Theatres are our past, present, and future: Ponmagal Vandhal director JJ Fredrick
JJ Fredrick, whose directorial debut, Ponmagal Vandhal became the first big-ticket direct-to-OTT release in Tamil cinema, talks about making this film, Theatre vs OTT, and more
Will Smith once said, “For me, there is nothing more valuable than how people feel in a movie theatre about a movie.” Cinema offers a unique community viewing experience that has often been put to test, the latest challenge being the corona-accelerated embracing of OTT platforms.
Although Tamil Nadu boasts of one of the most thriving cinema theatre cultures in the world, the direct-to-OTT release of Jyotika’s Ponmagal Vandhal has created quite a stir. “There was no intention to release the film on OTT. We had planned a release on March 27. But when the lockdown was announced, we were caught unawares. Personally, I believe the next three-four months will not be conducive for a theatre release,” says Ponmagal Vandhal director JJ Fredrick, who made his debut with the film, which is streaming on Amazon Prime.
“This was a decision made to ensure our film reaches the most people. Considering how many countries are still under lockdown, the situation jeopardises revenue from overseas rights. If we had theatres today, Ponmagal Vandhal would have surely hit screens worldwide,” says Fredrick, who sees streaming platforms as an alternative option for “smaller” films to see the light of day. “OTT is an opportunity to clear the release clutter.”
Although Ponmagal Vandhal created a lot of noise about its release strategy, the talk post-release has been about the film itself and not any external factors. “The concept was strong. We have dealt with not just one particular issue but an amalgamation of various issues plaguing our day-to-day lives in this society,” says the director, who has dealt with the less-spoken about but very important topic of child abuse. Right from the time Fredrick wrote the script, he wanted to cast Jyotika in the lead. “Ponmagal Vandhal isn’t a female-centric film. It is all about this topic being told by the right person, and Jyotika ma'am was definitely that right person. Heroism is not defined by stunts. Being mentally strong is heroism too. There are a lot of challenges that Venba (Jyotika’s character) faces. In my mind, I couldn't think past Jyotika. Since it was a courtroom drama, I needed the right kind of person to deliver those hard-hitting dialogues,” says the director, who asserts that Jyotika aced those long courtroom dialogues in single takes.
While Jyotika is clearly the calling card for Ponmagal Vandhal, the other interesting aspect of this film is the presence of an ensemble cast featuring five acclaimed directors — K Bhagyaraj, R Parthiban, Prathap Pothan, Pandiarajan, and Thiagarajan. “To be honest, only after bringing them onboard did we realise this coincidence. It was such a blessing as a first-time director to have such stalwarts on sets who did everything that was required to make this film come out well. There was never a time when they were on the set as a director. They were always actors,” says Fredrick, who talks about the positivity that was prevalent on sets. “I was the youngest in this team that had big names like Ramji sir, Govind Vasantha, and Ruben. They all gave their 100 per cent to the film. I used to question Ramji sir a lot and he was so patient in answering them and giving me the best possible output for the vision in my head. All of them worked with no ego. All of them are happy with the output,” says the debutant director.
Fredrick was eager to catch the theatre response to his debut effort. “This response is new to me. I will miss out on the festivities and seeing the audience reaction firsthand,” he says. “The next film I do will definitely get released in theatres. W grew up with the sound of claps and whistles in theatres. Theatres are our past, present and future,” says Fredrick. “Once the theatres reopen, I will be the first one to stand in the queue, buying tickets.”