Pa. Ranjith's Sarpatta Parambarai had a direct-to-OTT release and received critical acclaim. In this interview with Anupama Chopra and Baradwaj Rangan, he talks about how he combines politics and storytelling, the influence of Akira Kurosawa and François Truffaut on his films, and how he finds the time to do all the work that he does. Edited Excerpts…
You're doing a lot of work. Since 'Attakathi', you've made 4 films, you've produced documentaries, you've established Neelam Cultural Center, a YouTube channel, you're on Twitter, you do workshops and music festivals. How do you find the time?
I just use the time I have. I don't plan but just go with the flow of my thoughts. Sometimes, I wonder what I'd be doing if I wasn't doing these things, and actually that would have been harder. I have a lot of work and I feel I'm doing very little now. I have many people with me and many plans for this year.
These things weren't being done or discussed in the mainstream before. And the reception I get for my work motivates me to do more. I've done very few things on my list. The first thing I concentrate on is cinema because I get a bit of money doing it, and I want to do it right. I came into the cinema industry following great creators. The reception and resources that I get from making movies are what I spend on other work within the time I get.
A film is very consuming with work from morning till night. Do you have a team to manage all your other work?
Oh, yes. I have a team. Udaya and Venkatesh take care of Neelam Cultural Center. Vasuki Bhaskar, Ilanji Kannan, Pachondhi, KCR and others take care of Neelam Publications. There's Agathiyan and also others working on Neelam Social, like Prashanth and Snela Belcin. There are people who take care of Koogai. Roopesh takes care of production. My work is mainly to do films. I have many people to execute my ideas. I merely came up with the idea for 'The Casteless Collective' and organized people around it. Arivu, Tenma and others took it up.
A person is needed only to create a model. And maybe the work I do is influenced by preferences and needs. But I feel someone else would do it even if I didn't. There are people to do the work. There's an awareness. There are people with political clarity today who believe in my work.
You are a very political filmmaker but you also never lose sight of the storytelling. How do you achieve this?
There are two points. The books I read shaped me. I was never interested in films. I went to a film festival for the first time in college. There, I saw films that discussed sociopolitics, like Life Is Beautiful, Run Lola Run…Abbas Kiarostami's films… I realized films were an important medium and that I must learn it properly. I didn't try to become an assistant director immediately. I wanted to watch a lot of films and also read about them.
I had watched only Seven Samurai at that point but the first autobiography I read was Akira Kurosawa's. Even a film like Seven Samurai is very commercial, it even has action.
He would have captured the politics of that period. It inspired me a lot. He had specified a few points for filmmakers. I still remember two points: he gets really angry when you read a book lying down. So, I've never done that. The other is that, even if you worked a lot on a scene, discard it if it doesn't work for the film. I've done that a lot for my films. The point is to connect with the audience.
François Truffaut who made The 400 Blows and created the French New Wave has said that communication and expression should be at equal levels. Then a conversation between the creator and the audience can happen. That's a solid point underpinning my screenwriting. Next, Mao said that all art should be one of the people. When you don't stand afar, you understand people's real problems. All of these ideas combined are my cinema.