Pebbles or Koozhangal, has been selected to participate in the Tiger Competition of the 50th edition of the International Film Festival Rotterdam beginning early next year. Along with this, another Tamil film too has been selected, but in the Big Screen Competition section and that's Kaaka Muttai-fame M Manikandan's Kadaisi Vyavasayi. Rajeev Ravi's Thuramukham, starring Nivin Pauly, will be the third South Indian film to be selected for this edition. The same festival last year had selected Nasir, a celebrated work by another Tamil filmmaker Arun Karthick.
A couple of days after the announcement, we speak to PS Vinoth Raj, the first-time director of the very promising Pebbles, about the selection, his film and more. Excerpts:
How does it feel to be selected for Rotterdam, that too with your first film?
How do I describe the happiness I'm feeling? I got the selection email just two days ago and it's such an honour for us as a team. Ours is an independent film, so it's really important that we get a chance to be able showcase our film to the world. A festival selection is really the only way to take such a film to the next stage. Rowdy Pictures coming onboard has changed the reach of our film and taken it to a global stage now.
Did you send it to other festivals before this?
We did in the beginning of this year to big fests such as Cannes and Venice, but they got cancelled due to Covid. We stopped sending it after that and thought we would wait for the pandemic to get over before sending it again. But we sent it to Rotterdam, and our selection there helped us out of this lean phase.
Although your film got selected, is there a disappointment in it not being at a full-fledged 'physical festival' like usual?
Of course. Usually when a festival selects a film, it invites us to go there for the premiere. But, because of this situation, we will not be able to attend it. Watching my film's world premiere in a foreign country with a new audience was a big dream. To see how they react and perceive it would have been an unforgettable experience. I will miss that. But, there's not much one can do about it except hope it happens with the next film.
I understand we cannot talk about the film right now, but how did Pebbles begin?
The outline of the film is based on a real incident. I was inspired by it and thought we could start working towards it in script form. I moved to the areas where the film is set — outside of Madurai — and started working on it in detail. The landscape is a very important part of the film and I lived there for close to a year as we slowly started adding crew members with each stage of development. It was well-planned, including shot composition, staging and performances. We first made a rough cut and then went to Film Bazaar in Goa to seek association. That's when director Ram sir met us, saw the cut and he's been a pillar of support ever since .
The synopsis of the film on the Festival's website reads, "A poverty-stricken father and son wander a Southern Indian landscape where anger and frustration burn hotter than the sun." What more can you tell us about this film?
It is a very simple film. It will be engaging and the effort was always to make an original film. The landscape is like a character, and the film couldn't have been made in any other setting and in other places. It is a film about my people and my place, their anger, their frustration, their hunger and their thirst. But like the film's barren landscape, which presents us with drops of water in several ways, the people of this place too have love to give. They are not good people, neither are they bad.
For such a film, their support matters a lot. Even you are talking to me now because of the exposure they have given this film. I know of many great films not getting visibility, because a Rowdy Pictures didn't come forward to support them. I'm glad that they did for us. Even this was made possible by director Ram.
What about Yuvan Shankar Raja scoring for the film?
That too was because of director Ram. Yuvan sir watched the film, liked it and said it needs music in just four places. He worked on it super quickly as well.
How did your journey into cinema begin?
I'm originally from a village near Madurai. My father passed away when I was in Class IV and I had to discontinue my studies. My family then moved to Tirupur, and a couple of years later I fell in love with movies. I wanted to become a cinematographer, not really a filmmaker. But I knew I needed education, so I started going to a tutorial nearby and started completing my exams. I then moved to Chennai and started working in a DVD shop.
Did you start watching a lot of foreign films?
Yes yes. I would compulsorily watch a couple of movies every day in all languages. From a branch near City Centre, I was transferred to a branch in Virugambakkam so I could interact with people in the film business. I then met Kishore who was in Nalaya Iyakkunar and assisted him in many short films. I also worked in a theatre troupe in Kovilpatti for two plays. My reading habit also developed during this phase, and then I joined Sargunam sir when he was making Manja Pai. I met like minded writers and I too made short films after that. All my associations with my producers began then.
What is the next stage now for Pebbles?
Given the situation, we have been discussing a lot of plans, including a possible theatrical release. But it's so confusing that nothing can be said or planned at the moment. For now, I'm most excited about how the film is going to be received at Rotterdam.