'There’s no greater gift to a filmmaker than the gift of freedom'
...says director Vignesh Shivan, as he joins actors Anjali and Kalki Koechlin in a conversation about their short, Love Panna Uttranum, which is a part of Netflix's anthology, Paava Kadhaigal
The Tamil anthology, Paava Kadhaigal, which released on Netflix on December 18, is quite a breakthrough in the trend of anthologies that have been quite the rage, this year. Here’s one of the directors of the anthology, Vignesh Shivan, and the actors of his segment, Anjali and Kalki Koechlin, in conversation with us.
Vignesh, what was your first reaction to being told that you would have to make a film on honour killings?
I definitely did not expect it. My first response was the realisation that it would be a challenge for me. It’s nothing like I had worked on before. In fact, if I had been given the option of suggesting five topics for this anthology, I can tell you that none of them would even be close to this.
Furthermore, it must have been difficult for you to tread the thin line between the irreverent humour you are known for and the sensitivity demanded by such a topic.
It was hard, yes, and I was aware of how delicate this zone was. I knew I couldn’t get playful here, and yet, I did not want to get all serious in execution, as would be expected. I think we have struck a good balance between dark humour and sensitivity. Once the critics abuse me, I guess I’ll know better. (Laughs)
Among the serious portions in this film is a sad song allotted to the murderous father character in this film.
750 spare parts irundhaalum elumicha pazham mukkiyam madhri… (a reference to a Vivek joke from Minnale), I guess we have sneaked in a song into this film. (Laughs) What we were going for with this character is a man who is on the cusp of reformation but is wrongly influenced by an evil advisor. I see this film as tracking the transformation of this father character from a confused casteist leader into an understanding, apologetic father.
Anjali, you play twins in this film, and in the mould of many a Tamil film featuring twins, one is a city girl and the other a village belle.
(Laughs) But you will see that even with the urban character, I’m wearing kurtis, only so we can show the difference between the characters with my performance, not just with clothes. There was plenty of crying for me in this film, and for none of these scenes did I use glycerin. In fact, Vicky (Vignesh Shivan) was surprised to learn this and when requesting me for another take, he asked if I would be able to summon tears at will again. I trusted in the emotion of the scene and let it move me.
Kalki, what was the attraction for you with this film?
The clincher for me was how Vignesh was able to turn such a subject into a dark comedy. I felt that the humour could draw in an audience that may otherwise be turned off by such serious material. Also, the role seemed tailor-made for me. He needed a vellakaari who could speak a bit of Tamil. And I fit that description, having grown up speaking Tamil in Pondicherry (laughs).
Vignesh, your film speaks of the systemic pressure on an individual to engage in such barbaric acts. Did you have any first-hand knowledge of such incidents?
Not at all. Having grown up in the city, I learned about this topic by reading books. I also spoke with directors like Mari Selvaraj and Pa Ranjith, with whom I consulted about this story idea. I was clear though that I wouldn’t treat the story with documentary-ish realism. I wanted the setting to feel imaginary, in a sense.
There’s a kissing scene in this film involving two women. Do you attribute it to the freedom given by OTT platforms?
Absolutely. The feature film atmosphere is one of judgment and a distinct lack of liberty. With Netflix, we knew we could write what we envisioned, and shoot what we wrote. There’s no greater gift to a filmmaker than the gift of freedom. I value it more than audience appreciation.
What was gratifying for you about being a part of this anthology?
Kalki: I got to speak some chaste Tamil verses at the beginning of this film. I enjoyed that experience a lot, even if I suffered a bit.
Anjali: The novelty of this topic, I think. It helped me learn a lot about the kind of injustice I don’t really know much of.
Vignesh: Just the opportunity to be thought on par with filmmakers like Vetri Maaran, Sudha Kongara and Gautham Menon, each of who I have once tried to assist as an aspiring director. And now, to be mentioned in the same breath as them… It’s a dream come true.
Here's the video: