Murali Nair about The Crossing

March 2009 -

Indian film maker Murali Nair explains the evolution of The Crossing, one of 22 short films that were produced on behalf of the UNHR on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights. The films can all be seen on YouTube and in 2009 they will be touring international festivals.

First of all, we would like to ask you where the story that you tell in your movie comes from.

I am living in an area of India called Hyderabad, which is witnessing a huge development. This is one of the key centres of IT growth in India. I see mountains being carved out and blasted to make way for huge western-style buildings and malls. I also see the native farming population squeezed in between these high profile hectic activities. On a daily basis I witness these cultural conflicts in front of my eyes. So it is just natural I decided to reflect these experiences in a film.

With regard to the topic that was given to you, which aspect struck you the most? Are there ways in which you were already addressing it in your work?

I have been always attracted to social themes, especially connected to rural communities. Having been brought up in a rural farming community, I can very well relate to their experiences. I feel totally upset about traditional ways of life being forcefully taken away from these communities. I see this as a cultural massacre in the name of development. By not finding a balance between development and traditions, we are digging our own graves. Hence the topic of 'development' is most important for me. I am currently working on an installation based on the life of thousands of farmers who were led to suicide because of the wrong economic policies of the governments.

Human rights are real, something you can feel on your skin, and not something abstract. In a film, the artist and director – just like the poet – creates a personal universe that is drawn from his or her own life in one way or another. Can you help us understand the link between your short film and the experiences that led you to make it?

I don't think an artist can create an art form in vacuum. I really wish I can shut my eyes against all these serious issues that happen around me and create a 'shining India' in my imaginary world. But somehow I fail to do it. I feel I am to certain extent responsible and I also feel I should at least react by my own medium. So in a way what I am doing is creating my own art-piece, but certainly using the colours taken from the palette of life around me. For this particular film, the 'seed' came as a spark while I was driving through one of these roads in a by-lane that leads to a highly developed software park. Suddenly there were a lots of buffaloes on the road. A farmer was taking them to the lake nearby. All these big big cars suddenly stopped in front of this buffalo, that moves at a very slow pace. Suddenly I wondered if this was a real buffalo or a 3D buffalo! From this seed the crossing started.

We think that culture in general and cinema in particular can help people to better understand the importance of human rights in their own lives. What do you want to provoke in the wider public with your film?

It is extremely important for any community or individual to be able to appreciate the Human Rights values. Any sensible civilisation can be built only based on these values. In a contemporary Indian situation where the development is happening at an unforeseen pace, the values represented by the agrarian communities are totally ignored for the benefit of a new class. This affects cultural balance. After all the most important thing India has to offer to the world is its cultural diversity and I feel this is under threat of the unbalanced development. It might have far reaching effects. I would only like the public to understand that there is a high cost for these homogenization efforts.

In most of the films created for this project, we see signs of clashes deriving from cultural diversity or caused by limitations imposed on individuals that curtail their freedom in different ways. What do you think is the reason for that?

This is very interesting. Long time ago, when we were tribes, we certainly had boundaries, but we respected each other's boundaries. We respected each other's values, and hence we survived all these efforts by the conquerors and we still maintained our own self-designed values. But now we have a situation where we are taught that all these are wrong and the answer is in homogenization and not in diversity. These teaching comes with a force. We all know that if something is given in force we rebel against it! As a gesture, we are given rights and boundaries by the majority communities. Yes, you have freedom, but the freedom that we give you. The tribal mind will certainly find it difficult to accept this generosity and will rebel against the force with which their rights are taken away. This is what we see as a clash. Is this clash important? Yes, it is: for the people who can benefit out of it.
In short, the reason for such themes is that there is tremendous pressure on an individual from establishments to renounce their own identity and be something else. Governments want them to be as tax paying, consumer objects who shouldn't have any rights, Business establishments want them to be as slaves who can be happy in being a temporary worker for life with no rights etc. With an onslaught of global capitalism, the situation is pretty bad. An individual is seriously under pressure to renounce his identity and his tribal character is defending it and still wants to be free. What you are getting as themes are the cries of freedom of these unhappy souls dreaming about their lost identity! Any socially responsible artiste at any time of catastrophe has done the same thing. Thank you for being a window to let this hot air come out!

This project involves artists and directors, people who usually work with very different languages. What do you think are the differences between artists and directors in their approach to the creative process?

I am a positive person. I never look for the differences!! I will leave you to do this!!
All I can see is unifying factors… Perhaps I am interested only in these!
I decide what I see!

Now let's talk a bit about you. Who is Murali Nair?

I personally don't know who am I? Who am I? I would like to say that he is a wonderful person, very innocent while sleeping, little bit selfish while awake, and pretty lonely in between. He is guaranteed to live 100 years more and I can assure you he will never be made again. Limited edition art work! All I know is that he cannot think of life without making films. Ever since he got into making films, he thoroughly enjoyed it (but at the expense of other's happiness!).

Stories on Human Rights was produced on behalf of UNHR by Art for the World.
A number of the films will be shown during the Movies that Matter Festival being held in The Hague from 26 March to 8 April.
If you'd like to see more - there's a new film every week on Youtube.