The goal was to make a simple movie: Vinothraj PS on the selection of Koozhangal as an entry to the Oscars of India
For rookie director Vinothraj PS, it’s a surreal moment to have his first movie Koozhangal represent India at the 94th Academy Awards next year. The Tamil drama follows a violent alcoholic husband who, after his long-suffering wife flees, leaves with his young son to find and bring her back.
After being a festival favorite and participating in several international film galas like the Shanghai International Film Festival and Los Angeles Indian Film Festival, Koozhangal was announced on Saturday as India’s official entry into the category of international feature films at the Oscars by the Film Federation of India. .
Starring newcomers Chellapandi and Karuththadaiyaan, the feature film titled Pebbles in English has already won the Tiger Award at the Rotterdam International Film Festival in February 2021.
Vinothraj PS said he was overwhelmed with the love for the film and expressed his gratitude to the members of the jury who selected his film from the 14 other films.
“It’s as if three years of effort is paying off now. We didn’t expect the film to be recognized at this level so we focused on making a film that was honest and straightforward. We had no expectations, although we were popular at festivals including Rotterdam.
“I’m overwhelmed and everyone in the team too. We are all excited and emotional. The real journey has now begun. We have to make sure that we create enough chances to be in the final nomination. We have started discussions and are planning things, ”the 33-year-old manager told PTI over the phone from Madurai.
Born in a village near the town of Melur in Tamil Nadu’s Madurai district, Vinothraj said his love affair with films began after he began visiting sets from several films shot in his homeland.
“I wanted to be in the director of photography’s chair. This is how I developed an interest in films, ”said the writer-director.
But the difficult times of his childhood forced him to start working from an early age. He did several odd jobs, most notably as a salesman in a DVD store in Chennai, where he was introduced to world cinema.
“I saw cinema films from the world of Majid Majidi, Stanley Kubrick, among others almost every day and I understood what pure cinema is.
“I worked in this store thinking it would help me find points of contact in the industry, then I could help someone and start working. Soon I joined director A Sagunam and worked on some of his films. Then after a while I started writing the screenplay (from Koozhangal).
In 2018, Vinothraj started working on the film, produced by Tamil actor Nayanthara and filmmaker Vignesh Shivan.
The film was born from the personal experience of the director: one of his younger sisters was chased by her husband from her village to hers for 14 km after a quarrel ensued between the couple, he said. .
“… People here are so frustrated in their lives because of the drought and the lack of opportunities. This is reflected in their families and relationships. Male patriarchy existed very severely because of this frustration, ”he added.
The film is set in a village called Arittapatti near Melur and the director has started shooting in the scorching heat of May 2019, he explained.
Vinothraj PS, who admires veteran directors Balu Mahendra, Satyajit Ray and Adoor Gopalakrishnan, said where and when Koozhangal was filmed was as crucial as the story of the film.
“The film has three characters – one is the father, the child and the landscape. All these lands were rich in agriculture. There was no problem with the water. Later, he succumbed to the drought and caused a huge social imbalance in the lives of these people. This is what we wanted to address, ”he said.
But filming in real locations came with its fair share of challenges.
The director recalled how cameras often got stuck due to the extreme heat, and how the entire team had to walk barefoot to get a good feel for the story.
The film was partially finished before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, but the team needed someone to take over the entire production.
Looking for a collaborator, they knocked on the doors of the NFDC Film Bazaar, a platform created and organized to encourage collaboration between South Asian and international film communities.
“The NFDC had invited director Ram, who won a national award in 2013 for his film Thanga Meengal, as a guest for one of the conferences. We met him and told him about the movie, which he loved. Then Vignesh Sivan and Nayanthara saw the film and they resumed production because they believed in it, ”Vinothraj said.
After hosting a festival for about a year, the director said they were playing with the idea of releasing Koozhangal around December. However, the film could get an early release.
“We think that with the release of Koozhangal in theaters, we should be able to create a market for more films like this. This (Oscars) is something huge. The pressure is not too great. because we are happy to be recognized. It is a good feeling, “he added.