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Mike Muthu on adapting ‘The Burglar’s Christmas’

A still from the film   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

For the past 20 years, veteran theatreperson Michael (Mike) Muthu has been directing plays to raise funds for Mellow Circle’s Prathyasha, a home for HIV positive children.

If not for the pandemic, this would have been Mike’s 21st play for them. His plan was to adapt Willa Cather’s short story, The Burglar’s Christmas, and he toyed with the idea of making it into a movie on a budget of a regular theatre production. It seemed logical and the project was greenlit, resulting in a 90-minute movie whose production began last month and was wrapped in under 11 days (“We were always in guerrilla mode.”)

Mike was drawn to Cather’s story because of its premise, particularly the ending. While adapting it for the screen, however, he weaved in a backstory. “I worked on what leads up to the situation the characters find themselves in,” says Mike over phone, adding that the movie is cut between two timelines and is told in a series of flashbacks.

The Burglar’s Christmas is Mike’s fourth film as a director. The catch to adapting a short story or a play for a film format is to be aware of the language the medium commands, he says. “Theatre is dialogue-heavy and has long scenes. There are probably five to 12 scenes at the most for a play. But in a movie, there are a lot more scenes. The writing and thinking process are completely different for these two,” he adds.

What is lost in translation for the big screen is gained from the language of cinema. “In movies, I have the luxury of close-ups and taking the viewers to actual locations. But theatre is live experience and is in the moment. That is something you could never get. That is why I feel theatre is still a powerful medium, for drama at least,” says Mike.

Mike is not much a fan of virtual plays. In fact, he dismisses it calling them “rubbish” — “It defeats both purposes; of doing something live and there is no language to it. Virtual readings are fine, but plays...I’ve found them to be an utter failure.”

Mike Muthu on adapting ‘The Burglar’s Christmas’

He says converting a play into a movie is an option for theatre practitioners to explore in the future. He has shot another film called Bina Rai, based on the play An Inspector Calls. “It’s a period film set in post-Independent India. If the pandemic continues and if we are forced to not perform, I think this is the best way to go forward,” he says.

Although Mike Muthu has been in theatre for over 25 years, cinema has always fascinated him. Many theatrepersons have transitioned into cinema lately, and Mike feels the proportion will only increase further.

“Theatre has its own charm, yes. But if I direct a play, it would be seen by what 1,000 people? On the other hand, if I make a movie and put it on YouTube, you hit a million views or at least hope you hit that number,” he says, adding, “Filmmaking has become much easier now and is not as expensive as it used to be. It’s a medium that attracts a swarm of people.”

So, what is stopping him from making a mainstream film? “The budget,” he says with a laugh, “I have seven finished scripts, but my budgets are on the heavier side. I just stepped into the film world so I’m finding my way through it. The best way is to experiment with small budget films, which is what I’m doing.”

The Burglar’s Christmas will be screened at The Magic Lantern preview theatre on December 20. For tickets, call: 9944224848.

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Printable version | Mar 6, 2021 7:25:20 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/in-guerrila-mode/article33344320.ece

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