Island-born film director and writer Suri Krishnamma has just finished two films starring A-list Hollywood actors. ‘The Grief Tourist’, starring Melanie Griffith alongside Mike Cudlitz recently premiered at the Munich Film Festival and ‘Bad Karma’, starring Ray Liotta, goes on general release in Australia, where it was filmed, from August 23rd.
‘The Grief Tourist’ is the first film Melanie Griffith has made for some time and she told a press conference in Munich that her husband Antonio Banderas said it was “the greatest film he’d ever seen.”
“I was knocked out by that – I think it was a ridiculous thing to say,” laughed Suri, “but it’s still very flattering.
“Melanie was great to work with – she’s as close to Hollywood royalty as you can get. Her mother is Tippi Hedren, once Alfred Hitchcock’s favourite actress, so she grew up in Hollywood and spent most of her life on film sets. ‘The Grief Tourist’ was a fresh start and a new challenge for her. It’s a dark, quite nihilistic film in many ways and she was fantastic.
“In ‘Bad Karma’, which I shot in Australia last year, Ray Liotta was also great to work with and we became very close. He’s everything you’d imagine a coarse New Yorker to be – a straight talker and fond of expletives. He can be direct and if he doesn’t like something he’ll tell you, but I like that – you know where you stand.”
Hopefully both films will be released in the UK next year. In between his film projects Suri visits the Island frequently and hopes to make a film at Carisbrooke Castle, very near the house he grew up in.
“I was born in Shanklin but we moved to Newport when I was very young, to Newclose House that sits at the foot of Nunnery Lane and Watergate Road. That’s where I spent all of my childhood years until I left home.
“If you go to the top of Nunnery Lane you’re at the castle and it was a journey I’d do regularly, after school in the summer and at weekends. We’d often climb the castle walls and sometimes drop to the other side. I think I was probably led over the wall by my older brother Ranjit who is still a great climber and quite fearless when it comes to extreme sports. I grew up feeling that the castle belonged to me in some way, and a bit of me still does. I think a lot of people feel that about it. It’s a very special place.
“I was quite politically active on the Island, a member of the Labour Party and an active campaigner. I left school after doing my A levels and went straight to London giving my family very little notice. My mother was heartbroken, but I just felt I needed to see a bigger world.
“I used to come home regularly when my mother lived on the Island. Shalini my younger sister, now owns the house we grew up in having bought it from my mother when she decided to move to the mainland. I have a step brother, Dean Hodges, who runs a memorabilia shop in Newport.
“After three years working for a printing company in the East End I decided to go to college because I wanted to explore my creative impulses. It was photography that excited me at first, but after a year on a great course at Bournemouth College of Art and Design (now Arts University College Bournemouth) I crossed over to the film department.”
Suri went on to study directing at the National Film and Television School and has since made several highly acclaimed films and directed many TV dramas, such as Waking the Dead, Sea of Souls, Blue Murder and the mini-series A Respectable Trade and The Cazalets. He’s especially proud of A Respectable Trade, the first mainstream drama the BBC had ever made about the slave trade in this country. He has won four film festival awards and been nominated for three BAFTAs.
Included amongst the many actors he’s worked with is Russell Brand. “I worked with Russell Brand a few years ago on his first TV drama ‘Cold Blood’ – a crime drama that included John Hannah and Gemma Redgrave in its cast. I met him and offered him the part of a man who stalks one of the main characters. We’re both fellow West Ham supporters and we got on very well and I still think it was one of his best onscreen performances.
“I shot a film called New Year’s Day (2000) on the Island. It was weird making that film because it was like going to a place I knew well but at the same time I felt like a stranger because I was seeing it through different eyes. It was a story about two teenagers, survivors of a tragic skiing accident, who are so traumatised by it that they decide to spend a year doing various tasks before planning to end their own lives.
“We shot the end sequence on the cliffs at Tennyson’s monument where the two boys planned to jump off. That’s a place I also have very special memories of – and I used to make it a yearly event to walk from Freshwater Bay to the monument every New Year’s Day. One day I decided to run all the way from the monument to Newclose in the snow.
“I do like dark subjects – I think that’s probably right. I’ve had this long ambition to do an adaptation of Hamlet, but I was never sure I had anything new to offer in terms of adapting the play. Then one day I was talking to an actor and dear friend, Tom Bell, who gave me an idea. He said “Imagine there’s this older man in a wheelchair who thinks he’s Hamlet…” That night I couldn’t sleep for thinking about this idea – and immediately began work on the screenplay.
“I’m now waiting to have a meeting with the actor who I hope is going to play the main role. I’d like to think that it will be my next film but it’s been my next film for the past few years. Something else always gets in the way,” he laughed.
When he’s not filming Suri has his head buried in science books these days. “I seem to have a passion for science that wasn’t there when I was growing up and I’m currently studying for a degree at the Open University – a BSc (hons) in Natural Science. I think I’m going to take the Astronomy and Planetary Science pathway but haven’t yet made that final decision. There’s a star named after me because my wife Lorraine bought it for me as a birthday present – but living in London there’s little chance I’ll ever see it even with the strongest telescope!”
Suri lives in London with Lorraine and their three children, Yasmin (26) Oliver (11) and Ines (10).