For film connoisseurs outside the country, Indian cinema means masala ; item numbers, stunts and punch dialogues. However, film buffs at the Osaka Asian Film Festival in Japan were surprised when they watched Vijay Jayapal’s Revelations , a parallel Tamil film on infidelity and sexuality, without a hint of melodrama. “I have always been inclined towards art cinema in terms of aesthetics,” says the Chennai-based filmmaker, who grew up hero-worshipping Satyajit Ray and Adoor Gopalakrishnan.
Jayapal calls himself an average middle-class Chennai boy, who would devour films as an adolescent. Although he grew up on a staple of commercial films, his taste gradually veered towards alternative cinema. He began his journey as a filmmaker with short films.
Revelations , his first feature film, has been noted for its realistic treatment. Set in Kolkata, it tracks the lives of three Tamilians; a writer, and an unhappily married couple. The woman finds solace in the writer in Kolkata’s alienating atmosphere. While her husband, a journalist, is attracted to a younger colleague. The idea behind setting the film in Kolkata was to accentuate this feeling of isolation, says Jayapal. “I wanted the city to be a constant presence and main character in the film.”
A slow, rhythmic pace, with smooth transitions between the scenes, makes this film stand apart from the rest. Jayapal believes in honest filmmaking with zero manipulation. “When you are making a film, you should not think about elements to rope in people. Do not restrict your imagination due to the mindset of the market and other commercial factors.”
His next work is on immigrants. He is on the lookout for a co-producer and actors for it. “Unlike Revelations , it will be gritty and raw. It is also about a different kind of loneliness.”
Although the film did not have a conventional theatrical release, he has been able to recover his money by selling the film to Netflix. The advent of digital media has provided an alternative platform for independent filmmakers, he feels. “I do not have to worry about pleasing the censor board; they will butcher it. Sites like Netflix and Amazon are so popular in the West because it gives the filmmaker freedom. Those who want to make lengthy films are turning to web series. Newer avenues are opening up, thanks to the Internet.”
At the same time, Jayapal is of the view that the festival circuit is equally important for a filmmaker to gain visibility. The film has been screened with subtitles in more than 20 languages. In Osaka, people were queuing up to get his autograph. At the International Film Festival of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram, the hall was so crowded that people had to sit on the floor. The same cannot be said about its reception at the Chennai International Film Festival (CIFF). “It was a decent crowd, but lower compared to the turn out in other places. It is unfortunate. Here, people make films based on market forces. That’s why I did not want a theatrical release,” he says.
Thanks to the buzz on social media and its critical appreciation online, the film was showcased at Ashvita Bistro recently. The code to making a successful indie film is not rocket science, feels Jayapal. Films such as The Lunchbox have done well because of the international collaborators that introduced it to the global market. “They took it to the right places. You also need institutional funding, grants and the help of co-production markets. More than profit, it is visibility that counts.”
Filmmakers outside India are able to explore the medium better because they are not weighed down by commercial pressures. People like Wong Kar-wai and Asghar Farhadi can make films according to their aesthetic sense because they are accepted by a global audience, says Jayapal, who also feels Indian cinema should be known on the international circuit not just by films such as Baahubali and 2.0 , but also quality parallel films.
“We must get the non-Indians to watch our films. We need more films that can work with people’s emotions.”