At a session for Film Bazaar, long-time film programmer Paolo Bertolin spoke to director Vetri Maaran about his successful run at festivals. Bertolin, who works for the Venice Film Festival, was introduced to Vetri Maaran’s work after Guneet Monga and Anurag Kashyap wrote to him recommending his movies. In an hour-long session, the two chatted about what it takes for Indian films to make it to festivals. Vetri Maaran explains how when a film does well at festivals, it is considered to be unfit for commercial success.
Below are excerpts from their conversation:
1. There is no parallel movement in Tamil Nadu. Whatever you do is for theatrical and based on that you’ll get another film. It’s a boon and curse of Tamil cinema. We have to keep in mind what the audience will think. I always say my first film Polladhavan was a desperate attempt of an assistant director to somehow make a film. My producers wanted five songs and the climax had to be larger than life.
2. Polladhavan was a sensational hit. Dhanush was not such a big star and it came with Vijay and Suriya’s films during Diwali. People started calling it the dark horse. It put my composer, Dhanush, DoP, and me on the map. To an extent it got overrated.
3. In my second film Aadukalam I wanted to do what was required for the film and not to satisfy the producer. My first film’s commercial success helped me push an extra mile with this film. Aadukalam has an intermission scene that’s about 20 minutes long and I shot for 26 days only for that sequence. These are the liberties we get when we have a successful film. Dhanush as an actor had more trust in me than he had when we did our first film. It’s one of the few films to have won 6 National Awards.
4. After Aadukalam I just didn’t have inspiration for another film. I even started a new film, shot for 6 days, and then thought I was repeating myself, so I stopped it. I wanted to do something that would take me to another space, explore the festival circuit and make lesser mainstream compromises.
5. I think I had a hand in changing the perception of festival films. Kaakka Muttai and Visaranai showed these can be commercially successful too. I’m happy we now have scope of parallel movement and it’s influenced filmmakers like Arun Karthick who made Nasir.
6. During the Oscar campaign for Visaranai, I learnt a lot about what Indian film mean to the audiences there, which are the voting members. Indian films are not relevant to them and Indian films seeking recognition from there is also not relevant. I’ll be happy when I see an Indian film in the top 5 shortlist or when a film wins there. I would appreciate it with all my heart. At the same time, if one of my films are sent again I wouldn’t be spending the same amount of time in Hollywood like I did for Visaranai. I’ve realised making inroads there is not easy.