Jyotika on taking Ponmagal Vandhal directly to Amazon Prime: OTT platforms 'give content-driven films a deserving audience'
In an exclusive, Jyotika defends the decision of her Tamil courtroom drama Ponmagal Vandhal skipping a theatrical release owing to the coronavirus outbreak.
Jyotika's Ponmagal Vandhal is the first Tamil film featuring a popular star to fetch a direct-to-streaming release on Amazon Prime Video India.
Ever since the announcement, theatre owners and exhibitors are at loggerheads with the decision of the production house, 2D Entertainment, which belongs to actor Suriya. Despite all the hullabaloo, the makers are going ahead with their plans of a direct digital premiere of the film, directed by Fredrick, on Friday.
In this exclusive interview, Jyotika talks about her first direct OTT release, the dearth of roles for elder women, why being socially responsible is important, and how Ponmagal Vandhal will be a different courtroom drama.
"I don't think of many courtroom dramas in the last 15 years, except for a few like Nerkonda Paarvai. What sets Ponmagal Vandhal different is the issue it addresses, plus the screenplay is very differently written, and I can't reveal much about it now. Also, it has a very deep story of a thriller embedded to it, giving the film an edge-of-the-seat experience. So the thriller element rendered along with courtroom drama makes it very special, and unique. The film is about child abduction and rape, which is a day-to-day issue now, and we felt the need to address it," Jyotika says.
Talking about the direct OTT release for a film which was initially intended to release in theatres, Jyotika explains, "It was very confusing to decide first, and needed a little much of thinking. But practically speaking, it seemed just the right thing to do due to various reasons. We are in a pandemic, and we have no idea about when things are going to see the daylight. It is fair to the producers of small films, and I feel it's a very good platform for small-scale films. What I am experiencing now with Ponmagal Vandhal, in terms of publicity, and the way people are seeing the trailer has never happened to any of my films before. Also, even if it takes a few months for the theatres to open, there will be a huge list of films lined up to be released. So it might take more than a year for Ponmagal Vandhal to get a release."
"For a content-driven film, OTTs are truly a big platform to give the film its deserved audience. Though the films are doing good enough to be successful, the theatre response for such films is always not enthusiastic. We want the film to be viewed by a larger audience, and it does not always happen. Most of the theatre-going population is male, and I don't think their interests are really with such small-scale films.
OTTs give such films the correct platform. A release in nearly 190 countries and 10 million views in just two days is a huge opening for all of us," she adds.
Justifying their decision, Jyotika says there is always a wait for the theatrical release for small-budget films. "Even for a film like Sillu Karupatti, which was loved and raved by the audiences, the film had to wait for more than a year to make it to the theatres. There's a lot of traffic in the movie releases, and definitely, the front seats are always given for bigger films, and there are always reasons for the choice made like the bigger crowd opting for such movies. And the reason for choosing OTTs is to divert the audiences and give all the creations due respect.
The efforts invested in content-oriented films are three to four times higher because there are no action sequences or songs or any sort of escape routes. So they deserve a bigger audience."
Suriya has added the name of Jyotika in the credits as a producer as a surprise for her. "It was a very big surprise for me. This film is very close to my heart because I chose the script. Of all the films I've done, this one is the closest in terms of emotions because I've been reading articles about child rape and abuse for almost five years, and it was disturbing me for a very long time. So when the script came along, I decided to do it however it comes out. So Suriya knows how much important and special this particular project is to me, and so he decided to put my name in the production."
For a dialogue-heavy film like Ponmagal Vandhal, Jyotika has dubbed in her own voice for the film. "I know Tamil to an extent where I'm good enough to converse, but the courtroom language is very different and the dialogues were lengthy. Every scene was like 25 to 30 pages, so I took the script early, and used to go through my lines. The lines were harder and tongue-twisting even for someone who speaks Tamil. We shot the entire courtroom sequence in nine days, which is a very short time, considering the lengthy sequences. So everyone had to go prepared to the sets to make the most of it," she says.
One of the reasons she tried to prep well was her co-star R Parthiepan. "I fear him a lot, and everyone knows his command over the Tamil language and his confidence. I knew it was not going to be easy so I took my time to prepare well before the shots. And with Bhagyaraj sir, I always had things to learn," she adds.
Jyotika says she took the decision to be socially conscious, and associate with films of such themes. "I am a mother, and I want my kids to watch the films I do and be proud of what I do. I want to be an example for them in doing what I do rather than being an advising parent. Also, a lot is happening around us, and the cinema has always been a big influence. I feel it's good to show something which is real on screen so that people can connect to it, and do what is right."
Addressing the criticism of heavy social messages being doled out in her movies, Jyotika stated, "I think most movies follow a fixed pattern, same romance track, same dialogues, same emotions. But there are hardly any complaints about such films. So if people can watch that, they surely can stop complaining about my films. At least, it enforces some message."
Jyotika-starrer 36 Vayadhinile paved way to a bevvy of women-led films. She has been one of the torchbearers of the theme in South Indian film industry. "Now, a lot of films are made with women protagonists. The only thing is we have to give space to the elder heroines. I would like to see Simran ma'am doing more films because she is extremely talented than many others. When it comes to heroes, they can go on even when they are in their 80s. But heroines are shut out when they are in their late 30s. So this trend should change else we can never have someone like Meryl Streep or Michelle Pfeiffer. In the last few years, we have many new directors and writers but we have to open up our mind towards elder women doing such films," Jyotika says.
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