Director Halitha Shameem Interview , where she talks to us about her debut directorial venture, Poovarasam Peepee; on being labelled the ‘female director’ and why her nephew’s word is law
When we speak to Halitha Shameem, debutante director of Poovarasam Peepee, she is standing outside her sister’s house. She doesn’t want to go in till we finish talking to her, she says. “My sister gets annoyed if I talk on the phone! I will finish this and then go inside!” And so, Halitha lingers on the doorstep for a good twenty minutes; speaking softly and laughing at all our lame jokes. She is so soft-spoken that we have to glue ourselves to the phone to hear what she is saying. “It doesn’t mean I am naive, though,” she laughs, “I have seen it all – the con artistes, the scammers,the bad and the ugly. Nothing ever fazes me now.”
It turns out Halitha is quite people savvy too. Her voice never rises, even when she is angry. And right now, she has just finished a round of ‘very tiring but fun’ promotions for her debut movie Poovarasam Peepee and is delighted at the attention she has been receiving. “I’m so very happy at the way the Tamil film industry has welcomed me. Even the media – to a certain extent – has accepted me. I have not faced that many difficult questions so far!” she exclaims. We immediately rise to the occasion and cast around for a hard topic.
“I’m twenty seven years old,” she begins, reading our mind. “These days, everyone asks me the same question; about my wedding plans. Is it because I’m a girl?” But she’s quite insistent that even if she does get married, it will never interfere with her career. “I’m extremely passionate about movies and there’s no way I’m letting go of it. If I do get married, my honeymoon will be at the shooting spot only!”
[quote align=’right’]It’s not like I woke up one day and someone immediately gave me money to make films. Life is never that simple and easy![/quote]Halitha also has an issue with being labelled and stereotyped; both of which have happened to her. Ever since her project was announced, she has been “constantly, literally in every article and interview”, referred to as the ‘female director’. She finds it irksome and distracting. “I have been an assistant director for over seven years and I have always felt like one of the guys. I was not the ‘female’ assistant director then! Just an AD like everybody else. Now that I’m directing, the media has seen fit to label me the woman director. What has my gender got to do with it? ” she demands. And, this isn’t her only grouse with the media.
Poovarasam Peepee has been compared to this year’s biggest hit, Goli Soda, only because both movies have young adults as protagonists. Her film has received some attention because of this, but Halitha is not pleased. “The only thing my film has in common with Goli Soda is the casting of child artistes. Apart from that, there is absolutely no similarity. I wish people would really understand a movie…any movie before they comment! This is as ludicrous as pitting me against Soundarya Rajinikanth because our movies happen to release around the same time.”
Having said that, she is grateful that the ‘industry’ as Halitha calls it, has welcomed her wholeheartedly. “It’s refreshing to see everybody – technicians, directors and producers being nice and friendly to me. This isn’t the kind of career I thought about when I was young, you know. So, it’s even more exciting to be given such a welcome.” So, making movies was accidental, then?
Halitha takes offence to the word ‘accidental’. Directing a movie isn’t just a whim that she acted on. She reminds us that she’s an electronic media graduate and that she’s got close to seven years of experience. “I’m glossing over the life I’ve had till now. But really, it was all hard work. I assisted Pushkar-Gayathri in Oram Po during my second year of college. Then I worked under Mysskin in Nandalala and then again with PG for Vaa Quarter Cutting! It’s not like I woke up one day and someone immediately gave me money to make films. Life is never that simple and easy!”
[quote align=’left’]Everything I write is mine and mine alone. I don’t look for inspiration in the works of others[/quote]A young Halitha dreamed of being a poet or a writer. Her free time was spent dreaming up extraordinary adventures and fantasies and then writing about them. In a way, this inspired the story of Poovarasam Peepee. “I remember my holidays being extremely boring. I was in a boarding school and made a lot of good friends and I would miss them desperately during the summer vacation. I never had the kind of summer adventure that the boys in PP do!”. But when she grew up, she realised that being a writer wasn’t that fascinating anymore. “Let’s face it. Writers don’t have the same kind of popularity or anything that filmmakers do. Not that fame or money was a part of my decision,” she hastens to add.
Halitha is quick to assure us, lest we assume otherwise, that she’s not really inspired by books or movies. “Everything I write is mine and mine alone. I don’t look for inspiration in the works of others.” Suddenly, her voice drops; and we naturally assume that she’s about to tell us some scandalous chink of gossip. “Last week, someone told me how inspiring my story was. The lady assumed that since I’m not from Chennai, I must be from a family of illiterate people. I told her my mother has a PhD and that my father runs a nursing school back home in Dharapuram. That shut her up quickly enough!” she laughs. We’re incensed on her behalf, but she waves away our concern. “Guess I should get used to it. I’m not really here for the media attention, but it’s still going to be there no matter what I do. My time is better spent working on doing something more constructive!”
She also sounds remarkably upbeat considering her movie is releasing tomorrow (May 30). But then, we seem to have momentarily forgotten that Halitha is not the type to get nervous. She proves us right. “I don’t have anything to worry about. At this stage, there’s nothing I can do. I have worked really hard on this…I am the editor, writer and director in Poovarasam Peepee. I have handled these different roles quite well and I’m satisfied.”
This is when we hear a loud noise on the other end. It’s time for Halitha to go inside; because her “nephew says so”. “He’s actually been banging on the door for the last ten minutes,” laughs Halitha; and we realise she has been on the doorstep all along. We start thinking about how she is poised at the door to something big, but she gently breaks our reverie with some strict advice to go watch the movie in “theatres only. No DVD, CD business!”
Hopefully, the audience welcomes her with same exuberance her nephew did.