August 16, 1947-The day after independence
Debut director NS Ponkumar, producer-filmmaker AR Murugadoss and actor Gautham Karthik talk about the unique premise of their upcoming film, August 16, 1947, that’s set for release next month
Many films, over the years, have documented the independence struggle, usually culminating with nation-wide celebrations on August 15, 1947. There have, however, been barely any films that speak of the immediate aftermath. It’s this period that filmmaker NS Ponkumar seeks to explore in his debut film, August 16, 1947. "Our story spans three days, between August 14 and August 16. It is set in a fictional village that doesn’t receive the news of independence due to its geographical setting and illiteracy. Though the film isn't based on real life, I have looked to keep the treatment as real as possible," he says.
The film marks the return of AR Murugadoss to film production five years after he produced his last, Rangoon. On returning to production with a film that marks the debut of his assistant, Murugadoss says, "I usually don't ask my ADs to narrate their dream script to me. However, my ADs recommended that I give Pon Kumar's script a shot. I was impressed by the writing, but I was apprehensive about it being a period film. Good dialogues aren’t enough for a project; they need good music, production value and visuals too. Though I have known Ponkumar for years, I took a leap of faith with this film, and I can gladly tell you that the results are promising."
Interestingly, Gautham Karthik, who played the lead in Rangoon, also headlines August 16, 1947. The actor believes this to be an important film in his career. "I can't thank Murugadoss sir enough for this opportunity. It might sound like a cliche, but I have truly tried to live as this character in the film. From day one, I could sense a positive vibe around this project. I think something magical has happened with this film," he says.
Ponkumar decided to cast Gautham after being impressed with his performance in Rangoon. "I believe he has a lot of untapped potential. Audiences in Southern districts like Madurai and Tirunelveli love it when Gautham plays a rural youngster. He got excited about the narration and asked when he could begin practising for the role. I was impressed by his involvement and curiosity." For this role, Gautham had to learn the Tirunelveli dialect of the 1940s. "I actually had a lot of fun during prepping, and at the shooting spot. I felt a creative high and could relate to my role, Paraman. He starts out as a naive youngster who makes many mistakes and is self-centred. As the film progresses, he learns from his missteps and evolves as a person. It’s not dissimilar from the trajectory of my own career in cinema."
While most debut filmmakers consciously stay away from following the style of their Guru, Ponkumar confesses that he wanted his film to align with the works of Murugadoss. "If someone watches August 16, 1947, and spots a Murugadoss element in it, I would be overjoyed. He is known for delivering in-depth stories, loved by the masses. ‘Sir madhri padam pannanum’ was my main objective." The young director adds that Murugadoss gave a lot of input. "From writing to post-production, he was always giving me ideas. Even when I hadn't signed the film under his banner, he was paying me and all other ADs, who had left him to make films. These monthly salaries ensure that all of us deliver our best in our first film. I am eternally grateful for all he has done for me and my film."
For Murugadoss, it was easy to trust someone he already knew. "I always evaluate a debut director based on various factors, but when they are one of my ADs, I know their strengths and weaknesses already."
Ponkumar's journey with August 16, 1947, apparently began with a conversation he had with an elderly person in his neighbourhood. "The old man had just gotten off a bus which had white people. He kept saying, 'Vellakaran vandhadhum, avana utkara veikanuma, naan endhrikanuma therla? Manasu pada pada nu adichikuchu.' The sight of a white man continues to give people shivers because of generational trauma. I wanted to make a film about how people in a newly independent India overcame this successfully."