Vasanth: The problems of my film’s women are universal
Director Vasanth, on the back of much appreciation for his latest release, Sivaranjiniyum Innum Sila Pengalum, speaks of his career and how he has relied on literature as a source of inspiration
The films of Vasanth S Sai are reflections of his persona. The maturity and modesty that are a part of his films are easily seen in the director himself, as he speaks passionately about his latest release, an anthology called Sivaranjiniyum Innum Sila Pengalum starring Parvathy Thiruvothu, Lakshmi Priya Chandramouli, and Kalieswari Sreenivasan. The three-part anthology depicts the lives of three women from different times, social and economic strata. The narratives show how the three women are trapped by patriarchy.
The film, which premiered at the 20th Mumbai Film Festival, 2018, has taken three long years to reach the people. “There were many reasons for the delay. I was adamant about releasing it in theatres. However, just when I finally agreed to the OTT release, I saw that the theatres were reopened. Fate mocks me with its irony. It is what it is,” Vasanth says with a characteristic smile.
Excerpts from the interview:
Seldom do we see film adaptations of Tamil literary work. Even those few films are of stories that are high on conflict. Do you think Tamil cinema is missing out on stories like Payasam (Vasanth’s film in Navarasa) and Sivaranjiniyum Innum Sila Pengalum?
I don’t have time to brood over Tamil cinema (laughs). However, I have about 100 stories like Paayasam and SISP with me. I believe I know a bit about the cinema medium, and I love the process of converting another form of story into cinema. It is an excruciating process. It is more time-consuming and harder to adapt a literary work than otherwise. I hold writers in high esteem and want to do justice to their work. It is better to leave literature alone if you can’t do justice to it. Many adaptations of Tamil novels have made me feel, “Idhuku idha edukkaamale irundhurukalam”.
Talk to us about the changes you made to the original story.
I don’t hesitate to make changes. There is no rule that I should faithfully adapt a novel or a story. An adaptation, in any case, can never be exactly like the original story. It goes through changes. But if viewers still say SISP is faithful to the original text, that means that I have retained the soul of the original text. To retain the soul—that’s the only rule.
Here's the video version of this interview:
The film invokes a sense of guilt in men because the women in the films are reflective of the ones we find in our homes. Have you experienced such guilt and regret in real life?
I have been guilty of actions similar to the ones of men in the film - the magnitude of my mistakes might be less. You can look at it as my learnings and my eagerness to rectify mistakes.
Tell us about the reception SISP got in other countries where it was screened during fests.
It was fantastic. I have been travelling with the films to different countries. In the US, it was screened in five cities. An American lady shared how she lost her tennis career for her marriage, which didn’t last long anyway. Japan was more surprising. In Fukuoka, a 70-year-old lady told me, “I am a lot like Sivaranjani.” A realisation from the travels is that the problems of Sivaranjaniyum Innum Sila Pengalum are universal.
You have been making films for the past three decades. How hard was it to come to this place where you make films without any compromise?
I feel guilty that I didn’t come to this space a decade ago. I should have. Until you attain a certain maturity, you keep playing to the gallery and trying to prove yourself to others. The tricky thing about proving yourself is that you are expected to keep at it with every next work. I have transcended that phase. Of course, sometimes, you get that realisation when you are unable to prove yourself. Chi chi indha pazham pulikkumnu sollikira madhuri.
All three women in the film are searching for something in the loft… what are they searching for?
Actually, I am the one searching (laughs). I mean, I am searching with them. One is searching for something she left, one is searching for another person, and one is searching for something lost. It signifies all of it. Some find it, some don’t. That’s what the film is about.
I love the way you have captured our houses in the film. It is a realistic and actual portrayal that we don’t see a lot in Tamil cinema.
I have a lot of attachment to houses I have lived in Cuddalore, Devakottai, and Mylapore. In this film, homes are an integral part of the narrative. The women are confined to them—that’s what the film is about. So, I took a lot of effort in finding such houses. The house in the first segment was so small that two cameramen walked out of the project. For the second story, I wanted to show how the house is huge but not the hearts of the people in it. Finding the house for the third short was the toughest of all. I needed an apartment that had a long driveway. To everyone who asked me why I was taking so much time to make the movie, I told them I would start the shoot the next day if they found me the house I was looking for.
Has filmmaking become a cathartic experience for you—like writers often talk about their stories?
I don’t know if I have that luxury. I am very serious in this space. I believe I have come here to ‘tell’ something. I believe it. I don’t know how effective I have been so far, but I know I can do much more. This medium is powerful, and I am committed to it. The reception for the film on social media gives me hope to continue my journey. European cinema and Tamil literature have given answers to many of my problems. Why can’t Tamil cinema do the same for everyone?
(Sivaranjiniyum Innum Sila Pengalum is streaming on SonyLiv)