All my films carry a mess age, either directly or in the undercurrent. Also, I always want to try something out of the box, says National Award winning actor – filmmaker R Parthiban
In a chat with ‘Pickle’, Parthiban talks about his three-decade long journey in the film industry, his passion for cinema and how audience and Censor Board have changed over the years. Excerpts…
I love being in cinema. It feels like a gift. It’s different from making money, owning an Audi, BMW or a bungalow. I am not a businessman. I have thirst for art, and I quench it by doing experimental films. There is a film called ‘Buried’, which was entirely shot inside a coffin box with just one actor. There is another film which was shot in an island with only one character. When foreign filmmakers can do it, why can’t I? I wanted to make something that was different. So I conceived ‘Otha Seruppu’ out of greed and my passion for cinema. It’s a film with multiple characters, but only one (the protagonist) shown on the screen. The remaining can be felt by the audience only through their voices. It is a murder mystery. The story starts with a bunch of police officials interrogating a suspect (Masilamani, played by Parthiban). Everything except Masilamani’s expressions has been conveyed through voices. The only character visible on screen will be Masilamani. This is the first film in the world to convey everything through sounds. No one has done this before. It can either be dubbed or remade in any language.
My first film ‘Puthiya Pathai’ was released on 14 April, 1989. No one knew Parthiban till then. I was walking on the road on 13th April, but I was moving around in a car on 15th April. Such was the impact of the success of a film on my life. I received a National Award for ‘Puthiya Pathai’. There was a perception that films winning National Award would be watched by some 12 persons in a remote theatre, which means, they won’t get the desired recognition. But that was not the case with ‘Puthiya Pathai’. It was released alongside Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan films, and managed to become a blockbuster. The film not just gave me fame, money and a National Award, but also the responsibility to make meaningful movies with relevant messages. All my films carry a message, either directly or in the undercurrent. Also, I always want to try something out of the box. Normal is boring. In 1999, I made a film titled ‘Houseful’. It won the National Award once again. The film was about the Coimbatore bomb blast, which conveyed the message that the one who keeps bombs is not a Hindu, Muslim or Christian, but some sort of animal.
Very good, I should say. People are celebrating it not just in film festivals and cities, but even in remote villages. In the last three decades, it is for the first time that IFFI is showing my film in the Panorama section. I am thankful to the chairman, the jury and others for that. But, I am disappointed that the film was not selected for competition section. Many who have seen my film would agree that ‘Otha Seruppu’ is the best film among the ones screened here because of its experimental value. They should have considered it under the competition section. I am trying my level best to take the film across the world.
People who watched the film came to theatres—thanks to their confidence on me. Because, I had made it clear much in advance that they would get to see only me in this film, they still watched it and made the movie a success. In this era when even Rajinikanth films are being made with a huge star cast like Vijay Sethupathi and Trisha, my film, with only me in the cast, getting recognised is a big deal. I think it got a good response because it spoke about the life of an ordinary man, his struggles and emotions. In a scene in ‘Otha Seruppu’, I break a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi. I was initially afraid that the Censor Board would not allow it. But they cleared the scene without any cut by understanding its context. This shows both the audience and the Censor have changed and they are ready to accept and approve such attempts. It is now the responsibility of the filmmakers to make novel films. Audience are already on a different level, but it is only we (filmmakers) who have to reach there.
The feedback has been phenomenal. Though I am the writer and the director of this film, the movie is mainly about the actor. Since I hail from theatre background, I did it on my own. And, the response from veterans was overwhelming. Noted director S A Chandrasekhar, father of actor Vijay, fell at my feet after watching ‘Otha Seruppu’. He said he counted me among legends like K Balachander, K Viswanath and Bharathiraja. I was so humbled. Aamir Khan appreciated it; Rajini sir said the film should win Oscar; Kamal sir said he rates me among the four best actors he likes in the world. What else can I ask for?
I am a lover of film festivals. In those days when I did not have money and pass, I would still go to film festivals by dressing myself well so that the gatekeeper would allow me in. Even if I failed to get inside the theatre, I would still find some other way to watch films at festivals. Such was my passion for movies and film festivals. I feel so happy that Otha Seruppu has found a place at IFFI and got the appreciation of many.
Releasing Otha Seruppu was a huge challenge, and taking it to festivals was another, as I don’t have a brand for myself. Movies of few directors easily make it to festivals just because of their brand value. The government and festivals should create more space for small films. More subsidy should be given to quality movies. Cinema theatres in capsule formats should be built to accommodate just around 100 people, so that small films can get screens easily. Taking movies to OTT and other platforms is a good route to make revenue. But, nothing can match the experience of watching a film in theatre. Also, festival films should not be the choice of four-five persons.
The Tamil Nadu Government and Information Minister Kadambur Raju were very supportive of ‘Otha Seruppu’. Both the State and Central State governments should give more concessions to cinema, like how it’s being done in other countries, to make the art thrive and reach more people. I conceived the idea of doing a solo film 15 years back, but I was able to do it only now. I still have ideas for more such movies. If an actor like me, who earns money by acting in others’ films, has to struggle this much, imagine the plight of aspiring filmmakers who don’t have any support.