There is much intrigue over the upcoming Tamil anthology Putham Pudhu Kaalai on Amazon Prime, featuring five shorts from five acclaimed directors, exploring themes such as love, despair, second chances and hope.
A quick list at the names of the filmmakers and cast is enough to whet the appetite of any Tamil movie-goer; but special mention needs to go to Sudha Kongara for pulling off a casting coup in her segment, Ilamai Idho Idho.
If bringing back one of the most cherished on-screen pairings in Jayaram and Urvashi wasn’t exciting enough, the former’s son Kalidas and Kalyani Priyadarshan also join the two veterans in what seems to be a breezy feature on two couples discovering/ re-discovering love in the time of lockdown.
While Kalidas has acted with Jayaram before (as a child artiste, even winning a National Award for Ente Veedu Appuvinteyum in 2003), the father-son duo hasn’t made an appearance after Kalidas became a leading actor with Meen Kuzhambum Mann Paanaiyum in 2016.
“We are just waiting for the right opportunity; something exciting to make us act together,” says Kalidas. Though both of them are a part of Ilamai ... in the anthology, they won’t share screen space.
“I haven’t had any influence at all on his career decisions; right from when he wanted to act as a kid to his choices now as a hero. We don’t even discuss cinema at home,” says Jayaram, who looks dapper in the new, snazzy look that he’s been sporting since his turn in Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo earlier this year . “Fitness is an integral part of cinema today; everyone looks for it and expects it even now. So I too felt a makeover was important; I took off for 70 days, dedicated myself to a new routine and worked really hard to get in shape,” he grins.
Joining us together on a Zoom call ahead of the anthology’s release, the actors are as charming and warm as ever, giving us insights on Putham …, the digital space today, Mani Ratnam, and much more.
Excerpts from an interview:
How did this project take shape under Sudha Kongara?
Jayaram: We actually have to thank the director for casting us. My son Kalidas has worked with her earlier, and broached the idea of Ilamai. .. with me after she suggested it. I’m a huge fan of films like Irudhi Suttru , and was longing to collaborate with someone like her.
It’s also my digital debut in a space like this, which makes it all the more so exciting. But I was most interested in seeing how Sudha and her team would overcome the challenge of shooting this footage in just a couple of days. After the shoot, I can safely say that she’s not just a director, but also an assistant, costumer and make-up artist rolled in one! She did everything.
‘Ilamai Idho Idho’ features four stars, two of whom are veterans in the field — was there any concern about garnering suitable screen space?
Kalidas : I have to be honest; I went through an entire year where nobody called me for work and I felt quite chastened. That’s when Sudha ma’am got in touch and gave me an opportunity (an anthology for another OTT platform). Following that, this anthology for Amazon Prime came about too. The only thing running through my mind was that I shouldn’t spoil her name or make her regret choosing me.
So, I knew that she casts actors only if she genuinely wants to convey a story with them, and gives prominence to their roles. She doesn’t do movies for any other reason, except delivering her vision perfectly. I was perfectly confident that every scene I was a part of, would have weight and purpose.
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From the trailer, we see that both of you enjoy a fantastic chemistry with your co-stars, Urvashi and Kalyani Priyadarshan. Could you tell us about them?
Kalidas : I’ve known Kalyani for a while, but this is the first time I’m acting with her. Our working styles are very similar; we like to be fully prepared and do our research before the shoot, so it was really easy.
Due to the lockdown restrictions, there couldn’t be more than three actors on set at all times. However, after finishing my portions, I used to be present there as an AD as I’m very comfortable with the team, to watch my dad and Urvashi take over. They have decades of experience together, and I could learn a lot merely by just looking at them perform,
Jayaram : Urvashi is the co-star I’ve worked with the most.. (smiles). We go back 32 years. 1988 was the first time, I believe, we first met on set.
(The Jayaram-Urvashi pairing is one of Malayalam and Tamil cinema’s most beloved, endearing to several generations of fans with their legendary comic timing and chemistry. Chakkikotha Chankaran (1989), Kadinjool Kalyanam (1991) and Panchathanthiram (2002) to mention a few of their memorable outings together).
After all this time, we still find new ways to make it interesting. During Ilamai… the director talked about a particular scene in the script and the way she’d planned it. Then she asked us to interpret it in our own style, and to show her.
I asked Sudha ma’am to give us half an hour, and Urvashi and I scooted off to a corner. We came up with the idea to do the entire scene in one take, with multiple back and forth dialogues, and witty repartee. After a quick improv rehearsal, we showed it to Sudha ma’am, who just went, ‘Fantastic! Let’s do it exactly this way.’
Why do you think Malayalam cinema has been so popular on OTT platforms during the pandemic? How has the space opened up work for aspirants?
Jayaram : Irrespective of the genre or length of the film, it’s all about the filmmaker trying to express his voice and intention to the viewers through his story. I think that’s where the success comes from. It’s also got to do with the simplicity of the script; we have seen so many young, brilliant directors and writers emerge in the last year whom I badly want to work with.
Kalidas : In feature films, you can’t even imagine characters like the ones that are now being explored in the content on streaming platforms. It’s because the industry is built that way. I know the pandemic has been hard on everyone, including cinema, with theatres shut down and productions stalled… but the silver lining, if I may, is for some actors who have been lucky enough to get such opportunities.
Jayram sir, you have two massive projects in store next: Mani Ratnam’s ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ and the Sanskrit film ‘Namo’. What can you tell us about them?
Jayaram : Well, the world as we know it, has stopped temporarily. In Ponniyin Selvan , you will see 1000 to 2000 people on screen at once — that’s the magnitude of the canvas it’s being shot on — it will take a while to resume shooting again. We plan to get back to it by the end of 2020.
I play the role of Azhwarkadiyan Nambi in the movie; people who have read the novel must be familiar with the excellent character. Initially, I did have my doubts on being able to pull this off. After the first schedule, Karthi asked if Mani sir had given me any feedback about my performance. I heard that he had complimented Karthi, Jayam Ravi, and a lot of other people, but had said nothing to me! It immediately cast doubts in my mind. Did he not like my interpretation?
I texted Mani sir about this and got his reply: ‘You don’t need feedback from me to validate your acting prowess. It was beyond my wildest expectations!” (laughs)
As far as Namo is concerned, it is the sixth Sanskrit film made in India, and traces the wondrous relationship between Lord Sri Krishna and his dear friend Kuselan, and how they reunite at the end of Kuselan’s epic journey. I’m really looking forward to its release soon.
But right now, I’m most excited about seeing the other segments in the Putham … anthology as a member of the audience myself. We have got literally the cream of the crop — Gautham Menon, Karthik Subbaraj, Suhasini Maniratnam, Rajiv Menon and Sudha Kongara — an amazing combination of directors, actors and technicians on board. I couldn’t be more thrilled.
Ilamai Idho Idho is part of the Tamil anthology Putham Pudhu Kaalai, which will stream on Amazon Prime Video from October 16