Breathing life into characters'

Print edition : May 18, 2012

Sankagiri Rajkumar: Quest for rationalist ideas.-BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Interview with Sankagiri Rajkumar.

SANKAGIRI RAJKUMAR discusses in this interview issues relating to the production of Vengayam and his journey from a remote village to the tinsel world. Excerpts:

From Chettipatti to Kollywood how do you explain your entry into the film world?

To be honest, right from my college days I had a strong desire to enter the world of films and make a mark there. After completing my graduation in a private engineering college in Salem in 2003, I moved to Chennai on the pretext of seeking employment. Though my dream was to become an assistant director, I was able only to make a humble entry as an office boy in a film company in 2004. Till I got elevated as an assistant director, I did not disclose my intentions to my kin.

For a brief while, my focus shifted to the small screen, which provided me an opportunity to present programmes exposing superstitions. It was then, for the first time in my life, I met with a great tragedy. My uncle, who was employed in a lorry body-building unit, committed suicide. He took the extreme step as an astrologer torpedoed his plans to establish a unit on his own, by predicting misfortune for him. Through press reports, I also found out that owing to superstitious beliefs, such tragic events occurred in many families every day. It became clear that this evil practice had to be curbed by creating public awareness. I thought of different options before finally choosing cinema as the proper medium for accomplishing the task.

Most of the actors in your movie are residents of Chettipatti. How did you transform them into perfect actors within a short period?

Most of the residents of my village are small and marginal farmers belonging to a most backward community. They take up other work during the off season. It's a close-knit society where people share their joys and sorrows.

Out of a total of 105 actors in the movie, 96 are my relatives. The tragedy, which struck me like lightning, had affected them too. So, when I proposed the idea of producing Vengayam, they supported the initiative without any hesitation and assumed different roles, breathing life into the characters. None of these characters could be cut out of the movie. As they were shy about even posing for a still shot, our team deliberately avoided cinematic terms such as ready-start-camera-action throughout the shooting. Huge shooting lamps and umbrellas were also not used. After all, my intention was not to stupefy them but to extract the best out of them!

Though the film was shot in 85 days, it took nearly one year to complete it, as we had to break every now and then for want of funds. The villagers were so involved in the story that the moment we mobilised adequate funds for hiring a digital movie camera, they suspended their daily routine and took part in shooting voluntarily.

How do you evaluate the performance of the actors?

The kids have done extremely well. My father, Manickam, donning the role of the folk artist whose son was abducted by a tantrik' for human sacrifice, has won the acclaim of one and all. At least, he has developed a taste for acting. But take the case of my grandmother and others who, despite being novices to the film world, have given their best.

It is not the first attempt by Kollywood to castigate superstitions. What is special about Vengayam?

Through this movie, I have given expression to the quest for rationalist ideas in a society that has been plagued by superstitions. I embarked on this venture with utmost urgency as I felt that not a single minute should be wasted. Vengayam can also be described as an attempt to take real life to cinema rather than introducing reel life to the public. I have been guided by Periyar's conviction in his ideology and work irrespective of the support he received from the public.

Initially, the film received a raw deal in the State, where theatre owners and distributors call the shots. However, I was immensely pleased when director Cheran extended a big helping hand. He organised a special show for many top directors. Earlier, impressed by the film, actor Rohini had recommended it to him. I consider Cheran a great asset of the Tamil film world. He took a lot of pain to ensure that the film was screened throughout the State.

The deficiencies in the film are due to the paucity of funds and time. But despite the technical imperfections, the film has sent out a strong message to the people.

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