Interview Director T. T. Dhavamanni on his debut film Singaiyil Gurushetram which was entirely made in the island country
What is special about Singaiyil Gurushetram? It is a Tamil film entirely produced in Singapore, directed by first-timer T. T. Dhavamanni and features actors from multi-racial backgrounds who live in that country. The film is a true-to-life portrayal, focussing on Singapore's drug mafia and the youth involved in it. After winning the appreciation of the President of Singapore, S. R. Nathan, it's been bought by Metro Films, a Chennai-based company, for release in Tamil Nadu. In an interview, Dhavamanni talks about his experience making the film in the island nation. Excerpts:
What were you doing before making Singaiyil Gurushetram?
I was busy with theatre, making tele-movies and short films. I graduated in Theatre Studies from Queensland University of Technology, Australia. My tele-movies and short films have won several awards in Singapore. My tele-movie Match'Stick garnered recognition at the New York Festival and got four nominations in the prestigious Asian Television Awards.
Why did you zero in on this subject for your first film?
Well, I felt that in the race towards attaining economic security, we have, without our knowledge, left a generation of Singaporeans behind who find it difficult to compete. They are unable to cope with the pace and the changes that have taken place in society. This is a story about them and, in a way, about us. Although the story is set in Singapore, you can always see similarities in some of the social problems that all developed cities of the world face. I am happy that I have taken up this subject for my first film.
What are the highlights of the film?
The fact that it's a Tamil film done away from Kollywood is a highlight in itself. More than 100 Singaporean artists have come together to work on the film. The other high points of the film are the award-winning cinematographer Lucas Jodogne, the Tamil Nadu state award-winning editor Praveen KL (he has edited films such as Chennai 600028, Goa and Kanthaswamy), and Rafee, a legendary musician from Singapore who made his Kollywood debut with K. S. Ravikumar's Jhagubhai, are on board. The film's only song has been penned by Madhan Karky, son of Vairamuthu. The post-production work was done in Thailand.
What is the most interesting aspect of your film?
Although Singaiyil… is classified as a Tamil movie, it is truly made by multi-cultural Singaporeans. The cinematographer is a Belgian; from the co-writer to the sound recordist, all were Chinese. The sound designer was Malay. The director, musician and the editor are Tamils. The actors come from diverse geographical backgrounds.
Is it different making a film in Singapore compared to Chennai?
Singaiyil… is a story about the island nation's social problems. The setting could be different, yet what connects it with Chennai is the language — Tamil. The storytelling technique could be different. The actors are all new to the Chennai audience, yet the cinematography, the dialogue and the characters have all struck a chord with acclaimed director Saran and legendary lyricist Vairamuthu. They are confident the film will be a winner with the Chennai audience — I feel that has bridged all differences we thought existed.
Why did you make a Tamil film in Singapore?
It was my dream even at the age of seven. Although I had opportunities to venture into Kollywood a few years ago, it was somehow a personal calling that my first film should be done in Singapore and that too a Singapore story with my fellow actors playing the characters I had created. Having fulfilled my dream, I'm planning to collaborate with a reputed production house in Chennai for my next movie.
What was the response like to the film in Singapore?
We had a gala charity film launch event which was graced by the President of Singapore. We managed to raise $120,000 for a good cause. The film ran successfully for a month and its distribution rights were immediately sold to Malaysia and Sri Lanka. The quality of our production has brought us this far and this has been possible with the help of Metro Films, Chennai. We are now looking forward to the international release of the film in India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Europe.