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'Neer Paravi is about the struggles of fishermen'

Last updated on: November 27, 2012 14:41 IST

'Neer Paravi is about the struggles of fishermen'

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Shobha Warrier in Chennai

Expectations are quite high as the National Award winning director Seenu Ramasamy's Tamil film Neer Paravai gets ready to release on November 30. His last film Thenmerku Paruvakaatru won three National Awards: Best regional film, Best Actress (Saranya Ponvannan) and Best Lyricist (Vairamuthu).

Neer Paravai has already been in the news when Nandita Das agreed to be a part of it.

In this interview, Seenu Ramasamy talks to Shobha Warrier about Neer Paravi and his vision about cinema.

Was it a big responsibility making a film after winning the National Award?

I look at my responsibility as a filmmaker as a social responsibility. As a filmmaker, I should know what is good for the audience, and then make a film in a such a way that it reaches them. 

I believe every film has a purpose, and the audience has to be awakened while watching a film. As a filmmaker, it is my responsibility to awaken the audience to issues that are there in society. I am not here to make a propaganda film but I will try to spread the messages in a very subtle way. 

How do you manage to mix social responsibility, creative aspect of filmmaking and commercial success, in a film? Is it not tough?

Yes, it is very tough.

Today, that is the most difficult part of filmmaking. For filmmakers like me, who choose the middle path of filmmaking, who like to have a message in films, it is also important that we choose a interesting path so that the message reaches the audience. But to make the film interesting, I am not ready to compromise and introduce commercial elements. 


Image: Nandita Das and Seenu Ramasamy


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'Nobody was interested in making a film without big heroes'

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Was it because of your internship under Balu Mahendra that you look at films more as a creative expression and not a commercial product?

Definitely. I have learnt a lot from Balu Mahendra Sir. As a human being, I have learnt about life from him. He is a very successful filmmaker who has won national and international awards but in real life, he remains very simple. He walks to buy vegetables, he travels by autos and buses and despite all the laurels, he is a humble man. It is because he interacts with people that he can make realistic films. 

As I worked under him, I could listen to him discuss his films and other films, and he would pinpoint the merits and demerits of films. That was a great education for me. 

It was from him that I learnt that it is the responsibility of a filmmaker to raise and talk about issues that are there in society. 

How difficult was it to get someone to produce a film like Thenmuruku Paruvakaatru which talks about human emotions?

It was very difficult. It took me two and half years to get a producer after my first film Koodal Nagar because Thenmuruku Paruvakaatru was about a mother. Nobody was interested in making a film without big heroes, and here I wanted to tell the story of a mother. The film also didn't fall under the commercial category. 

Finally, it was Captain Shibu Issac who came forward to produce my film. That was only because of his interest in the art of film-making. I finished the film in just 34 days as I wanted to spend as little money as possible. I felt so happy when we won three national awards. 

Your latest film Neer Paravai is about fishermen. What is the inspiration behind making a film on fishermen?

As a student in Madurai, I was part of an NGO that travelled to many parts of the state to spread the message that all children should go to school and study. As a volunteer, I have gone to the coastal areas and seen how the fishermen community lived. Those images had had a great impact in my mind though it remained dormant till now.


Image: A scene from Neer Paravi


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'One year after I made Thenmuruku Paruvakaatru, I was sitting idle'

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How did the images come back to haunt you now?

All those images remained within me, and I believe the beginning of all creative expressions, is your memories. In the 40 years of my life, I have had so many experiences and so many memories, some come back to haunt me and then come out as creative expression. 

The relationship I had with my mother is the inspiration behind Thenmuruku Paruvakaatru. Similarly, my experiences as a young man has come out as Neer Paravai. The images, the memories, the thoughts... all remained inside me as a seed to come out  as an expression now.

What could be the reason for it get itself expressed now?

It is the political developments and the struggles fishermen go through even today that triggered off my memories. I found that nobody has made a film on their struggles.

Again, was it difficult to get a producer for such an idea?

