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Director Vetrimaran on Visaranai at the Oscars, Jallikattu, and stalking in Tamil films

Written by Catherine Rhea Roy |
Updated: January 18, 2017 3:07:03 pm
Tamil Director Vetrimaran. Tamil Director Vetrimaran.

When Vetrimaran was still a student at Loyola College, Chennai, he watched Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, The Wrath of God with his friends. After the film, the group transformed by the experience went to a tea shop and stayed up till seven in the morning discussing Herzog and his genius. Last year, when Visaranai, India’s official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 89th Academy Awards, was screened in Los Angeles, the 41-year-old remembers with elation that Herzog watched his film and declared, “I’m not going to be able to sleep tonight, such a disturbing film. I was screaming to the boys not to go into the second police station.” Vetrimaran spent the climactic months of 2016 promoting his film, which was a blur of Academy members, colour-coded categories, and hundreds of films.

WATCH VIDEO | Tamil Nadu: People Protest At Marina Beach Against SC Ban On Jallikattu

Visaranai, a crime thriller inspired by real events, navigates the lives of four young men — labourers — wrongfully held in police custody, the indignity they suffer and a corrupt system that is programmed against them. The Tamil film lost the race to the Oscars, but the story adapted from the novel Lock Up written by M Chandrakumar casts an ugly portrait of our justice system. Vetrimaran was in Delhi to visit “Remains of Ayodhya” an exhibition by artist and novelist Kota Neelima at the Alliance Francaise. The director is also currently working on adapting Neelima’s novel Shoes of the Dead, that deals with farmer suicides, for the screen.

Having won critical acclaim for his 2011 film Aadukalam, a film about cockfighting, the director commented about the annual controversy that surrounds Jallikattu during the season of Pongal. “If cruelty to animals is the reason PETA and other groups want to ban the traditional practise of Jallikattu, then they are either misinformed or have ulterior motives. If they are really concerned about the welfare of animals they should ban firecrackers, and every year so much toxic material is dumped into the sea during Ganesh Chathurthi, which should also be stopped. These are ethnic identities which go deeper into a person’s psyche, it’s in the collective consciousness. When that is denied, it puts a lot of pressure on the community and their ethnic identity. It should be regulated, of course, change is important, but it is also important to retain your traditional values and practises in such a way that it ensures the continuum from the past to the future,” he said.

Vetrimaran grimaces at the mention of stalking in Tamil cinema, a debate that was opened up by the murder of a 24-year-old IT employee by a stalker in Chennai last year. He says, “All of Indian cinema is guilty of glorifying stalking, but what I have noticed in Tamil cinema, especially, is that a lot of filmmakers in their mid-30s and upwards grew in small towns where meeting and talking to a girl was close to impossible, and stalking was one of the prescribed ways of getting her attention. When we make films we tend to go back to those memories and experiences and that becomes a problem, we all tend to make that mistake. It needs to change. I apologise for all the stalking in films.”

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