Actor-turned-filmmaker Parthiban R is aiming for a doozy of an experiment with his upcoming film Iravin Nizhal. The AR Rahman musical, which stars the actor, is not just any non-linear film but is touted to be the world's first non-linear single-shot film. But this is not the first such experiment for Parthiban R, a filmmaker who has always been drawn to exploring unfamiliar territory as early as his directorial debut in 1989. Here, we take a look at some of the filmmaker's ambitious cinematic experiments.
Where to watch: Releases in theatres on July 15
Iravin Nizhal is billed to be the world's first non-linear single-shot film. To break it down, the entire film, with a run-time of about 60 minutes, was shot at once, without any cuts or breaks. The film also follows a non-linear narrative pattern, going back and forth in exploring a 50-year-old man's past. A thirty-minute making video will also be played along with the film.
In a world of multiple retakes and advanced editing techniques, it is quite inventive for the filmmaker to opt for a non-linear single-shot film. In an interview with Vishal Menon, when asked about how he came up with the idea, Parthiban revealed that he first thinks of ideas that no one has attempted, and later comes up with a story to fit within the record-breaking thought. And that is how he came up with Iravin Nizhal, which traces the story of a man revisiting his past, sometimes quite literally.
Where to watch: Netflix
Oththa Serupu gave the director some long-deserved recognition. The risk with out-of-the-box films is that it's a gamble in terms of attracting the audience. Some of Parthiban's films have not come together. Some, on the other hand, have won awards, but failed to impress the audience. But Oththa Serupu emerged as a winner in both ways, as it received critical and audience acclaim once it dropped on Netflix post its theatrical release.
On a surface level, the film is about a murder suspect. But what makes it unique is that it is a solo-actor vehicle, with Parthiban being the only actor and face of the film. In addition, it is also known for being written, directed and produced by him. Parthiban's protagonist interacts with different characters in the film, but they are never shown on screen. In turn, their presence is made felt through voice overs. Although the film plays out in a slow pace, it still makes for a gripping watch.
As for the awards, it bagged three awards in the Toronto Tamil Film Festival (2020) and two National Film Awards (2019). It is being remade in Hindi with Abhishek Bachchan reprising Parthiban's role, with the latter helming the film. Othatha Serupu also became the first Tamil movie to be remade in Bahasa Indonesia language.
Where to watch: Disney+ Hotstar
Kathai Thiraikathai Vasanam Iyakkam (KTVI) goes with the tagline "a film without a story", and for the most part you would tend to agree. Take for instance, the opening scene, where you are shown a tsunami, only for the screen to cut to a guitarist, and then move on to a scene of Lord Brahma. But the disconnected scenes seem to appear without a story only until we learn that the narrative explores the life of an aspiring director, his writing team and producer. KTVI follows an unconventional pattern of storytelling and relies heavily on the multiple subplots it tries to narrate.
As the film explores the journey of the director, it wittingly passes comments and talks about the film industry. Then, you also get to see the details of a film made within this film. The strengths of KTVI is in the nuanced writing that keeps you engaged even when the film drives across multiple directions at once. And of course a brilliant climax makes this film's journey complete.
Anniyan was one of the first Tamil commercial entertainers to steer awareness on multiple personality disorder and schizophrenia. But Parthiban's Kudaikul Mazhai spoke about schizophrenia even before the Shankar production, arguably making its script ahead of its time. The film has an interesting premise. When Madhumita (Madhumitha) proposes to Venkat and follows him everywhere, Venkat also falls in love with her. However, he later learns that her actions were fake and were staged for a prank show.
But little do we know that this prank would turn his life upside down. Unable to handle the shock, he begins hallucinating and suffers from delusional schizophrenia. Psychologically, he still lives in a world where Madhumita exists in his life. The film, which tries to sensitively address the mental health issue, went for an experimental filming treatment, using multiple cameras for shooting at night. The film also has Parthiban playing dual roles.
However, Kudaikul Mazhai is loaded with twists and turns to almost a fault. Though its excellent climax makes up for its confused screenplay, it takes time for viewers to understand the film's nuances. The critics welcomed Kudaikul Mazhai as a different film within the commercial format, but it failed to impress at the box office.
Where to watch: YouTube
A theatre owner Ayya (Parthiban) learns that there is a bomb in his theatre, and the police officers decide to defuse the bomb without the audience's knowledge. The film, which starts off with such a gripping premise, explores the life and backstories of the audiences stuck in the theatre.
Parthiban revealed in an interview with Baradwaj Rangan that he made this film without a script. While he had a concrete idea and structure in mind, the film would take shape on the set every day while shooting, the actor recalled. Houseful bagged one National Award and two State Film Awards.
Ilaiyaraaja's background score and MV Panneerselvam's cinematography deserve special mention in conveying the story, all the while keeping the tension intact. Parthiban's films often have a hard-hitting climax, although it can tend to get predictable. Houseful has one such climax that will stay with you long after you have watched the film.
Where to watch: YouTube
Puthiya Pathai, the directorial debut of Parthiban R, marked the beginning of his journey with experimental films, and it is only fair to end this listicle with where it all began. While his recent experiments have everything to do with the technical aspects of cinema, his rendezvous with innovation began with Puthiya Pathai, which narrates an unfamiliar story that arguably broke out of the molds of commercial Tamil cinema. This experiment paid off with the film winning two National Film Awards and two Tamil Nadu State Film Awards. How often do directors' debut films get remade in other languages? Puthiya Pathai was remade in Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada and Hindi.
The film traces the story of rape survivor Seetha (Seetha), who chooses to reform her offender. Parthiban plays the ruffian who turns over a new leaf. The different concept here was that there is no hero in the film, at least in the beginning, and audiences are left with a constant dilemma between standing by and against the protagonist. Seetha chooses to marry him not because he raped her but instead opts to wed him on her own terms.
While the central plot in itself dealt with a unique concept, the character arcs, especially that of Seetha, along with a few outstanding scenes helped make this ambitious debut of Parthiban a grand success.