Director Madhumita: I don't want to make a depressing movie

The director, whose recently-released emotional drama, Karuppu Durai, has been receiving warm praise from the audience and critics alike, talks about her film 
Director Madhumita: I don't want to make a depressing movie

Filmmaker Madhumita's KD (a) Karuppu Durai, which opened to unanimously positive reviews last week, revolves around a serious theme — thalaikoothal (the practice of mercy killing the elderly and bedridden). But the tone of the film is delightfully light-hearted. The director calls this a conscious decision. "The audience, who already have their own problems in life, come to the theatre seeking relaxation and entertainment. I can't disappoint them by presenting a depressing film," says Madhumita, who believes humour is key to facing life's troubles. "If we crack a harmless joke to someone who is feeling low, instead of giving them the customary pep talk, it will help them loosen up and realise that their problems are manageable. That's the reason why every emotional scene in my film is followed by a hilarious moment or dialogue."

The director talks to us about the research that went into the making of Karuppu Durai working with a child artiste, and more.

Excerpts from the conversation:

What was the starting point of Karuppu Durai? Was it the idea of thalaikoothal or did you start with the protagonist's character?

Thalaikoothal was definitely the starting point. A few years ago, I happened to see an article about this practice and was taken aback that such a thing exists even now. When I decided to make a film based on it, the biggest challenge was to make a light-hearted drama based on a dark topic like death. So I came up with this basic one line, 'What if an 80-year-old man who has dedicated his entire life for others, gets a second chance to live and an 8-year-old child decides to help him?' and developed it.

How much research went into this project?

I didn't want to make a film with just a basic idea. So I went to the regions where thalaikoothal is still being practised and collected opinions. I found there are just as many people speaking for the practice as there were against it. While some feel that thalaikoothal is equal to murder, others believe it provides elderly and ill people freedom from their sufferings. I was really shocked to hear well-educated professors from urban background defend the practise saying, "This is the best send-off you can give to your loved ones."

I generally don't believe in forcing my opinion on the audience. And since there are two sides to this issue, I wanted to present both to the audience and kick-start a discussion.

Did you take any inspirations from your life when designing the character of your protagonist, Karuppu Durai?

Karuppu Durai is an amalgamation of all the good men in my life, including my father and my husband. But I feel he is most like my grandfather, who was someone who knew how to enjoy life amidst all his problems. Even when there was a fight going on in the family, he would calmly sit before the TV and enjoy his cricket match.

I wanted my titular character to be a village-based gentleman who respects women. Though he is surrounded by male chauvinists, he treats women right. If someone finds Karuppu Durai to be inspiring and aspires to be like him in this aspect, I'd be delighted. 

Karuppu Durai's Kutty is a rare onscreen child who acts his own age. And this despite having an exceptional understanding of life. How did you find the right balance?

When a kid like Kutty grows up in a temple as an orphan, he has no choice but to become independent and street-smart. He has to fend for himself. But deep down, he is still a child who is innocent and doesn't know how to hide the truth like adults. Even when he mocks and makes fun of Karuppu Durai, he does it only to make him feel better.

This is your 11th year in the film industry. Is it fair to say the Tamil industry more welcoming to female filmmakers now than when you started?

When I made Vallamai Thaaraiyo in 2007, Tamil cinema hardly had four women directors. Fast-forwarding to 2019, there are at least 15 of us. This obviously means that both the industry and the audience are more welcoming. And thankfully, the unwritten rule that a woman should only direct heroine-oriented subjects has begun to change also. I see this as a baby step towards a massive change.

You've always had an additional writer on board for all your films. How beneficial do you think it is to have that extra support?

Most of my films have had male co-writers, as I believe they will being a new perspective to the story. I believe every creator needs a bouncing board, else we might assume that whatever we do is right. Some call those who contribute to their script as discussion panel members. But, I feel it is injustice to deny them due respect and credit. The ones who contribute to a story, even if only a small part, must be called writers and get credit for their work.

Well-made, small-budget films like Karuppu Durai often get overshadowed by massive masala entertainers. What do you think is the solution for this?

People of Tamil Nadu have never failed to support good content. But the film has to reach them first. When a film lacks star value it becomes extremely difficult for makers to get screens. And even if they get the screens after a great struggle, the film is removed after just one week to accommodate a bigger film. While the satisfaction of getting a big-screen release cannot be replaced by OTT platforms, I believe such platforms are the only way for smaller films to reach a wide audience.

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