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‘A film should enrich me as well as the audience’

Seeing life in shades of grey Vetrimaran

Seeing life in shades of grey Vetrimaran  

One has to be patient while talking to Vetrimaran. There are long pauses at the other end of the telephone line. At times, he just laughs a question off, “That is a tricky one. What is your next question?” He is careful with every word and does not offer you templated answers. For instance, ask about his experiences at the Venice International Film — where his film, Visaranai, won the Amnesty International Italy’s Cinema for Human Rights — and he tells you he is happy with the way people appreciated his work. Not too emotional, not too verbose; that’s Vetrimaran for you.

He does not see himself as an emotional man, he says, at least in the context of his filmmaking. “I see myself as a researcher. I want to learn new things when I make a film. For instance, for Aadukalam, which won the National Award in 2011, I shifted base to Madurai and lived there for three years just to study about the people and the Madurai life.”

It was the same for his first film, Polladhavan, which revolved around the underworld bike-theft gangs. “Every situation has a good story. It’s the perspective of the writer and from where you perceive a reality that determines the quality of the work. A film should enrich me as well as the audience. It should allow me to grow as a person.”

He is not ready to give up that ideal in the name of entertainment. “I can’t define entertainment. But I want to make my audience identify with my characters and the world I depict. Entertainment can also arise from identification. The audience should experience an emotional catharsis when they come out of the theatre.”

Vetrimaran’s films throw light on the grey aspects of the human mind. “I find life is shades of grey,” he states. Vetrimaran has a group of like-minded friends in the industry who wish to bring stories of the downtrodden and voiceless to the fore. “Our idea is not to preach. But, we strongly believe that film can influence the society for good or bad. It definitely has an effect on people, and it depends on how the director handles the medium.”

During a discussion with one of his friends, Vetrimaran heard of an auto-driver called M. Chandrakumar in Coimbatore who had written a book called Lock-up. Chandrakumar had been a labourer in Andhra Pradesh and had been unfairly arrested along with others in a “case of doubt”. Lock-up was about his experience with police brutality. Vetrimaran found the story honest and genuine and used it as the base for Visaranai. “It is a biography of the common man and how he tries to transform a failed system. I thought that story had to be told. It’s not just about Chandran, but about thousands of faceless people. I was attracted to his experiences, anguish and the truthfulness of his emotions.”

Once he starts writing a script, Vetrimaran becomes a part of the world in every sense. “You stop living, once you start writing a script. You might be in the middle of a fight with your friends but, after a point, you think ‘how will this work as a film scene?’ Your personal life is literally gone. This happens when you read a good book. You borrow the author’s life.”

He believes in the power of script. Akira Kurosawa is his favourite filmmaker because ‘he is one of the finest script-writers’. The other is Alejandro Gonzalez, whose Amores Perros on dog fights in Mexico inspired him to make Aadukalam.

For the National Award-winning film maker, cinema has to go beyond the world of art and make people think that things should not be the way they are. But, he does not want you to label him, either. “Please do not categorise me as a commercial or highbrow filmmaker. My films are meant for the mainstream viewers. But I do not want to deceive them. I want to keep their senses sharp. Often our films are escape routes. I would like to make the film watching experience real for them.”

He has also problems with words such as ‘art’ and ‘artist’. “Don’t call me an artist. A filmmaker should not make his film ‘art for art’s sake’. A film is a team work. They say director is the captain but if one person does not contribute, then the filmmaking gets affected. You need the producer to pool in money, the camera man to visualise your shots and so on. We also want to get our money back. Film is first science and commerce, then art.”

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Printable version | Aug 9, 2020 6:34:25 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/interview-with-tamil-filmmaker-vetrimaran/article7780361.ece

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