Yadu Vijayakrishnan is a filmmaker, cinematographer and writer. Apart from directing the feature documentary 21 Months of Hell, he has also directed the Sanskrit film Bhagavadajjukam- which is expected to release this year. His novel The Story of Ayodhya will soon hit bookstores all over India.
In conversation with Utpal Datta, the filmmaker speaks at length about the making of 21 Months Of Hell.
Utpal Datta: What was the reason for selecting this theme for your film?
Yadu Vijayakrishnan: In Kerala, there was always a false sense of understanding among the common people that the Emergency, which was imposed by Indira Gandhi, was a good initiative. Others believed that only the Naxalites and CPI(M) members protested against the Emergency.
This is, however, far from the truth. As a part of the research work for an Emergency-based series for a Malayalam TV channel, I found that the real heroes who fought against Emergency in Kerala were RSS and Jan Sangh activists.
The Naxalites were always against the idea of Indian democracy and they began their violent activities a decade earlier. During the Emergency, with the help of new laws, the government was able to hunt them more effectively.
As for the CPI(M)activists of Kerala, they apologised after their initial arrests and they didn't protest publicly afterwards. Whereas, it was the RSS and Jan Sangh activists who protested against the Emergency for restoring democracy in the nation and that too in a peaceful manner.
These activists who selflessly participated in pro-democracy protests were brutally tortured. I realised, it was high time people should be aware of the truth of what really happened during Emergency and the real heroes should be identified and acknowledged.
I knew that making a movie on the subject is the only way to achieve it and I made 21 Months of Hell as a prototype for the movie.
Utpal Datta: What were the major challenges you faced during the preparation of the film?
Yadu Vijayakrishnan: Researching about the subject was easier than my expectation. I interviewed the survivors and they explained the torture they endured in great detail.
However, the most fundamental need to make such a documentary is the money required. As I was recreating scenes of torture with actors, the set designing and costumes of the 70s costed more than a usual documentary.
My friend Vayujith, who is also a writer, connected me with J Nandakumar- a national level RSS karyakarta. With his help, a group of like-minded people formed a company called Arise Media Network and arranged the funds for me to make the documentary.
Utpal Datta: How did you overcome other challenges?
Yadu Vijayakrishnan: After successfully finishing the documentary, I submitted it to the regional committee of the Central Board of Film Certification (Censor Board). I asked for an 'A' certificate as I knew the film contains scenes of violence.
However, the regional board rejected the documentary citing that there isn't any evidence for such tortures being practised during the Emergency. They completely ignored the first-hand interviews of the victims.
Anyways, I decided to approach CBFC revising committee. I was surprised to realise that the Kerala CBFC hadn't issued their report so that I can make any further moves. I waited for more than a month and when I thought that they were purposefully trying to suppress the film.
I approached the national media and revealed the Kerala CBFC's issue to them. Fortunately, all the top national media houses featured the news and the Kerala CBFC issued the report to me that very day.
I submitted the film to the revising committee in Mumbai and it was approved with a U(A) certificate.
Utpal Datta: How the cinematographer, editor, music director, production designer contributed to realising your dream?
Yadu Vijayakrishnan: Being a documentary, there wasn't much of a production budget that you would expect for a normal film. To make a budget for all the production costs for the recreation of the scenes, I chose to work as the cinematographer and writer- thanks to my previous experiences.
Shooting included travelling across Kerala and visiting the survivors of the tortures. Their narration of the events served as the backbone of the entire documentary as there wasn't any other voice-over used.
Sometimes I felt bad for insisting them to recall those unkind moments making them endure the trauma again.
However, they cooperated without complaining. I believe they have the biggest part in this documentary, more than the role I played as the director.
Utpal Datta: How did the making of this film has enriched you as an artist?
Yadu Vijayakrishnan: Prior to the making of 21 Months of Hell, I worked as a programme producer in Janam TV- a Malayalam TV channel.
I have directed over twenty historical documentaries and a 50-episode travelogue series. But making movies in historical settings was always my dream.
I consider 21 Months of Hell as the first step of this dream. It has a historical setting and I was able to recreate real-life history through it.
The documentary had many successful screenings across India and abroad. I was able to showcase my expertise with it and received many opportunities in the film industry in the subsequent years all because of this documentary.
Utpal Datta: Any interesting information you would love to add?
Yadu Vijayakrishnan: 21 Months of Hell has been released online and is available to anyone. You can watch the film on the OTT platform -limelightmedia.org