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Ashokamitran has enriched Tamil literature, says documentary filmmaker Prasanna Ramaswamy

Prasanna Ramaswamy says she got clarity in her life after she started reading the works of prolific Tamil writer and Sahitya Akademi winner, Ashokamitran. She has now directed Writer Ashokamitran, a documentary produced by the Films Division. “He has enriched Tamil literature in a very special way. He writes in an unstated, sparse manner. Yet, he is dense and evocative. His works, such as Karaindha Nizhalgal, a story of human relationships set in the film industry, are great culture-specific works but universal at the same time.”

As a filmmaker, the challenging part for Ramaswamy was not to be bound by the written word. “Instead of dramatising the stories, I wanted to bring words into the visual narrative. I had to avoid literal translations. That’s where my practice as a theatre person came into place,” explains the award-winning theatre artiste and filmmaker.

She also talks about how there were moments while shooting the film that she would find new meanings, connections and metaphors which she terms as “evocations”. There were times when she found the essence in her film at the editing table. “That’s one of the best parts of documentary filmmaking,” says Ramaswamy, whose other documentaries on Carnatic musician Sanjay Subrahmanyan and Malayalam award-winning filmmaker, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, have been well noted among cinema connoisseurs. “For instance, the room where he lives is a tiny one with a cupboard and a glass door with pictures of his family hanging from it. There is a scene where I make him talk on the institution of family and why he believes in it. Being in that room, while shooting, I also realised I should make him speak about these pictures. That’s an evocation I found at that moment.”

Another important feature about his writing is how he treats human emotions with intensity and with a certain distance at the same time. “I remember reading one of his stories on a woman hopelessly in love with a man who finally leaves her. She leads such a dream-like life where she is sure he will marry her. However, by the end, she is heartbroken. The story made me realise how this feeling of gay abandon - what we call paravasam in Tamil - comes closely followed by the feeling of sadness. So, why not one let go and accept both as a part of life? It helped me see these emotions with a certain detachment.”

The cinematography is by RV Ramani, a Chennai-based filmmaker and cinematographer, who has collaborated with Ramaswamy on her previous works . “He has a highly individual style that never goes out of grammar. Yet, it gives the film a flavour.” But, the best part is how his unobtrusive presence goes a long way in making the subject feel comfortable. “They never notice what he is doing.”

The philosophy of Ashokamitran’s writing will be the focus of her documentary, stresses Ramaswamy. “He told me many controversial things about our political figures thatI have omitted as that is not the focus of my film. But, never did he told me to switch off the camera to stop recording.There is so much of truth in him.”

The film will be screened at The Hindu Lit for Life at Sir Mutha Concert Hall on January 15 at 5 pm.


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Printable version | Jun 8, 2021 5:59:24 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/prasanna-ramaswamy-on-the-challenges-behind-her-documentary-on-writer-ashokamitran/article22413101.ece

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