My film, The Turtle People, was premiered on the fabled white sheet tied to palm trees in the very village where it was filmed.
Sarat was the one to organize the screening. He was also the one who led us to the village at the start. All through the fortnight long shooting schedule he put up the screen every evening and held a film festival simultaneously. There was no announcement in the press, no delegates were invited, but the crew from Mumbai was included in the charged, intimate space that the village transformed into when the projector came on. Night after night, we sat with Sarat and the people of kolavipalam watching film after film. It transformed my relationship with the village, impacted the way we imagined our film.
Sarat took me to the village when I visited for the first time. He met me at Koyilandy station, this was my first meeting with him. We stayed the night at the theeram office, next to the shore, my head resting a foot away from an olive ridley turtle blowing bubbles at me from its glass enclosure. We walked the length of the beach at before day break along with the theeram activists looking to see if a mother turtle had come ashore. It was a magical walk for me, one where I was starting to grasp the expansive work that the theeram activists were doing. Sarat was like a child, excited by the possibility of finding a nest. As the sun rose high Sarat suddenly took off, a bunch of students in Calicut had asked him to organise some screenings. The energy of the walk along the beach at magic hour shifted effortlessly to his dusty bus ride to meet a bunch of students. He was the special link between the documentary film fraternity and their audiences, audiences that he created in inconceivable places, in classrooms, at meetings, at celebrations, for groups collecting to protest.
During the shoot we would set out after dinner, spread ourselves into pairs across the beach and wait for the mother turtle. We encountered two mother turtles on the first night, I cannot forget the thrill. Sarat was the one who had found her and signalled us with a torch. I forget the code we had decided on. I think in the excitement he had forgotten the code too and waved the torch frantically. We had no doubt what that meant and raced across from the other end of the beach lugging our equipment. We forgave him another time when we saw the torch being waved around. We ran for over ten minutes only to find Sarat involved in a heated discussion, gesticulating wildly, without realising that the torch was on.
Sarat, dear friend, every student, every activist, every filmmaker you encountered would have a treasure trove of stories about your warmth, your generosity and your often incorrigible actions that you have been scolded for by just about everyone I know. You gave us all a patient hearing. And then would set off to show another set of films to another set of people, somewhere.