In this Deep Focus interview with Hariharan Krishnan, the directors of Kuthiraivaal, Shyam Sunder and Manoj Leonel Jason, take us through the complex world of dreams and discuss the making of the film.
Kuthiraivaal is entirely in the realm of the dream from the beginning to the end. There is not so much magical realism as much as surrealism. So how did you move from the social and political scape you dealt with during your Diploma days to a dreamscape like this?
Shyam Sunder: I think definitely there is an aspect of surrealism because at some level we were given the opportunity to do what we want within the constraints of this film. This is essentially the basis of surrealism where you can do whatever you want as long as it just comes to you. So, in that sense, I agree. But whether it is within reality or not, I would say somewhere we sort of went beyond the idea that film is not real in any way, so why focus on that even and why that question even pertains.
Kuthiraivaal is a surrealist film within a certain context, and it is within this concept that you try to put the whole dreams and dream going into delusions. So where do you see the demarcation between dreams and delusions?
Shyam Sunder: Within this film, I don't think there is that very clear demarcation as such. We have a certain scene, which is called the dream within the story of the film, but very early on we decided that maybe the entire village portion that comes could be the dream. Then there was another thought that maybe the entire thing is the dream of Van Gogh, Anjali Patel's character. So, because of that, this whole dream within the dream is in a non-Christopher Nolan sense concept.
Somewhere the film tries to connect and I think you managed that to an extent, where the small girl and boy are actually these two in the mirror room. Like they grow up and they are this way.
It may not be true at all or it must all be part of a dream, but somewhere their looks and gestures kind of say that this was a past, so a past within a past in a way. I liked the way you manage to connect that and the well in which there's a reflection of that person, how did you do that?
Shyam Sunder: By mistake. I mean we were definitely interested in not just treating it as a real reflection. But I think the physics of it was not something that I understood. I think that was entirely your idea (Manoj Leonel) as to what that reflection should be.
Manoj Leonel: This was stolen from a woodblock painting. Rajesh (writer of the film) was constantly talking about the script, in which there's this thing about the mirror, well and this reflection scene. Before the mirror, what existed where humans can see themselves? Water. So it was kind of a visual interpretation to treat the well as a mirror from the camera's point of view.
You are moving beyond in terms of the sexuality of dreams as analyzed by Freud and Lacan. You have moved forward to say that we have to study the modern trend in the LGBTQ movement, that it is no longer binary. So am I right in believing that the way you painted that road is in the pride colours?
Manoj Leonel: It's there in the script, the overall kind of notion is represented in the script and sometimes it's misinterpreted when in the Josiyar (Astrologer) scene, it's talking about that. In fact, I think there is a kind of a connection between Freud and Van Gogh where you can think of them as non-binary. The rainbow is already being used as a symbol, but it was not particularly trying to claim that symbol or something, it was kind of embracing that symbol.
Shyam Sunder: I think the answer is also non-binary.
How comfortable were you handling MG Ramachandran and his image in this movie? It seems to be a little tentative. Is MG Ramachandran a reality or is he a construct, a dream construct of the Tamil people?
Shyam Sunder: I mean at some level, as an individual who was born well past his demise, for me, he is a construct. But as a symbol, an image or as a pop culture icon, he still resides today, like on the streets around us, he's still around. If we were going to explore anything within the cultural sphere in Tamil Nadu, it would be difficult to do it without touching on such an icon. So, he plays a part. In some sense, he almost comes alive in the village portion because there is that scene where he passes away as well.
I felt at some moment that I wish we had used some kind of telephoto lens to go a little more and make dreams that uncomfortable intimacy. It is showing a wide-angle and always has a certain sense of I'm seeing everything, in the dreams, you don't see everything like that. Why is the camera always in this stilted, diagonal angle all the time?
Shyam Sunder: I suppose that is the beauty of this script itself. In terms of interpretation, as I said, everyone drew their own storyboard and everyone could interpret it. So, you're right. Some people had their storyboards like this, but ultimately only one shot could be taken. So, there was a lot that was lost that could be interpreted in different ways. Telephoto lens shots were taken but they were taken from very far.
Manoj Leonel: There are a lot of telephoto lens shots, I think what you meant was getting closer to people. We used the telephoto lens to achieve a kind of miniature painting effect. So what happens is it squeezes everything from vast distances into one small area. But in retrospect, we couldn't achieve being closer to actors within those heavy shooting days.