In a two-part interview, Mari Selvaraj discusses all things cinema. Excerpts
What was your first experience of cinema while you were growing up? What kind of films did you see?
My first impression of films that I still remember is that when a film starts playing, everyone would congregate in one place. The only other time that would happen was if there was a major violent event in the village or an accident. No one had a television set. Everyone in the village would collectively choose a film and screen it for a special occasion. There would be a big celebration before the film was even screened. Everyone would discuss what they had already heard about it. It was a special event for everyone.
Sometimes, there would be a power cut during the screening, and everyone would start talking angrily among themselves. There would be great celebration when the power came back. Our village was very far away from a theatre. I barely saw any film in a theatre during my childhood. We would yearn for a film to come to our village. So, I was attracted to cinema very early, because I could see how much it mattered to people.
How did the people in your village, Puliyankulam, react when you shot there for Pariyerum Perumal? Also, what was their response when they saw the film?
When I was shooting the film, they were a bit surprised that we had no luxuries. Their impression of a film shoot was that there would be caravans and a lot of assistants. But we were making the film on a shoestring budget. Also, there were several practical constraints due to demonetisation.
I gave the people there a really hard time. I would shoot late into the night or get a few hundred of them to stand in as extras. They put up with me because they understood that if you wanted to make a good film, you had to slog. They understood how hard I worked to make the kind of film I wanted to make.
After the film released, they were astonished that someone who had grown up among them had actually made a film about them. Since the film didn’t conform to a regular commercial format, they were initially a bit shocked. The film made them think. They realised that they had to consider points of view that they hadn’t before. Many people are still in disbelief when they speak to me. They tell me that they thought I was just another little boy who dreamed of working in cinema. They are a bit taken aback now.