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'Being elitist is not wrong, it's all about human emotions at the end of the day'- Cinema express

'Being elitist is not wrong, it's all about human emotions at the end of the day'

Directors Halitha Shameem, Madhumita, Richard Anthony, Surya Krishna, and Balaji Mohan discuss their recently released anthology, Putham Pudhu Kaalai Vidiyaadhaa 

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Published: 23rd January 2022

While the 2020 Tamil anthology, Putham Pudhu Kaalai, aimed to spread hope, love, and new beginnings, its recent sequel, Putham Pudhu Kaalai Vidiyaadhaa, currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video, looks to further press this point home. Perhaps for that reason, this time, we have five fresh voices in the form of Halitha Shameem, Madhumita, Richard Anthony, Surya Krishna and Balaji Mohan, directors who all join us in conversation:

Excerpts:

Unlike with the first season, it’s clear that this season was not shot amid lockdown restrictions. Did that free you as filmmakers?

Halitha Shameem: In fact, we wrote the script during the second lockdown, but thankfully while we were shooting, the restrictions were lifted. It was tougher to shoot as we had to stop traffic and capture the empty roads as demanded by the script. 

Balaji Mohan: I wish we had shot the film during the lockdown. This was probably the first time I had to shoot a film in which the characters have to wear masks because the script said so. We had to figure out the balance between capturing emotional scenes and showing the characters wearing masks. It was tricky. 

Madhumita: I had already shot another show (LOL: Enga Siri Paappom) during the pandemic but it was more interesting with this anthology due to the amount of responsibility involved. Honestly, I found it rather irritating to have to wear a mask on while directing (smiles). We maintained all the safety protocols as people’s safety mattered more.

It felt euphoric to be back on the sets. The adrenaline rush you feel is amazing. The lockdown gave us time to think about several aspects of our life, but what we took for granted during this time was communication. That’s what my story is about. 

Richard Anthony: I conceived the story to suit the lockdown situation, but it was difficult to shoot even an insert in the outdoors due to the heavy traffic. I wanted to shoot in public and I also went with live sound; so, it was hard.

Surya Krishna: We also did live sound and even removed a particular scene because we didn’t get the permission to shoot at a specific outdoor spot. We used our team members to block traffic for scenes involving the roads. I think we tortured the public actually (laughs). 

Was there space for you all to ensure that ideas didn’t overlap?

HS: We didn't even know who the other directors were, and until the series premiered, we hadn't seen the work of the rest of them. It made it more exciting to watch the series as a whole. I think the ignorance concerning other stories helped us better focus on our own. 

M: We discussed with the creative team of Amazon Prime Video and there were instances where they pointed out that some themes were similar. They knew about all five stories, but we didn't even know about the cast. I spoke to Balaji once before the shoot to hear regarding restrictions and Richard about a location conflict, but that's all we knew. 

BM: A need to brainstorm didn't arise. We were sure that the Amazon folks would point it out if there were any issues. We didn't know why we did it this way without knowing what others were up to, but yes, that’s what we did (laughs)

SK: It's like writing exams and seeing the marks at the end (laughs)

The first season was criticised for being elitist and being negligent of real, relatable problems...

M: I think it comes down to the perspective of each director. When I did KD, they asked how someone who studied abroad could do a rooted village story. At the end of the day, anyone can tell any story. After KD, people must not expect rooted village stories once again from me as I now want to tell other stories. In PPKV, my segment talks about how conversations, between a couple who is married for a couple of decades, happen. This is the story I felt like communicating at this point in time. Is it elitist? I don’t know. I can only tell stories I believe in and I have faith that people will like good stories. 

RA: Also, we must remember that the first season filmmakers had to deal with shooting restrictions.

BM: Yes, they endured more limitations. My concept for this anthology is about constables in check-posts, and had I pitched this for the first season, I doubt it might have been approved, simply because it would have been impossible to shoot it. I feel stories shouldn’t be categorised, as each of us face unique struggles and have unique perspectives. The best part about anthologies is how one can look at them as separate stories—and as a collective entity.

SK: I don't think being elitist is wrong, given that it's all about human emotions at the end of the day. We don't know what problem the Ambanis might have. A story being branded elitist needn’t necessitate avoidance of it. 

There were some fascinating casting combinations, like Arjun Das and Lijomol Jose and Nadiya and Joju George… 

SK: The cast (Sananth and Dhilip Subbarayan) was chosen for me. I have known Dhilip sir for years and so, working with him helped me shed inhibitions. We also have Malayalam actor Arun Kurian in an important role. This anthology sees the collaboration between actors from various regions, including our own, and as filmmakers, we are just happy to get to work with good talent. 

HS: Before this project, I hadn’t spoken to Arjun Das, but the script spoke to me in his voice. I heard about Lijomol Jose's commitment and sincerity from TJ Gnanavel and Manikandan, who worked with her in Jai Bhim. She sent a test video and though I hadn't seen her in person till then, her audition performance made me cry. In this film, she’s herself, and it was refreshing to see both actors perform.

M: It had always been a dream for me to work with Nadiya ma'am, as someone who grew up watching her in the 80s. I wanted to see her as a real, accessible person; she was my first choice for the role of this regular middle-aged housewife. The most played song on my phone is ‘Poomuthole’ from Joju George sir's Joseph; I am a big fan of his work. When I reached out to him, he got excited. They were so excited for this film and went over and beyond expectations. 

RA: My film stars Aishwarya Lekshmi, as well as seven other characters who were chosen by my casting director Saranya. My story is set in Pondicherry, so she had to go there to find local talent. I worked as an AD in Ponniyin Selvan, so I was already connected with Aishwarya Lekshmi. She also liked a short film I did a while ago; so that helped with the trust.

BM: Teejay, who I liked in Asuran, fit the constable character, and he brought in innocence. Gouri plays Kuyili; I wanted someone petite but still convincing enough to pull off the role of a woman constable. I am glad that both came on board.

Most of you have done short films over the years. How do you see this format having evolved?

BM: People know what to expect from short films these days. For us, it's about choosing the right story for the right format. Our industry has become better at choosing material for short stories. It has now become a saleable, viable format. Earlier, the biggest filmmakers had never worked on a short, but now, it’s simply not feasible to remain so. 

M: Short films have paved the way for new talent. Richard made his presence felt with Bloom, and now, Surya has come in with PPKV. This medium serves as a visiting card to help filmmakers show their prowess within a budget of a few lakhs.

HS: Producers are excited about anthologies, and just like how literature has given us different formats like short reads and novels, it's up to us to figure out the right story for a particular format. Different formats also give multiple options for the audience to enjoy watching. 

How do you think the audience deal with the idea of watching multiple stories in a single package? Also, what’s your take on these films often getting ranked?

HS: We wondered how Sillu Karupatti would get received, but the people showed their love. As for favourites being chosen, it’s only expected. 

SK: With the last season, people couldn’t skip segments, but now, PPKV allows for that. Ultimately, it’s up to us to make films that people enjoy watching. 

M: I don't think there's one story that can make everyone happy. It really depends on their mood. The best we can do is to make an honest film. 

BM: The taste of the audience is rather polarising today. I see it as a healthy trend as it means that films are being made for all types of people. 

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