'Films shouldn't be commercial gimmicks'
...says journalist-turned-filmmaker TJ Gnanavel, whose debut film Kootathil Oruthan released this weekend
TJ Gnanavel, the director of Kootathil Oruthan, is a cinephile. It's not surprising considering he was a journalist in a Tamil publication for a decade, before he found his calling in cinema. He's confident that his debut film, Kootathil Oruthan, starring Ashok Selvan and Priya Anand, will strike a chord with the audience. "The story revolves around the life of a middle-bencher, an introvert," he says.
Gnanavel wrote Kootathil Oruthan after meeting the late Thenkachi Ko Swaminathan, who was popular among radio listeners for hosting 'Indru Oru Thagaval'. "He used to talk about day-to-day incidents with interesting anecdotes. His life journey inspired me. He was a middle-bencher too," he smiles.
The director hopes to create an emotional impact with his film. He assures that he has little interest in preaching. "The foundation of the script is engaging. When the trailer was released, I got an overwhelming response on social media. Adha paartha ovvoruvarum yen kadhaiyaa paarkala. Avunga kadhaiyaa paarthaanga," he says.
The protagonist's character and motivations intrigued Gnanavel. “Ten minutes into the script, I was wondering what is it that the boy wants? What is he going to do next? The transformation of his character was fun to write," he says. "I realised that he actually has no problem. He is his own problem. All the issues are in his head.”
The filmmaker's team took immense care to see that Ashok Selvan's look and the body language remained true to his character. "When we were ideating, I often heard concerns that the story of a middle-bencher could get boring. I found that to be rude. Don't such people exist in their homes? Erangi paatha erumbuku kooda emotions irukardhu theriyum."
I point out it seems like a decent punchline. He laughs. "I've written dialogues for Radha Mohan's Payanam, after which I assisted two directors. So, dialogues are my biggest strength," he says.
Whether his films succeed or not, he says he wants to reinvent the process of storytelling. "I was a journalist, and when I write something, ideas keep evolving and eventually, they turn into stories. I realised quite early that a good writer has to essentially be a voracious reader. So, every day, I sit down with all the major Tamil newspapers, and skim them carefully for story ideas," he adds.
What's next? "I am here to explore untold stories. I am from Vellore, and I'm ready with a script based on that place. In particular, the Vellore bus stand," he says. "Also, someday, I'd love to do a film on tribals. I don't want my films to just be commercial gimmicks."