Movies

Tamil filmmaker plans Russian film on Leo Tolstoy

When filmmaker Venkateshkumar G was cleaning a cupboard in his Valasaravakkam house in 2019, he stumbled upon an old Tamil book penned by his great grandfather, Rao Sahib K Kothandapani Pillai, an Indian diplomat and a Tamil scholar. The book, titled Kadhaimanikkovai: Stories from Tolstoy , was a translation of three stories of the great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy and was published in 1932 as a text book in the Madras Presidency.

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“I had heard the name ‘Leo Tolstoy’ but didn’t know much about him. I read that translated book with great interest,” recalls Venkateshkumar, over a Zoom call.

He sent a digital copy of the book to the Leo Tolstoy Museum at Yasnaya Polyana, Russia, which was delighted to receive it. The museum curators, in turn, invited him to Russia, for which Venkateshkumar prepared and presented a speech on Tolstoy’s influence on Tamil literature.

His fascination for Tolstoy started then. It slowly became an obsession, with the filmmaker reading up as much material as he could find on him. Venkateshkumar, who has done two feature films in Tamil apart from a bunch of shorts, is now set to start his dream project: a Russian film on Leo Tolstoy.

Featuring the events leading to the writing of Tolstoy’s epic War and Peace , the film is slated to kickstart in Russia soon, once pandemic restrictions lift. “There has been material on Tolstoy’s life, but very few tend to focus on his student life at Kazan University and the many events that shaped his outlook forwards life, which led to the writing of the classic War and Peace . Andrei Vladimir Tolstoy, the great great great grandson of Leo Tolstoy, will be playing the lead role.”

Andrei Tolstoy, Vladimir Tolstoy and Ekaterina Tolstaya

Andrei Tolstoy, Vladimir Tolstoy and Ekaterina Tolstaya

The filmmaker hopes to bring alive on the big screen even the milieu that Tolstoy lived in. “It helps that a lot of things are still the same there and preserved the way it was,” he says, “The villages still have an old-world charm to them and the families that served the Tolstoy family (he belonged to an aristocratic family) are still around.”

Venkateshkumar’s cinematic vision includes filming in these places, portions of which Tolstoy himself wrote about in A Landowners Morning , a short story that had him wondering about how to change the poverty and grief around him.

“We are planning a four-month schedule to shoot the film,” says Venkateshkumar, who was recently conferred an honorary diploma by Rossotrudnichestvo, an autonomous federal government agency under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Russia.

A tryst with cinema

Venkateshkumar is a full-fledged filmmaker now, but he wasn’t always one. A decade ago, he had a full-time corporate career, when he fancied making short films and thus worked on a short titled White Dirt on manual scavenging.

“I was busy at office when I received a call,” he recalls, “The person said, ‘Balu Mahendra has watched your short in the Internet and wants to meet you’. I immediately excused myself and rushed off.”

At Cinema Pattarai, a film school that the veteran late Tamil filmmaker ran, White Dirt was screened to its students. A discussion ensued, which Venkateshkumar observed with much interest. Afterwards, Balu Mahendra beckoned Venkateshkumar and said three words, “ Ithu dan cinema. (This is cinema).”

It spurred Venkateskumar to take up filmmaking in a bigger way. His documentary on the life of Tamil fisherman titled Vittil Poochigal: Moths bagged an award at a prestigious film festival. He went on to direct other documentaries and features, including Lightman , which portrays the life of lightmen in Tamil cinema.

Apart from the film on Tolstoy, he is currently in talks with major OTT players to bankroll his ambitious project on LTTE chief Vellupillai Prabhakaran, starring Bobby Simha.


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Printable version | May 27, 2022 11:24:37 am | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/now-a-film-on-leo-tolstoy/article38292090.ece