A good story can be likened to a vortex. It has the potential to draw everything towards it. Filmmakers Pushkar-Gayatri, Bramma and Anucharan hope to pull us all into one such vortex with the world they have created for Amazon Prime Video’s Tamil original, Suzhal.
Four independent and focused voices have come together to make an eight-episode series that hopes to open the floodgates for Tamil content to become global. While Pushkar and Gayatri have written the series, Anucharan and Bramma are directing four episodes each. Here are the four in conversation about this ambitious web series:
Excerpts from the conversation
Unlike our neighbouring industries, filmmakers in Tamil cinema are expected to carry the burden of ‘Kadhai, Thiraikkadhai, Vasanam, and Iyakkam’. How was it to move out of that vortex to create Suzhal?
Pushkar: Initially, we were supposed to direct the series, but due to prior commitments, we had to hand the responsibility into the able hands of Bramma and Anucharan.
Gayatri: It was almost like giving up our own child for adoption. But then, we reconciled with the fact that for long-form storytelling, it is better to get more like-minded people as collaborators.
Bramma: It is indeed their baby, and it was a huge responsibility to take care of Suzhal properly. It is important that the child grew up the way Pushkar and Gayatri envisioned too.
Anucharan: It helped us focus all our attention on one craft, and actually enhanced my love for filmmaking.
Pushkar: In fact, we see our films as hugely collaborative pieces. Anyone from the cast and crew can walk up to us with their suggestions. Also, with Anucharan and Bramma on board, we not only knew of their work but loved it too. Their idea of drama felt right for Suzhal.
Gayatri: Yeah, we neither wanted the pitching of the drama to be too artsy or indulgent nor too over-the-top. It needed a natural pace of drama.
Pushkar: I think that’s where the observational skills of Bramma and Anucharan came into play.
Bramma: It helped that the philosophies in Suzhal, the character motivations, etc… gelled well with my own vision. I think Suzhal has given me the belief that such collaborations are good for me.
With content getting ever bigger, there is now a vortex of pressure to make everything pan-Indian… or even pan-world. Is this development freeing or restrictive?
Gayatri: How much ever we market our stories as pan-Indian, what really matters if the audience puts in that effort to see it.
A: Truth be told, it is only after Amazon Prime Video saw the series that they decided to take it to so many territories.
P: The reason why there is almost a derogatory feel to the pan-Indian tag is that a lot of such content being churned out has its story and setting in a nameless, faceless space. What has really worked in the pan-Indian market are stories that are firmly rooted in our time and space. See, people across the world are willing to see stuff from everywhere. The best international content is not just in English anymore. There needs to be a universality of emotions and rootedness in our stories.
From the glimpses into the world of Suzhal, it is clear that each of you has moved away from the vortex of comfort zones…
Pushkar: We did not even cross Chennai city limits in our previous films. For Suzhal, we went to Ooty and Kodaikanal. Even Suzhal was initially set in Chennai, but we took a conscious decision to move out of the city. With our writing in the past three films, we always focus on one plot idea. However, with writing for OTT, we could let our story flow in multiple directions. There is an investigative drama as the plot engine, and how a particular crime affects the inhabitants of the fictional town of Sambalur lead to some fascinating detours.
Gayatri: This is also the first time we have dealt with family dynamics in our writing. It began as a feature film idea in 2014-15, and we knew it couldn’t be contained in a couple of hours. OTT hadn’t yet reached our shores then, but we knew it would eventually, and we waited for the right time to expand Suzhal to its present format.
Bramma: In fact, Anucharan and I were the last entrants into team Suzhal. The principal casting, and the core technical crew were all in place.
Anucharan: For the show’s seamlessness, they had to make such decisions.
Pushkar: But credit to Anucharan and Bramma for gelling with the team almost instinctively.
Gayatri: I am glad that they didn’t really lose sleep over not having their own team and agreed to work with a largely unfamiliar setup. If they had gone down that rabbit hole, there would have been no end to our discussions.
Having been part of mainstream and not-so-mainstream cinema for so many years, the prospects offered by OTT would definitely have been enticing. How do you see the evolving vortex of the OTT medium?
Bramma: It is almost like everyone in cinema worked towards building this world. Here’s a world that is more than just the hero or the heroine. It is a world built on the importance of story and screenplay. This is the evolution we have been waiting for.
Anucharan: We see ‘smaller’ actors get roles that have convincing and fulfilling character arcs. That is their dream, which almost never happens in films.
Gayatri: When television shows first came into existence, we had interesting stuff happening. But then, there was a downward spiral. OTT is a new-age medium, and we want to do something significant to stay on top of things right from the word go.
Anucharan: But we also have to be very careful. We can’t afford to waste this medium. Everything must be properly planned and executed, and with Suzhal, we hope to have made that all-important first step.