The reality teaser of ‘Paradesi’ has movie lovers fuming over Bala’s method of work

Tamil director Bala has a devout fan following. His unconventional films earned him loyal fans. His latest film Paradesi, releasing this Friday, has the potential to take Bala’s work beyond the confines of Tamil Nadu. Set in the 1930s, the film deals with issues of slavery in tea plantations. Anurag Kashyap’s Phantom Films will be releasing Paradesi nationally with subtitles. While the going is good, perhaps the team wanted something extra to make the film a talking point.

On Tuesday evening, Bala’s B-Studios uploaded a ‘reality teaser’ on YouTube showing the making of Paradesi. Film fraternity and moviegoers reacted with shock at the footage showing Bala chiding, slapping, caning and even kicking his actors while enacting a scene. Within hours, the video went viral on social networking sites. The initial reaction of disbelief was followed by disgust at Bala’s method of work.

The actors — Adharvaa, Dhansika and Vedhika — came to the director’s defence and tweeted that the video only showed him enacting a scene and he wasn’t using a real stick to hit his actors. But their voices went unnoticed in the uproar against the video.

Are filmmakers justified in slapping their actors to get them to emote right? In an interview available on YouTube, William Friedkin talks about slapping an actor during the making of Exorcist: “He was a priest, not an actor and he couldn’t reach the emotional point. I took him aside, asked him if he loved me; if he trusted me and he said yes. I hit him as hard as I could across his face. The shock brought forth the tears and later he embraced and thanked me,” the director says in this interview.

Tamil cinema itself has many such examples. It’s well known that directors like Bharathiraja have slapped their actresses to make them cry. Closer home, filmmaker Teja has a similar reputation. When contacted, Teja said, “There’s nothing wrong with it as long as the actors do not object to it.” As a camera assistant, Teja recalls watching Kamal Haasan receiving ‘mottikaayalu’ or a ‘knock on the head’ from K. Balachander during the shoot of Punnagai Mannan. “He wasn’t getting it right after 13 takes and KB sir did that to make him act right,” says Teja. Years later, when Teja directed Nuvvu Nenu, he faced a similar situation with Anita who wasn’t able to cry and emote. “It was a mutual understanding. She said I could slap her if it would help her give the right shot and I did. At times you beg, plead or shout at the actors to draw the emotions. Slapping is justified if the actors don’t object to it,” says Teja.

Whether the end justifies the means is debatable but using it as a publicity tool, like in the case of Paradesi, leaves a sour note.

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