Suri Krishnamma... on growing up on the Isle of Wight

lsland-born film director and writer Suri Krishnamma continues to make ground-breaking movies as well as being Professor of Film at Norwich University of the Arts. One of his dreams is to make a film set at Carisbrooke Castle, very close to the house he grew up in.

“I was born in Shanklin but we moved to Newport when I was very young, to a 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,” explained Suri. “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.

“I used to come home regularly when my mother lived on the Island. 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 many 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.

One of Suri’s very first films was made on the Isle of Wight. “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.”

Included amongst the many actors Suri has worked with is Holywood A lister Melanie Griffith, whom he directed in the film Dark Tourist, released in 2012. “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 Dark 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,” said Suri.

Suri also directed Ray Liotta in ‘Bad Karma’, which was shot in Australia in 2011. “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,” laughed Suri.

Another actor he has worked with is Russell Brand. “I worked with Russell 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 West Ham supporters and we got on very well and I still think it was one of his best onscreen performances.”

This year (2016) Suri is making a ‘major’ documentary about West Ham’s last days at their old stadium at Upton Park. “They are leaving the stadium that has been their home for the past 112 years and moving to the Olympic Stadium. It’s an observational documentary, following several characters and will climax at the last home game, which is to be against Man United,” he explained. Suri is also likely to be making a feature film, ‘Dust’; a transgender love story between a trans-man and a trans-woman set in Yorkshire – yet again one of those ground breaking subjects that Suri is not afraid to tackle.

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 (30) Oliver (15) and Ines (14).