For one year after I made Thenmuruku Paruvakaatru, I was sitting idle. Nobody called me, nobody gave me an opportunity to make another film. That was when Udhayanidhi Stalin saw my film, and he was quite impressed. He called me and expressed a desire to make a film with me. I narrated the story of Neer Paravai and he immediately agreed to produce the film.   

It is so heartening that a big production house like Red Giant Movies which produce only big budget films, decided to make a small film like Neer Paravai. Udhayanidhi Stalin has to be complimented for giving a chnace to directors like me who are not in the commercial circuit. In a way, he was showing respect to not just me but all the other film makers like me.

A film like mine, even if it runs only for 10 days, can recover the production cost. But there has to be producers who are willing to invest on us. Only if good films are produced, we can develop a taste for good cinema.


Image: A scene from Neer Paravi


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'I was quite impressed with Vishnu's performance and looks in Vennila Kabadi Kuzhu'

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When commercial films rule, is it difficult for a director like you to survive in  the film industry?

I would say for every filmmaker and every actor, every film of his is litmus test, an examination. One failure and you are out. 

But it is all the more difficult for filmmakers like us to survive in this industry as there are no producers to back us. Producers will agree for a project only if you have the date of a big hero. 

Another problem that filmmakers like us face is, if films ran for 100 days once, today, producers want to break even in three days by releasing 100-200 prints. This is not possible for small films as we rely on good reviews and good response from people. 

There was a time filmmakers like K Balachander, Bharatiraja, Balu Mahendra and Mahendran survived in this industry. I think such a time has come once again as the middle cinema made by Bala, Vetrimaran, Suseendran, Prabhu Solomon, Sasikumar, etc are succeeding here. So, I am sure we also will survive and there will be an audience for our kind of films. 

The change is happening here because audience is exposed to good world cinema now. When we were young, we had no access to these kinds of films. With communication improving, even our audience has access to world cinema. 

About Neer Paravai, why did you think of casting an urban young man like Vishnu as a fisherman?

I had seen his first film Vennila Kabadi Kuzhu, and was quite impressed with his performance and looks. I felt his eyes could convey what I wanted. More than that, he is a sportsman and if you see, all these young fishermen have the body of sportsmen. 

He is the paravai (bird) in my film; it is his story.


Image: A scene from Neer Paravi


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'Nandita Das is a perfect and sensitive artist'

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Saranya won the National Award for your last film, and she is also there in this film...

The kind of understanding we have is amazing. Whatever I have in mind, she understands; I do not have to explain every emotion in words. I would say it is the perfect sync between the director and the artist. 

In Neer Paravai, she has acted as an orthodox Christian fisher woman, the mother of Vishnu. 

Do you think the kind of impact Saranya's character had in Thenmuruku Paruvakaatru, Nandita Das will have in Neer Paravai?

Nandita Das is one actor who acts only in good films, and it is an honour for me that she chose to act in my film. Her character will have a great impact on people. When she agreed to act in my film, I felt it my responsibility to see to it that her presence was not wasted. She is a perfect and sensitive artist. Because of her presence and performance, I am sure my film will be talked about all over India. 


Image: A scene from Neer Paravi


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'My films are like my children'

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How tough was shooting Neer Paravai on the sea and the shores?

We shot the film in April and May when sun was the fiercest. We used to start shooting by 7 am and by 11, we used to go to the interiors as it was extremely hot shooting outdoors. We resumed outdoor shooting after 4pm. 

We shot the film in a small place called Manappad near Thiruchendur and it was like a mini Rome! 

The kind of co-operation we have had from the fishermen community was so amazing that we felt we were shooting with our own family. Everyday, one family would send us homemade fish curry! 

It was reported that you have started the pre-production of your next film. Have you come out of Neer Paravai even before its release and moved on to your next project?

How can I come out of Neer Paravai? How can I come out of any of my films? I still carry with me the characters of Thenmuruku Paravaikattu. My films are like my children, and as the father, will I be able to forget my children?


Image: A scene from Neer Paravi


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