Debutant filmmaker Mathi Maran calls his recent film, the GV Prakash-starrer Selfie, as belonging to the indie genre. “That’s how I approached the script, and that’s why we went with a lot of unknown faces and real locations,” he says of the film that was defined by quick camera movements and a racy edit pattern. The film is about a group of college students headed by Kanal (GV Prakash Kumar), who get lured into an illegal college admission racket.
“In the first half, I sought to convey the nervousness of college students who get into this illegal business. We also attempted to communicate the maturity of Gautham Menon’s character, Ravi Varman.” Mathi acknowledges the influence of filmmaker Paul Greengrass (of the Bourne series). “Also, I’m a nervous, impatient person; I think the film reflects that as well,” he adds.
Mathi’s decision to choose the subject of college admission rackets as the central topic, stemmed from an anecdote shared by a friend. “He told me that he bought a new car while studying second year in college, and I was intrigued about how a second-year college student could even afford a car. That’s how I got introduced to the business of admission brokering.”
This anecdote, in fact, finds a place in the film, with Kanal and his friend, Nazir, buying an old Benz that they are later forced to sell. “My friend too had to sell his car, and learning this helped me understand the problems such students face. In fact, there’s a line in the film about the distressing truth behind this business model: ‘Idhu nammala lock panniruchu paathiya’ (Look how this business has prisoned us),” says Mathi.
Plenty of research went into getting the details right. “We needed to understand why colleges struggled to fill their seats and why these youngsters get turned into marketing tools. We also needed to show how engineering was once a pipedream for families, but how its allure has dropped. Thirdly, we needed to look at how such a crisis continues to exist in a developed state like Tamil Nadu. I tried to flesh out all these details in the film,” explains Mathi. “You wouldn’t believe the luxuries that some students, who sell college seats, have managed to acquire!”
While there are plenty of filmmakers who focus on issues, Mathi also has a solution. “When stuck in a quagmire like this, the most powerful tool one has is bringing the truth out to the public. I wanted to promote whistleblowing through this film. That’s why we chose Selfie as the title.”
Mathi, who worked with Vetri Maaran before making his debut, credits the latter for learning how to develop multiple strong characters. “It was a challenging process for the production and direction team, given the time constraints. On some days, we had to shoot as many as five scenes in a day,” he says. “But I’m glad all our struggles have worked out.”