Award-winning Tamil director-actor Cheran tells Subhadra Devan more about his sociocentric films
“LOVE, as with other emotions, has many facets to it. Nothing is straightforward,” says India’s national award-winning film director-actor-scriptwriter Cheran.
“Like the love in Autograph (his 2004 award-winning film). There’s a story within every story,” says the 42-year-old director from Tamil Nadu at the launch of Astro Vaanavil’s Tamil Novel Writing Contest 3 in Kuala Lumpur.
His films contain strong social messages, while highlighting the weakness of the social system and the consequent plight of people.
Autograph, Cheran’s best known film which saw him in the lead role along with Sneha, Mallika and Malayalam actress Gopika, is a road movie, albeit aboard a train. He plays a groom-to-be who goes to invite his friends to his wedding.
As the train runs through the countryside in south India, stopping at rural hamlets, the protagonist meets his old loves and learns what cards Lady Luck and life have dealt them.
The film garnered four of India’s National Film Awards in 2005, including the Golden Lotus Award for Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment.
Cheran’s other National Award winners are Vetri Kodi Kattu (Best Film of 2000, dealing with social issues) and Thavamai Thavamirundhu (Best Film on Family Welfare, 2005).
Thavamai Thavamirundhu highlights the role of a father and his importance in today’s society. “But it’s not my life story,” says Cheran, who adds that he got it after talking to a man on the set of another film.
“You don’t have to write about yourself. And you must note sociocentric details. For instance, I have used a horse carriage in my film so that young people will see it and maybe say ‘oh, that’s what a horse carriage is...’
“Look at successful films. They are about experiences and what the directors have seen or have lived through. That’s what I put in my scripts as well.”
Cheran holds his audience of Malaysian Tamil educators, local authors and the press rapt with his recollections of how he began his film career.
“I love the cinema. My screen idol was the late and iconic, Sivaji Ganesan. I wanted to be like him, an actor.”
He had the drive, but he says he lacked so many other things including the right contacts. So, he says, he took to film direction instead.
“But I had the memories. I have a good memory... I can still recall who sat where in the classroom when I was in Standard 10. And I had stories,” says the self-professed geek in school.
Cheran says he was picked on by his teachers and bullied in school but he wrote about these experiences for a newspaper. It was published and he smiles in recollection as he says he was paid for it too.
LIFE AND ITS EXPERIENCES
“That’s when I realised that life and experiences should be the foundation for my stories and I decided only to showcase such experiences that a layman can relate to.
“Instead of being just an actor, I could become a different kind of creator,” explains Cheran who says he is not much a reader but more “of an observer of life”.
He is quick to add that he does read important books, especially those by T. Janakiraman, a Tamil writer from Tamil Nadu, considered as one of the major figures of the 20th Century Tamil fiction.
Although he feels that films scripts in India are commercial, “because that’s what people want to watch and pay for”, he says he includes social messages in his films “because I have a responsibility to my society”.
“It’s my life, my society. So I owe some responsibility to what the film says,” adds the artiste who will return to directing again this year, after his 2009 outing with Pokkisham. “I’ve only had acting offers since then but I will direct again this year.”
On using Malaysians in his films, as he is known for casting relative unknowns, Cheran says: “I haven’t had the chance yet. If I do come across someone, I will take him or her on.”
As for the Tamil Novel Writing Contest 3, Cheran says if it’s good, he is willing to help turn it into a movie, drawing much applause.
The deadline for Astro Vaanavil Tamil Novel Writing Contest 3, co-organised with the Malaysian Tamil Writer’s Association, is July 31. Details at www.astro.com.my.