The Tamil Indie Directors Roundtable: Leena Manimekalai On Using Actors From The Community And Arun Karthick On What Actors Can Bring To A Film
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In this roundtable, independent filmmakers Jayaprakash Radhakrishnan (Mosquito Philosophy), Balaji Vembu Chelli (Nilanadukkam), Arun Karthick (Nasir), Leena Manimekalai (Maadhathy), and Manoj Leonel Jahson and Shyam Sunder (Kuthiraivaal) have a discussion with Baradwaj Rangan about whether being backed by recognized filmmakers makes a difference and if awards in the festival circuit have an effect locally. Excerpts…

Twentieth Century Fox also had Fox Searchlight for films that were a bit under the radar. Has something like that happened in Tamil? For instance Kuthiraival was presented by Pa. Ranjith, and Kaaka Muttai was presented by Dhanush and Vetrimaaran. Do you think it adds something to the film?

Shyam Sunder: Because of the success of these filmmakers in their previous films, it helps. It doesn’t change what the film is, but it brings in the audience to watch the film.

Jayaprakash Radhakrishnan: No one would have known about Lens had it not been for Vetrimaaran. When I went to the first show of Lens somewhere in Kerala, the security guard didn’t recognize the film as ‘Lens’ but as ‘the film produced by Vetrimaaran’. Even if someone comes on board, you have to be lucky to get a sustained run. Lens was taken off screens when it dipped to 70 percent capacity because a big hero film was going to replace it. 

Manoj Leonel Jahson: I think we are seeing a paradigm shift here with filmmakers getting involved. It kind of started happening when Shankar sir started producing films. Little things like this start happening. We have to see if it’s just a bubble. Without a name attached to the film it might be harder to get people interested in the film. And the festival circuit is not any different. Even there a bit of name and influence works. 

As there is no tradition of independent films, only a few filmmakers are looking at it as an art. They can present a wider variety of independent films. And if they do, the system will have to support such films. When we were writing the film we knew it would be helpful if someone like Pa. Ranjith came on board. It’s because of his support that I was able to cast actors. 

Does it help if the film has a relatively well-known actor?

Leena Manimekalai: I have pitched to actors but they never engage with subjects like these. You have to write for them. And they believe in things that they think will help them get a hit. In both my films, I worked with the community. Only when there are several dialogues, I pick a few actors from the theatre movement. Working with actors would mean that I will have to compromise. 

Balaji Vembu Chelli: In a very different context, music can also change perception. When Ilaiyaraaja sir was working in the 80s, he would work on both big hero films and films with newcomers. Music is a very common tool to emotionally connect. If someone with that degree of skill can lend their score to films, it would help the storytelling. 

Arun Karthick: You might even get theatres because of an actor, but no film has run for the actor, whether it’s commercial or independent. An actor can get a film noticed. But it’s always about the film at the end of the day. The film’s character is what gets it noticed, not the actor.

Do awards at film festivals change the way the industry perceives you?

Arun Karthick: As of now, it hasn’t. We don’t yet have any names attached to our film, Nasir. If you ask me if I’m for or against established filmmakers backing independent films, I would definitely be for it—as long as it’s done professionally. Also, let’s say your sensibility or films are different from mine. That doesn’t mean I won’t transact with you. That would be fascistic, in a way. I evaluate only based on how much they can help the film reach the audience. Ultimately, I make films to be watched by a lot of people.

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