Edited excerpts from the interview with the makers of Putham Pudhu Kaalai Vidiyaadhaa, where filmmakers Halitha Shameem, Balaji Mohan, Richard Anthony, Surya Krishna, Madhumita and Aparna Purohit (content head of Amazon Prime Video), talk to Baradwaj Rangan about their latest anthology release:
BR: We’re gonna be talking about Putham Pudhu Kaalai Vidiyaadhaa. Is it a part two or a sequel? Aparna, how would you label it and which is your favourite in this anthology?
Aparna: I’d say it is the second edition of our much-loved anthology. The good thing about an anthology is that it’s like small bites. So you watch the whole thing and it becomes your favourite. In both the editions, there are such distinct voices and emotions that each one of them touches upon. So it’s very difficult to pick a favourite.
BR: What makes you say, “This is all that I want to say. And I don’t want to develop it into a feature film.” How do you make that decision? Is it possible to make every one-line into one of these two? Or is there some demand that the anthology has —“this is all there is to say, so say it compactly?”
Halitha: It’s when we write that we realise that a particular content falls in the spectrum and we realise that it’s either a feature or if it will work only as a short. We’ll know that as we write. I could have expanded it. But honestly, I think that was the format my film was meant for. Some stories do have that limitation. Here, I felt like all the stories from that anthology would have worked only as a short.
Richard: With the short film format, I feel you can play around its with structure and form more. You don’t have to really worry about that aspect. With a feature, I need to really work on, like a three-act structure, right? In 30 minutes, you know, you have your attention. Now it’s only about engaging the audience and keeping them interested.
BR: Balaji, before coming into the industry, people have a certain idea of what this whole thing is going to be like and then they enter the battlefield. What is the biggest lesson that the film industry has taught you?
Balaji: Obviously, I’ve learnt a lot of lessons. Just off the top of my mind, something that I’ve learned is that the timing of a film’s release is also important in this industry. So the film might work a certain way if it comes out at a certain time. And that is very important because people’s perspectives and perception is also part of filmmaking.
When the first production of Putham Pudhu Kaalai Vidiyaadha was completed, the second wave was thankfully subsiding. We were thinking, “Okay, when the anthology comes out, there’s not going to be more variants or more lockdowns.” But unfortunately, that is not the case. We are again facing a new variant. Now, this has new relevance. That’s what I mean when I say the timing of work makes a lot of difference to how it is being viewed or received.
BR: Is there less pressure when the medium is the OTT?
Madhumita: I would say no because I think it’s going to a much larger audience. When a filmmaker makes a film, especially when you’re making Tamil films that have a very distinct style, our sensibility tends to lean towards that audience. But when your content goes out on an OTT platform, there is a much larger audience. I have had messages about my films from Syria, Afghanistan, Russia, and parts of the world where they don’t speak Tamil. So I wouldn’t say the pressure is any more or any less, I think it’s the same. Because at the end of the day, you are talking to an audience, and you want the audience to be able to connect with your story.
BR: So Richard, you made Bloom and put it out on YouTube, which is not an OTT, but a similar platform in a way without a subscription model. Now, you made a film in this anthology, and you’re putting it out on Amazon. Is there a difference?
Richard: Both are accessible by everyone. Obviously, the reach for an Amazon film is much wider. This is an anthology; so there are different kinds of genre films here. There are different audiences for each filmmaker and each actor as such. So it opens up, it kind of widens the audience for me. With Bloom, I was trying to put out my work only to find who my audiences are. But here, it’s not that. It’s more about me trying to fit into this system and see how I can make a film here.
BR: Surya, How does it feel to make your debut with a bunch of filmmakers, knowing that the audience is going to inevitably do a kind of ranking? Does that put a different kind of pressure as opposed to just releasing your work on its own?
Surya: At the end of the day, I think Putham Pudhu Kaalai Vidiyaadhaa has to work as an entire product. Because just my film or the other director’s films working won’t help on a larger scale. Even for me personally, only if this anthology works will I be happy. I think everything has to work out. I think I did an honest work in this film, so I hope everyone likes it.
BR: Aparna, when you say Putham Pudhu Kaalai, it’s a very positive title. It’s a brand new morning or a brand new day. Putham Pudhu Kaalai Vidiyaadha – there is a yearning in that title. It’s like “Will it ever Dawn?” Is that suggestive of maybe the stories having a little sadness in them?
Aparna: The first edition was our effort to celebrate hope and new beginnings. The lockdown was something that people were experiencing for the very first time. There was a certain positivity and people were upbeat, and everyone was hoping that it would end. But when the second wave hit us, I don’t think there was anybody who was unaffected by it. There was a certain sense of melancholy to it. So the stories in the second edition are a lot more personal. They are an exploration of love, longing, loneliness and it’s just making sense of this life, which is so impermanent and transient.
BR: A filmmaker recently gave me the sense that the whole industry is going to change, except for the shooting part. A lot of it is going to be worked from home. Is that already happening? Or do you see that is something that’s inevitable, and it’s coming?
Halitha: It is already happening, because in Aelay the whole music and background score happened in a remote manner. Through technology, I was able to go through the process of it. Even for this anthology, for all the preparatory works—shopping and all, it was done online. And rehearsals happened online. So it’s already happening.
Madhumitha: Even through the last lockdown, I remember a lot of post-production was happening virtually. Like it’s become possible for directors to sit in the comfort of their homes and watch the grade, scoring and different elements as it was happening. People are working from remote corners of the world. But call me old-school—there’s nothing like getting on the set and doing everything in person. I mean, I don’t think anything can ever match that.
BR: Final question, is the anthology here to stay?
Madhumitha: I think they’re definitely here to stay. Anthologies are like a box of chocolates with different flavours in them. It also gives you the option to stop after one film, rather than the duration of it being two hours of a feature film. It gives you those short bites in between your meetings or workouts. It gives you that short spurt of content and I think definitely it’s here to stay.
Balaji: Since episodic viewing has become very normal with the audience, I think anthologies also have become very acceptable and accessible. Episodic viewing gives you the choice to stop and start a fresh story again. It’s also an interesting option other than a feature and series.
Aparna: I just wanted to add that, you know, at Amazon, every decision of ours is customer backwards. And the reason that we are doing a Season 2, is a testament to the fact that Season 1 received incredible love and that’s why we were left with no choice but to do another season. It’s not just in India but across the world, which is our much-loved IP is an anthology. So anthologies are definitely here to stay.
Also, it’s very liberating. Like Richard was saying, you can really experiment with the form and treatment. It allows audiences to watch so many distinct visions under one roof. There’s also the opportunity for us to really expand our ecosystem and bring in new voices.
Richard: When you’re approaching a common theme with four or five directors a lot can be done. So Surya and I are new here. But I know the other three directors. And we all love their works. As we haven’t seen each other’s films, we are really excited to see what they have done. I’m sure it’s the same excitement others will have to watch all the films.