributor - looks like it'll be dazzling.For more information check viswanathbiju/ or email

| by nic wistreich |
| photos from the film|
| in london |
  What sort of films did you like as a child?
Thrillers. The Great Escape had a huge impact on me, I liked film with strong visuals because I found the effect on the big screen stupendous. Later on I became interested in more serious films, films that blended art and craft equally. Costa Gavris and Peter Weir still top my list of favourites, also Kurosowa, Polanski and the like.

When did you decide to try making films?
I acted as a child artiste in a few films - my father was a script writer - and I fell in love with the lights and the movie cameras, it was love at first sight.

Did it take a large leap of faith quitting the job as a lecturer?
Of course, it was a very confusing but, at the same time, very reassuring feeling. Deep in my heart I felt the yearning to make movies but nobody was there to help me. My parents were dead against my decision, everyone was too concerned about the "security" in life but I've always loved to take the road less travelled.

Looking back was it sheer will power or obstinacy?
Don't know, one thing I was sure of was that I always wanted to make films, the satisfaction and happiness you get when it is seen on the screen is beyond words.

What was the first film you made?
My first film was called A Voyage, it was an experimental short without commentary or dialogue that's a challenge to the viewer, they are invited to co-author the film. I hated the conventional pattern of guiding the viewer like a blind man with the help of commentary. The film was selected for several international film festivals: Zanzibar, Pusan, Croatia, the Netherlands, Los Angeles and Calcutta.

Tell us about Deja Vu.
I always intended to make international films, films that would reach a wider audience than Indian alone. Films that are evocative rather than musicals and dialogue galore. I wrote the first draft of Deja vu 3 years back but at the time no producer seemed willing to invest in an English feature film shot in India. They wanted a movie with a superstar with a minimum of six songs and regular masala. I then send the script to a few European funding agencies but they all wanted a piece of exotic India with its pagan rituals and superstitions but my film is an unconventional thriller which deals with the universal themes of fear and loneliness. Most told us that it was too sophisticated, "Why don't you make a film about the sadhoos or problems of India? Try an action adventure set in a far off kingdom with a lot of elephants and concubines, it sells you know?" Many of them are prejudiced or are simply conditioned to think like that.
Frustrated, I continued with my regular work - ad films, music videos, working as a DoP on other feature films and so on and so forth but I always knew that some day I would make this film and in the way I want it to be made. In between, I was fortunate to be involved in some short films that established a link to the international market. I met my producer, Said Alavi, during the Zanzibar international film festival. He's a business man with an artistic mind, he liked my short film and expressed his willingness to produce a feature length film but, at that time he was only able to raise 50% of the budget.
Back in India I discussed the project with my long time friend, the famous editor Sreekar Prasad, he promised the rest of the funds.

I understand you experienced problems finding the location.
Just a few! One of the main hurdles was to find the right location because the script demanded a lonely island lighthouse. Without the right one there could be no film, the whole story is about the loneliness and paranoia of a stranded lighthouse mechanic so the location had to evoke fear and loneliness. The location scout took 6 months of long hours in flights, trains, cars, ships, boats and in bullock carts trying to find the perfect one for us. I travelled to the Andaman islands - sixty hours on a ship during which the loneliness started seeping into my nerves; I was beginning to feel like my protagonist. The location scout continued on to several hot and salty coastal areas of east and west of India. All in vain.

What happened then?
My scriptwriter Laura Andrews is from Guernsey and she suggested the Lundy Islands and during my scouting trip I met Govind Menon an exceptionally talented filmmaker from India who introduced me to Paddy Fletcher, an excellent actor I was lucky to work with. The casting director Matilda Reeves, after exhaustive screen testing, short-listed three for the role of the fear-evoking stranger who never talks. From this list we selected Simon Binns, another fine actor.
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