Chezhiyan on his National Award-winning film, To Let: Wanted to make a realistic movie for award circuits
Chezhiyan on setting his film To Let in 2007, the reason behind making his protagonist a filmmaker and why he chose not to include any songs
Cinematographer-turned-director R Chezhiyan’s debut film To Let bagged a National Award last year and it also won 32 awards in various film festivals across the globe. After completing its festival run, To Let hit the screens only on 22 February in Tamil Nadu.
“The one-and-a-half year journey gave me a lot of hope. If my film had a theatrical release in Tamil Nadu, the life span would be too short but now, To Let has been screened continuously for eighteen months in various parts of the world. In fact, a producer from France saw the film in one of the film festivals and expressed his wish to bankroll my next film. I’ve almost got back my investment, To Let is already a profitable film for me. Talks are on with Netflix for digital streaming. Now, I want to share my journey with other filmmakers in Tamil cinema," says Chezhiyan in an exclusive interview with Firstpost.
From his childhood, Chezhiyan’s biggest dream was to direct a film on his own. “But in Tamil cinema, you will get a directorial chance only if you are someone who is good at story narration. I thought to myself that I’m not good at narrating my stories to producers. Later, I also understood that visual sense is the key to becoming a filmmaker so, I chose cinematography as my profession. While working in other directors' films, all I tried to do is to enhance the writing through my visuals," he says.
The story of To Let is set in 2007 and it basically talks about the struggle of a middle-class family to find a rental house in the city of Chennai. “I set my film in 2007 because according to me, the face of Chennai changed in that year. Just like how our voice changes during our adolescent age, the sudden IT revolution increased the rent price of Chennai homes to a different level. In Chennai, lawyers, police officers, media and film fraternities will not easily get rental properties due to the general perception of the owners on these professions. But as I’m in the film industry for twenty years, I thought I could bring more authenticity if my protagonist is a struggling filmmaker," says Chezhiyan on why he set the film in 2007 and also the reason behind the profession of his protagonist.
Interestingly, Chezhiyan didn’t attack the IT industry to depict the pain of the middle-class family in To Let. “Each and everyone in the world have their own battle. If an earthquake occurs, you can’t blame the natural calamity for the destruction. Similarly, bashing the industry won’t help. Instead, I chose to showcase the adverse effects in To Let," he says.
What really worked in favour of To Let is the realistic presentation. The characters have a lot of shades. In one scene, the wife blames the husband for not earning enough and in another scene, she encourages him and stops him from selling his script to pay advance to the new rental house. “Only in cinema, we portray characters in black and white. In reality, you can neither be a do-gooder nor be a baddie. So, in To Let, I wanted to capture things closer to the reality," says Chezhiyan who worked with director Bala in Paradesi and Thaarai Thappattai.
However, the house owner was shown as the cruelest person ever. “No, actually in the first scene, Amudha goes to the owner's home with a smile on her face. Adhira, the house owner, also casually watches TV. I didn’t tell their normal bonding in the film, it’s an untold backstory," explains the filmmaker.
There is another beautiful scene in which the husband takes money from his pockets, the wife drops all the currencies and hugs him. “Just before that scene, both of them had a heated argument. The wife didn’t scold him for her own good. If he doesn’t earn enough money, she can’t run the family. The husband knows how to make money but he can’t leave his dream for it. So whenever needed, he will work hard and earn money. In front of love, money doesn’t matter so they drop all the currency notes and hug each other," explains Chezhiyan.
Realistic dramas like To Let will not create any anxiety but Chezhiyan’s treatment actually brought us to the edge of the seat to actually know whether the family gets a rental house or not? “It was in the writing itself. Generally, people in Chennai shift to a new house in the month of May as schools would reopen in June. In my film, the deadline was 4 May because it’s the time for middle-class families to shift to a new house. I didn’t create any gimmick to hold the attention of the audience in the climax. The script demanded such an ending. I also think that when a director portrays the happy and sad moments of the family, he should also depict their anxiety and tension in a situation like this," says the director.
While most of the filmmakers prefer background score and songs, Chezhiyan strictly said no to these essential elements in Tamil cinema. “Music enhances the emotions, it’s like how actors apply makeup. As I wanted to make a film closer to reality, I thought the first thing I should not include in my film is music. The only place where music comes in the lives of my protagonists is through their small radio. My colleagues suggested me to include songs for commercial reasons but how many days we should be scared about these myths? I decided to make a real film for award circuits so there should not be any compromise including needless music," smiles Chezhiyan.
The climax of To Let is very subtle and deep. The film ends with a dark shadow falling on the face of Amudha and Ilango repeatedly trying to start his bike. “The film begins with Amudha and Ilango entering the house. To Let also ends on a similar note as the protagonists step out of their home. Their struggle and the hunt for a new house continues. But whatever happens, they will not give up and stay united to fight their battle," says the director.
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