‘One of the earliest movie experiences I have is watching Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1973). I am also a fan of his debut film, Duel (1971). It is about a man in a car being chased by a truck and the antagonist remains unseen throughout the film. The film also charts the journey of the protagonist, David Mann (played by Dennis Weaver) beautifully, from being a timid person to finally taking down the truck and, in turn, becoming a murderer. Incidentally, my first film, Lens (2017), is also about a tussle between two men.
Likewise, my exposure to international cinema came through Chennai International Film Festival. In the late 2000s, I discovered many renowned international voices, ranging from Kim Ki-duk to Ingmar Bergman. It changed my perspective towards films, teaching me the importance of silences and blocking. Bergman’s Wild Strawberries (1957), The Seventh Seal (1957) and Persona (1966) are some of my favourites. One of the Kim Ki-duk films that I am particularly fond of is Human, Space, Time and Human. The film is set on a ship that flies on the sky and explores the lives of people from different levels of social strata. Its philosophy is beautiful and the overall film propagates a profound message towards the end.
Likewise, I admire The Net by the late South Korean master. The film, which tells the story of a fisherman near the border is quite realistic but doesn’t come across as indulgent. One of the best things about The Net is its universality. One can place the story anywhere in the world it would still be equally effective.
Closer to home, I believe filmmaker Bharathiraja’s contribution to Tamil cinema is immense. He and filmmaker Mahendran played an important role in the transition of Tamil cinema from stage to screen.
Earlier, the influence of the stage on the screen was heavy in our filmmaking style; many scenes used to play out like stage dramas with shots that allowed all the actors to be seen in the frame as they delivered their dialogues. Bharathiraja changed the way scenes are staged. I saw some of his films like Alaigal Oivathillai, Kadalora Kavithaigal and Vedham Pudhithu during and formative years and enjoyed them quite a bit. In Kadalora Kavithaiga, the protagonist (played by Sathyaraj) is not portrayed as a conventional ‘hero’. It was a different film for its time.
I saw films for the most part of my life from an acting perspective as I have always wanted to be an actor. During my days in film school in the US, I was exposed to greats like Marlon Brando and of course, his Godfather. Brando presents his soul to the audience, with all his vulnerability and honesty. The truth in his acting defines him. From a screenplay perspective, The Godfather broke many rules and proved that one doesn’t need a conventional three-act structure to tell a great story. As someone who didn’t assist any filmmaker, the majority of my knowledge came from reading screenplay books and The Godfather truly is a landmark.”
(As told to Ram Venkat Srikar)