Song of the woods

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Santosh Setumadhavan reads a lot. Seems he also keeps all that he likes reading. Cuttings of newspapers and magazine features from years ago. And  effort was worth when he came across a clipping of Touchwood, the (real) story of forest poachers turning forest guards he had read some 13 or 14 years ago. The visual possibilities of the story, written by Vinu Abraham, struck Santosh, who had a few years ago remade the Malayalam romantic classic Chattakkari his father and doyen of Malayalam film industry K.S. Sethumadhavan had directed in the seventies. And Where The Tree Sings, a 16-minute environmental film, is born.

“I was surprised no one had made a film on this subject so far. There will be some kind of story on poaching, somewhere in a newspaper corner every other day,” Santosh says. “I felt this is one area that should be shown to the public.” He took off to Kumily with a fictional account of a man called Bala who narrates his story to a foreigner called Elizabeth, a travel blog writer visiting the forest. “You’d be surprised. Eighty per cent of the people going there are foreigners, or north Indians. There are few or no Malayalis,” Santosh says. A little girl called Sijitra Sibu, too, plays a role, and the film, Santosh says, is a journey among these three. Actor Shabeer Kallarakal plays Bala and Pirkko Paxton from Finland plays Elizabeth.

His producer A.V. Anoop appears as a forest officer in the film. He is the one who tells Bala that he should become part of the forest and get paid for it. Bala becomes a guard but declares ‘this forest is still mine’. He is also good in languages such as English and French because it is mostly foreigners who come there. Santosh chose to tell his story through fiction as he felt documentary might not work the same way. He had earlier taken a documentary The Mask of God on the transformation of ordinary people into god for temple arts. Years ago, he took a short film called Appuvin Nayagan – Spotty My Hero, based on a short story written by Indira Parthasarathy, which won the National Film Award for the Best Film on Family Values in 2008.

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