Filmmakers Suhasini Mani Ratnam, Rajiv Menon, Gautham Menon, Karthik Subbaraj and Sudha Kongara got together on a virtual call, to discuss their latest anthology, ‘Putham Pudhu Kaalai’
Five filmmakers. Five different stories. One film.
The trailer for Amazon Prime Video’s first Tamil original feature Putham Pudhu Kaalai was launched on Monday by celebrated director-composer duo, Mani Ratnam and AR Rahman. An anthology of five shorts, the idea was to bring together a distinguished set of filmmakers, known for their distinctive style, and to weave in a story with a specific theme: love, hope, second chances and more. That is how Putham Pudhu Kaalai was given birth to.
In an innovative virtual press conference — designed in such a way that viewers can wait in the ballroom, browsing the contents of the film as they wait for the live session to begin — filmmakers Suhasini Mani Ratnam, Rajiv Menon, Gautham Menon, Karthik Subbaraj and Sudha Kongara, along with actors Kalidas Jayaram, MS Bhaskar, Rittu Varma and Bobby Simha, came together to give the audience a peek into what each of their films is about.
The Hasan clan
Suhasini was the last person to join the bandwagon when she was offered to direct a portion of the anthology. She thought of an idea she wanted to explore, but later discovered it to be similar to Karthik Subbaraj’s film. That is when she decided to flesh out a short story — about a daughter and a son returning to their house from abroad, for their mother’s 50th anniversary — she had written 10 years ago. “It’s about their confrontation and the ensuing conflicts that happen. I couldn’t finish the story for some reason,” she said, adding, “I finished it for them [Amazon Prime] and changed the son’s character to a daughter.”
Directing the short is one thing, but Suhasini sensed an opportunity to bring the Hasan family together. Titled Coffee, Anyone?, it stars Suhasini and her mother Komalam Hasan along with Anu and Shruti Haasan. Her father Charuhasan, in fact, was supposed to play the lead, if not for an unfortunate fall that resulted in a fracture. He was replaced by veteran drama actor Kathadi Ramamurthy. “I had the cast in mind when I wrote it. There were certain advantages and many disadvantages, but it was so much fun shooting with them.”
Master and his disciple
When Gautham Menon got a call for the anthology before it was named Putham Pudhu Kaalai, it was a no-brainer for him, given that he made his digital debut with Queen and given that he filmed the short film Karthik Dial Seytha Yenn with Simbu and Trisha Krishnan, during the initial months of the lockdown. But his only reservation was to see his name appear along his mentor’s, Rajiv Menon.
“When I came to know that Sir [Rajiv] is part of it, I said ‘I don’t want to do it’. But I’m fortunate to have shared my name along with him,” said Gautham, adding, “I enjoyed the process because I shot with a master craftsman like PC Sreeram and the experience was learning and humbling.” Gautham’s film Avarum Naanum/Avalum Naanum stars MS Bhaskar and Rittu Varma in the lead.
For Rajiv Menon, filming the anthology took him back to his film institute days when the number of people involved were minimal. “Not just that, we have someone who is not a conventional actor and the lighting was natural and to top that, we have Leela Samson who I respect a lot. It’s like five different melodies composed in five different houses.I’m curious to know how others have interpreted the brief.”
Rajiv is not just a writer-director, but also a cinematographer who is fairly insistent about the way he sets up his frames. Was it difficult to adapt to a newer format: virtual filmmaking? “As a DOP [director of photography], I’ve never shot my films because it affects my space as a director,” he said, adding, “I’ve been studying about global photography where they insist on shooting in natural light and not light up the face or geography in which you are shooting. That worked in this case. When there is no light, it allows you more movement…those were the areas I experimented with.”
Where it all started…
A shorter format may be an unfamiliar terrain for other filmmakers, but not for Karthik Subbaraj. He became a talent to reckon with after he won Naalaiya Iyakkunar, the short filmmaking contest on television. “The only difference is that, there, my fellow contestants were Nalan and others. But here, we have distinguished names like GVM sir, Suhasini ma’am and Rajiv sir. Coronavirus has taken us back to where we started,” said Karthik, who is working with Bobby Simha yet again for a short titled Miracle.
Karthik says that his film is based on a real-life incident that happened to Bobby Simha, when his office was robbed by an unidentified group during the lockdown. “We were discussing and an ideal chance came to make it into a film. I thought ‘why not?’”
Love in the time of Corona
Sudha Kongara was left undecided and thought she would accept the offer only if she found an interesting story to tell. That did happen and she has directed Ilamai Idho Idho, a title taken from a popular song of the same name from Sakalakala Vallavan. “To me what came instantly was romance…that is the happiest phase of one’s life, isn’t?” Her film has actors Jayaram, Kalidas Jayaram, Urvashi and Kalyani Priyadarshan.
Asked about the decision to cast the father-son duo Jayaram and Kalidas, the filmmaker said it hasrelevance to the script. But it was Kalidas who had the last word: “I was desperate for work and worry too much about the pandemic. The last four months I spent time at home. When I got back to work expecting to see others, there was my father again. And that was not fun.”
Putham Pudhu Kaalai will release on Amazon Prime Video on October 16