‘Joker deserved the National Award’

Guru Somasundaram tells us why it will be a long time before Tamil cinema gathers more substance and courage

When Raju Murugan’s Joker released in August 2016, the director and his lead actor, Guru Somasundaram, went to see several night shows in different theatres across the city. After one such outing, they found themselves standing under a streetlamp at 1 am in complete silence. They looked at each other and started laughing. “There was a lot of trepidation after we completed it… would the CBFC pass the film? How would the audience take it?” says Guru. “But as the line in Aaranya Kaandam goes: bayam pogala, aana dhairiyam vandirichu (the fear has not gone but we’ve found courage).”

Joker ended up running for 45 days. “It was a hit, quite exceptional for a film like that. It wasn’t just an art film seen by a few.” The film, a political satire, deals with contemporary absurdities that arise from government schemes like Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the sand-mining mafia and the legalities around euthanasia.

How then did it feel when it won the National Award for Best Feature Film in Tamil this year? “Both happy and surprising. A movie like this definitely deserves National Awards.”

There should have been a lot more films that should have come out. But this is a society which infuses fear into people right from childhood, if they were to speak their minds

Back when the film existed only on paper, Guru says he had not committed to any other project. But Raju Murugan approached him for the role of Potti Case Ponoonjal, the lead’s accomplice who looks like the writer Jayakanthan — balding, frail, with a white moustache and thick glasses (it eventually went to Mu Ramaswamy). “He was in for a surprise at how I actually looked. This image of my being an old guy started after my Kalayan role in Aaranya Kaandam. I started getting offers to play the village elder or the panchayat head. I’m totally against that now. I’m very choosy, be it a big or small role.”

Guru will be seen on screen next as a phantom-like character in Rathindran Prasad’s Idhu Vedhalam Sollum Kadhai with Ashwin Kakumanu and Aishwarya Rajesh. “I took the role because a Vedalam (phantom) is a metaphor; you can interpret it any way you like.”

He says he takes only one project at a time, so that he dedicates time for his personal life and also for short films such as Oru Poi and Destination. One of his dream roles, though, is to play a bad cop. “I would love to do that. There are so many grey areas that should hold up a mirror to society. The aim of art is to show reality.”

But what would it take to keep churning out courageous films like Joker? “The system must change for that. There should have been a lot more films that should have come out. But this is a society which infuses fear into people right from childhood, if they were to speak their minds. It’s like confronting a teacher during your school progress report. And not to forget, there’s too much politics mixed with cinema, more so in our State.”

As for the cinema industry itself, Guru has a few more issues to pick. As a man who invests a lot of time in Tamil literature, he finds that many directors do not read a lot. “Even if they do, it’s not deep enough. That’s the problem. Everything has progressed in commerce and technology; but not in terms of content.” The filmmakers have not learnt from the scathing reviews on social media either, he thinks. “Earlier, when you stuck a mike in front of people coming out of theatres, they had soft opinions. That’s not the case any more. You find both extremely encouraging and very nasty comments. But what is this all for? Filmmakers should make better stuff. If that’s not happening, if the film industry is not willing to learn, then no one should expect the reviewers to go soft either. Freedom of expression is very important here.”

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Printable version | May 24, 2020 10:36:07 PM |

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