Has it become relatively easy for talented and driven young filmmakers to break into the Tamil film industry? Yes, says JJ Fredrick, who has written and directed Ponmagal Vandhal, starring Jyotika.
An alumnus of Loyola College in Chennai, Fredrick aspired to become a film editor. But, little did he imagine he would start writing and directing his own films within a few years. Before Ponmagal Vandhal, JJ made two short movies, and for a year, he assisted director I. Ahmed of Endrendrum Punnagai fame in the pre-production work of the latter’s project, which never took off. “I believe every two years, a miracle happens in the industry,” says the debutant director. “10 years ago, you could count talented filmmakers on your fingers. But, today at least 100 promising filmmakers are visible to you. A lot of things in the industry has changed.”
JJ Fredrick says the willingness among A-listers to work with new and young filmmakers is on the rise. “I had no formal training or did not work with some big film director. But, stars these days believe in the stories newcomers have to offer. They understand our thought process and allow us to shine,” he adds.
Fredrick’s observation is correct. For example, Pa. Ranjith was just two films old when he directed Rajinikanth in Kabali. So is Lokesh Kanagaraj, who has directed Vijay in Master. “Jyotika ma’am said yes soon after I finished narrating my story to her without asking too many questions about my experience or previous work. After seeing the output of the first-day shoot, she was very, very happy. Her support throughout this film helped me a lot. At the end of every day’s shoot, she used to text me about the shot that she liked,” he recalls.
Not just Jyotika, JJ Fredrick received the much-needed support from the ensemble cast, which has veteran filmmakers and screenwriters R. Parthiban, K. Bhagyaraj, Thiagarajan, Pandiarajan and Pratap Pothen.
“I am such a huge fan of Bhagyaraj sir. I don’t remember the number of times I saw his movie Rudhra,” he says while talking about his experience of directing veteran filmmakers in his first feature. “But, I also had the responsibility (of the project).”
The producers of the movie were a bit surprised by the casting preferences of JJ Fredrick. But, he was confident that he could convince the veterans to be part of his debut movie. “They were very sweet. They all are veteran filmmakers. But, they never interfered in my work. They would come to me as an actor and discuss the ways they could perform their roles. They were all very supportive and helped me make the most of the opportunity that I was given,” he notes.
Fredrick describes himself as a socially conscious filmmaker, and he promises that even if he makes a romantic movie, it will have a message for the society. “Ponmagal Vandhal is no different,” he says, adding that “it is a layered movie.”
JJ Fredrick reveals he completed the script of Ponmagal Vandhal within a month. But, he took a year to research the way the court and legal system works. He met many people, including advocates and tried to develop an experience about the subject he was dealing with.
Since Ponmagal Vandhal is a courtroom drama, it depends heavily on dialogues. Jyotika had to work extra hard to byheart her dialogues, which runs into around 20 pages for every scene. “She (Jyotika) is my film’s superhero,” says Fredrick.
JJ Fredrick recalls that at times he forgot to say ‘CUT’ because he was so drawn into Jyotika’s performance. “I lived with this movie for over a year, but she understood it entirely in about 10 days and delivered it. She has put in an extreme effort both physically and mentally. She has nailed it,” he adds. “All 50 people on the set would stand up and applaud her performance. And Parthiban would be the first among them.”
Ponmagal Vandhal was slated for theatrical release on March 27. However, the outbreak of the coronavirus, which forced a nationwide shutdown, changed everything. “I immediately said yes when my producers asked me about releasing this movie digitally. They even asked me to give it a thought. But, this movie reaching the audience was all I wanted,” he recalls.
He was also convinced that Ponmagal Vandhal can’t be released globally at least till December. So it was an easy decision for him to make.
Ponmagal Vandhal, which is bankrolled by Suriya’s 2D Entertainment banner, is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
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