Releasing today, “Shaitan” and “Aaranya Kaandam”, both from promising first-time filmmakers, smack of a gripping experience

Two much-awaited films clash head-on this weekend, both carrying promise of first-time filmmakers who are completing a long and arduous journey battling odds and rejection.

If Ashok Amritraj changed his mind about producing an English language Hollywood film with Bejoy Nambiar, the winner of the Gateway reality show, Thiagarajan Kumararaja, had a tough time fighting the Censors who at first rejected his film before suggesting 52 cuts to get an adult certificate.

The big nod

While Bejoy went ahead and adapted his English script into Hindi with his co-writer Megha Ramaswamy and got the likes of Mani Ratnam and Anurag Kashyap backing his “Shaitan”, Kumararaja finally triumphed at the Tribunal hearings and got away with just five voluntary cuts for “Aaranya Kaandam”.

Bejoy made a trip down to Chennai earlier this week for what he referred to as the most important screening for “Shaitan”. He was screening it for his mentor Mani Ratnam, the only filmmaker he ever assisted (on “Guru” and “Raavan”).

“Very surprised,” states Mani Ratnam in his signature staccato when asked for his reaction. “And then, very happy after seeing ‘Shaitan'. It looks like a seasoned filmmaker's work. Very modern, stylish, superbly made, and a very confident film.”

Bejoy does sound very confident about it. “It is a safe film. It should do well,” he says when we ask him if the Rs. 11-crore budget scares him (fifty per cent of the budget was spent in marketing and publicity). “After ‘Gateway', Ashok Amritraj asked me to pitch a script and the only condition he made was that it should be based on a real incident.”

Megha Ramaswamy, his co-writer of “Shaitan”, who did her screenwriting course from the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, was curating for film festivals on the side, when Bejoy convinced her to flesh out his idea based on the Adnan Patrawala murder.

“But it's no more based on just one incident. That was the kick off point for us,” says Bejoy, who has used an intriguing score, including a death metal track as part of his album.

“It is about the dark side, the grey in all of us. So, I thought the music should be true to that.”

Anurag Kashyap said in a recent interview that he considers Vikramaditya Motwane and Bejoy Nambiar to be far superior filmmakers than he is. Bejoy is quick to dismiss that as a sign of his generosity. “It shows how secure he is as a filmmaker. We all know how he's been backing very good filmmakers such as Vikramaditya Motwane and Rajkumar Gupta. He's really the champion of the independent film movement.”

As for Thiagarajan Kumararaja, he found S.P. Charan, who gave him a free hand; no questions asked. The effort paid off when the film won the Grand Jury Prize at the South Asian International Film Festival in New York, but the happiness was short-lived after the Censors suggested 52 cuts for the choice of expletives, shots of stylised violence, suggestion of impotence, and took offence to a joke about Rajinikanth and Kamal Hassan. The makers were also asked for a No Objection Certificate from the matinee idols.

S.P. Charan then screened it for Kamal Hassan who found it amusing that the Censor Board had made a big deal about a joke. Encouraged by his response, Thiagarajan decided to challenge the cuts with the Tribunal. “My film is called ‘Aaranya Kaandam' (Jungle Chapter). The language had to represent the wild side of man. It's not my personal ideology. My characters speak that way. Will the Censors object to Raavan's behaviour because he kidnapped Sita, and ban the film?”

A wonderful mix

Borrowing the wicked flair for delicious profanity from Tarantino and non-linear gritty and poetic visual style of Inarritu, Kumararaja has introduced neo-noir to Tamil cinema with all the irreverence, pop culture referencing and post modern stylisation demanded of the genre — just like Bejoy is said to have established a unique style of his own fusing elements of a thriller with an exploration of morality. Both films have an exciting ensemble cast in author-backed roles, a distinctly original visual style, and a rocking score that will be spoken about for the next few weeks. The dark side hasn't been more tempting.

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Sudhish KamathMay 11, 2012