There is renewed interest in Tamil cinema worldwide, and the time is ripe for filmmakers to reach out to new audiences

A fortnight ago, festival programmers of Berlin and Dubai dropped in to meet the Tamil film industry. The Indo Cine Appreciation Foundation that hosts the Chennai International Film Festival periodically recommends Tamil films to film festivals. Recently, they were sent to as far as Iceland. Toronto has come calling too.

With the renewed interest in Tamil cinema, the industry is keen to kick open those doors around the world and reach out to a new audience.

“Yes, our films need to be shorter,” actor-director Suhasini Mani Ratnam told filmmakers. Suhasini is one of the liaison officers for the Dubai Film Festival.

“But, that does not mean you must remove the songs. They do like our songs. But, we could do away with gimmicks such as ramping for every other shot and scenes that do not contribute much to the plot.”

“There’s a lot of talent in Tamil film industry that has not got the recognition it deserves,” says Meenakshi Shedde, India correspondent for the Berlin Film Festival.

“‘Kanjeevaram’ went to the Dubai Film Festival, and Sreekar Prasad from here won Best Editor for ‘Firaaq’. Berlin shows 400 films, and there’s exceptional talent here. It breaks my heart when these films do not find critical acclaim and the market the way Bollywood films do. Festivals are a crucial way to leverage and tap into a big market,” she adds.

Meenakshi was in Chennai along with Dorothee Wenner, India Programmer for the Berlin and Dubai Film Festivals, scouting for interesting Tamil films.

Apparently, the festivals get about 5,000 DVDs, and the screening committee may or may not be able to watch all of them. “From the 100 we see, we shortlist,” Meenakshi reveals.

Rooted in culture

What do they look for? Dorothee Wenner gives us an idea. “We look for a special something that moves us, something that gives us an understanding of what really is going on. ‘Paruthiveeran’ had that in abundance. There was obsessive love, which was a universal plot, but it also had something very unique to Tamil culture. It can be also great stunts, comedy… not necessarily art-house. The commercial Telugu film ‘Magatheera’ blew my mind. It was so daring, but unfortunately, it was released, and we couldn’t accept it.”

That seems to be the biggest stumbling block for local filmmakers. As filmmaker Cheran explains: “The biggest difficulty is that once we release the film here, we cannot take the film to the competition section of these festivals. We have our financial and distribution hassles to deal with, from the minute the film is completed. They wanted ‘Pokkisham’ for the Dubai film festival, and asked me if I could wait, but we couldn’t postpone the release.”

Cheran is keen to take his films around the world but he believes there must be a committee floated by the film industry that will take care of proposing films to all film festivals around the world, round the year.

“We can individually send our films too, but films sent individually may not represent our cinema.”

“We want to establish a nice network with the Tamil industry. Filmmakers can apply directly, too, for Berlin, through,” says Meenakshi.

“For any market to open up, there must be an interest from the point of the receiver,” observes K. Hariharan, Director of L.V. Prasad Film and TV Academy.

Changing attitudes

“In the last five or six years, this interest has developed, and their mind has been unblocked. It has kind of culminated with ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and ‘Smile Pinki’. Although these are not very great works, the attitude to receive the films is more important than actual quality. So far, it was elite Indian cinema that was recognised. Now, we are getting recognition for popular cinema.”

Hariharan believes that it has to do with India’s growing presence in the global market, and the fact that Hindi films are now subtitled to reach out to a larger audience.

“Hindi cinema is now part of the mainstream, along with Brazilian and African cinema, in the U.K. and the U.S. Similarly, ‘Paruthiveeran’ and ‘Subramaniapuram’ have opened doors for Tamil cinema in the festival circuit. For me, seeing subtitled prints is a decisive moment of acknowledged presence of our cinema.”

E. Thangaraj, Director of Chennai International Film Festivals, too, strongly believes that if at all we have to go knocking around doors around the world, the time is now. “Now, there is a market for Tamil films. The quality of our cinema has improved. At Cannes, during the market screenings, they were screening a shortened version of ‘Billa’; a lot of people came to watch it because it was subtitled.” The Chennai International Film Festival plans to raise the bar by starting a competition section for Tamil films starting this year.