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Anthological issues- Cinema express

Anthological issues

With 6 Athiyayam, an anthology getting released this Friday, we ask some Tamil directors why this genre has suffered in our industry

Published: 20th February 2018

The word anthology might be derived from the Greek work, Anthologia, meaning a collection of flowers, but in Tamil cinema, making anthologies hasn’t quite been a bed of roses. Though we’ve made anthologies right from the black and white era (Mani Maalai, 1941), we haven’t really made too many of them, especially when in comparison with some of our contemporaries. Up North, Bollywood has embraced this concept of filmmaking, and reputed directors such as Karan Johar, Anurag Kashyap and Ram Gopal Varma have all made short films that were part of anthologies.

The ones we have made -- films such as Bench Talkies, Avial, Aaaah and Solo -- haven’t really done too well at the box office. But that hasn’t stopped our filmmakers from giving it a shot. Bejoy Nambiar, who directed the Dulquer Salmaan-starrer Solo, remains a big fan of anthologies. “I didn’t plan the story as an anthology, but wanted to do something interesting. At the same time, I am aware that Tamil cinema hasn’t had successful anthologies in the past. It’s like working on four films at a time.” Despite knowing that the idea was risky, Bejoy wasn’t doubtful about making Solo.

But he’s doubtful if he’ll direct another one. “We wanted to break the barrier with Solo. We could achieve a bit, but not completely. The film didn’t enjoy a good run at the box office because of the strikes. As a format, I think it’s not accepted overall -- not only in Tamil cinema, but also in other languages. Anthologies have worked on television, but when it comes to films, they haven’t had great reception at the box-office.”

On the other hand, there are filmmakers like Balaji Tharaneetharan, who say they would love to experiment with anthologies. He says, “Industry people are apprehensive because such films haven’t been successful. If one anthology becomes a hit, naturally, it will set a trend, and many will follow suit. Actors are receptive in general, but producers need to understand and come forward to support. It’s a time-consuming process, I agree, but collaborating with different filmmakers will be a great learning experience. When it’s possible in the north with films like Bombay Talkies, I don’t see why it should be an issue here.”

Shameer Sultan, one of the directors of Aviyal, says anthologies aren’t really made because of potential creative differences.

“The problem in Tamil cinema is that anthologies aren’t envisioned well at the time of writing. They’re just put together at the end,” he says. “Even in Aviyal, one of the stories was an independent film that didn’t really fit in well with the rest. That’s where we went wrong, I think. I strongly feel all stories should have a connect, so they don’t seem disconnected the film is viewed as a whole.”

Shameer makes a reference to the popular international anthology, Wild Tales. “One writer, separate stories, directed by different guys -- that’s how it should work. Here, people are used to interval blocks, but for an anthology, there has to be a re-start every 30 minutes, which is difficult to achieve when you write,” he says.

He also feels anthologies work very well in books. “After Aviyal, Potential Studios wanted us to come up with another anthology, but it didn’t materialise. Oru padam edukkardhe kashtam, idhu romba kashtam.”

Director Lokesh Kanagaraj of Maanagaram fame, who was also one of the directors of Aviyal, doesn’t agree that anthologies aren’t welcomed by the masses. “I guess it’s only because we haven’t presented them in the right manner so far. If we did, I am convinced they would accept it. Other languages have a lot of them. If we have a good script that’s treated with good quality, I’m sure we can do more of them. I also feel we haven’t made enough of them for people to understand how such films work.”

When asked if this is because of time constraints, he replies, “Short films have proved that we can deliver an impactful film in twenty minutes. People here are new to anthologies, so, it is up to us to make them aware of it.”

Velaikkaran filmmaker Mohan Raja says a commoner has no idea about the classification of a  film. For instance, he points out that many think Aaytha Ezhuthu is an anthology. “Would I direct one? I don’t know,” he smiles. “Without watching too many anthologies, I am not really in a position to make promises.”

Cable Shankar, one of the directors of this week’s release, 6 Athiyayam, is also the film’s executive producer. He assures that his film will be different from anthologies we’ve seen till date. “Very rarely has an anthology dealt with the same genre. 6 Athiyayam is a collection of six films in which the supernatural element is common,” he says.

In a previous interview to CE, he had cited that anthologies usually don’t do well as one film might not be as good as the other. “Though there are many such films across the world, very few have been commercially successful. Films such as Wild Tales have even gotten awards. Similar to our story, all the stories in Wild Tales had a common theme - revenge. Yet, people would probably like one more than the other. I think that’s the reason that anthologies don’t give the satisfaction of watching a feature film.”

The makers of 6 Athiyayam have come up with a unique solution to tackle that issue. “In 6 Athiyayam, all the films will stop before the climax and the last half an hour of the film would be just the six climaxes played one after the other following a quick recap of each story. We’re the first in the world to do this and we’re sure that it’ll give the experience of watching a full-fledged film.”

The six short films in 6 Athiyayam are titled Misai, Soup Boy Subramani, Chithiram Kolluthadi, Anamika, Super Hero and Ini. It remains to be seen if this film will break the bad reception generally meted out to this genre.

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