Director Chezhiyan on To Let winning National Award: 'It's significant because it's an unreleased indie film'

Surendhar MK

Apr 15, 2018 16:42:52 IST

When Tamil movie buffs were rooting for popular mainstream films such as Vikram Vedha, Aramm, and Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru to bag the Best Tamil Film national award yesterday, the jury headed by director Shekhar Kapur sprung a surprise by announcing To Let, an unreleased and hitherto lesser-known indie film, helmed by cinematographer-turned-director Chezhiyan, as the winner.

Twitter was awash with queries from movie lovers on how to watch the film legally. But no one from the film was active on the micro-blogging platform to respond to the spiraling questions about the national award-winning movie. In an exclusive conversation, FirstPost caught up with lensman-director Cheziyan to know more about the film, how crucial the award is, and the rise of regional cinema.

“Since it’s an indie film and yet to release in theatres, I consider this national award as significant. It’s truly special. Having toured nearly 30 film festivals across the world and won 15-16 awards so far from the international arena, I feel elated that our film has received its due recognition in the national awards,” Chezhiyan, who has worked as cinematographer in acclaimed films such as Joker and Paradesi to name a few, told FirstPost.

Chezhiyan wrapped up the project on a shoe-string budget by October 2017 and started applying for festivals. “After it won the Best Film award at the Kolkata International Film Festival last year, a bevy of festival organizers came forward to screen the film.”

Talking about the premise of To Let, Chezhiyan said, “My film talks about the livelihood of lower and middle-class people who are struggling to find a rented house in the globalized city of Chennai. After the rapid growth in the IT sector and the steady influx of high-income individuals like software professionals in the city, it has become an ordeal for normal people to find a rented house in Chennai. It has shaken the economic balance in the society. To Let talks about the challenging situations confronted by a lower-middle-class couple with a child during their pursuit of a rented home in the city.”

Director Chezhiyan on To Let winning National Award: Its significant because its an unreleased indie film

Director Chezhiyan/Image from YouTube.

Chezhiyan said he took a leaf from real-life incidents to present To Let to audiences. “I have seen a lot of such instances in real-life. Before ten years, earning Rs 40,000 per month was a big deal. Now, even 20-somethings who are working in the IT sector take home a salary in the range of Rs 80,000 to Rs 1,00,000 per month. A lower-middle-class family used to spend about Rs 4,000 per month on rent. Since the working bachelors are now willing to cough up Rs 15,0000 to Rs 20,000 for rent on a sharing basis, house owners have become more welcoming towards them. It breaks the economic structure,” he said.

Chezhiyan has never had to break his neck to find theatrical distribution for To Let since he wanted the film to complete its festival run first. Talking about the under-representation of Tamil films in the global festivals, Cheziyan said, “Till now, I have never made any attempts to release the film theatrically. I made this film specifically for festival audiences. My intention has always been to take Tamil cinema into the international arena and introduce Kollywood to international audiences. There is no representation for Tamil films in major international festivals. In fact, while submitting a film for festivals, you won’t even find a language called ‘Tamil’ on their websites. If you click India, only ‘Hindi’ is available. Today, Indian cinema is widely recognized as ‘Bollywood’ in the international circuit. We are making close to 200 films in Tamil, but hardly any film makes it to the 5000 odd festivals across the world.”

Since the announcement came yesterday, a lot of distributors have already expressed their willingness to release the film in Tamil Nadu. “To Let will be released in Tamil Nadu in a month or two. I’m really happy since a theatrical release would get more audiences to watch my film,” he says.

Chezhiyan, a former associate of veteran lensman PC Sreeram, made his debut as a cinematographer in Balaji Sakthivel’s Kalloori in 2007. But, he had ventured into films in the dream of becoming a director. “I had always aspired to become a filmmaker. But I wanted first to understand the language of cinema better. If you join an engineering course, there’s a common syllabus for students from all disciplines in the first year. Cinematography helped me to understand the nuances of filmmaking in a simplified manner during the early stages of my career. I prepared myself gradually to wield the megaphone,” he said.

Chezhiyan believes that festival films are finding acceptance from audiences nowadays and the demand is also on the rise. “Now, a festival film is not being looked down upon as an unprofitable venture. That myth is gone. There’s a growing audience for festival films, especially those who come to watch films in multiplexes. That’s the reason why streaming platforms like Netflix acquire more content-driven, award-winning films. Now, there is an increasing demand for organic food across the world. I feel that independent cinema is organic cinema. I view independent cinema as the kind of films that grow audiences’ sensibilities. It refines the taste of moviegoers. Indie films will grab more attention in the coming years,” he signed off on a concluding note.

Updated Date: Apr 15, 2018 16:42:52 IST