A 23-year-old student from the city, Semmalar Annam, makes films that pack a punch
The short film Madhu by Semmalar Annam begins with an eight-year-old Madhu urging an old woman to sing a song. The old woman hedges, and Madhu leaves her saying she will not talk to her unless she sings. The next day the neighbours awaken to the news that Madhu was raped and burnt to death by her father’s friend. This was a real life incident that found its way into the tiny columns of newspapers in 2012 and also into the heart of Semmalar.
“It created quite an impact on me. I thought the mainstream media did not give it the attention it deserved,” she says.
Semmalar, a final year post-graduate student of journalism and mass communication at PSG College of Arts and Science, is a short film maker whose films reflect socially relevant themes. Her first film Malarmathi, about a sexually abused orphan, won the best film and best director award at Legend 2010, a state-level short film festival organised by Department of Visual Communication, Sathyabama University, Chennai.
“The film was made in the last year of my undergraduate course. My batchmates helped me out with the camera and editing.” The same year, she directed her next film, Konangal, about widow remarriage.
Semmalar, who is an active participant in the Eco Club street play group in her college, says her multiple interests in dance, acting, costumes, camera and script draw her to direction.
“Direction gives me a chance to be involved in all the components of a film. At the same time, it allows me to supervise the whole production.” This flair for multi-tasking motivated her to take part in Sakalakala Vallavan, a reality show aired on Kalaignar TV, where the contestants had to display their different skills. “I won. I made my third film Madhu for the quarter-final of the show. ”
Although the themes are dark, her treatment is subtle. For instance, in Madhu, the act of rape was shown with a scene where birds fly around in circles with background voiceovers of kids crying out that Madhu is dead. “I addressed children through that film. I had to be careful with the scenes, otherwise I could scar them for life.”
Semmalar, who watches a lot of foreign films, says it is treatment that sets foreign films apart from many Tamil films.
“In Tamil films, at times, you show everything in so much detail, when the same can be expressed more subtly. We think the audience will not understand. But, that is a wrong assumption.”
Her next project is on street dancers. “The idea is to compare them and the reality show dancers. I realised how differently the world deals with them.” Semmalar says she wants to make films that have a social message. “I want to make films people can understand and relate to. My idol is director, Mysskin.”
She adds that there is a need for more female directors. “When there are more women directors, the stories will also change.”