It has been a busy month for director Rathindran R Prasad. He has had back-to-back releases including his first feature film Boomika, an ecological thriller starring Aishwarya Rajesh, and Inmai (based on fear), a segment in the widely-watched Netflix anthology Navarasa, starring Parvathy and Siddharth. Both films have made quite a stir with critics lauding the filmmaker for the interesting premises.
His identity however cannot be restricted to the term ‘director’.
Rathindran, who grew up in Chennai in the 1980s, says he first discovered his love for direction when the music video of pop icon Michael Jackson’s Thriller came out. “John Landis was director of the video, and I wanted to be him. I didn’t want to be Michael Jackson, but the guy who tells him what to do,” he says.
A former ad filmmaker, Rathindran quit his job in pursuit of travel. He also spent some time as an organic farmer in Auroville near Puducherry. “In fact, at one point, I wanted to become a fisherman,” he chuckles.
Rathindran’s tryst with filmmaking started long before Inmai. In 2010, he worked on a project based on the German play Frühlings Erwachen. “I did the project with another theatre artist and it was funded by the Bavarian govt. It is a combination of theatre, filmmaking, and installation art. We made it into a post-modern play,” he says.
Known for his keen interest in environmental issues, he also directed the 2015 viral music video Kodaikanal Won’t, starring rapper Sofia Ashraf. Around the same time, Rathindran’s short film, Swayers Corporation, was screened at the Cannes International Film Festival. Following the story of a young environmental activist who is looking to murder the CEO of a chemical company, the film was co-produced by music director Ghibran.
His relationship with the environment has been ever-changing, he says. “One of the reasons I did Boomika was because nature scares me. I don’t believe in supernatural elements. When you make a horror movie, you pick subjects that you are actually scared of. For me, that is nature because it can be vicious.”
In 2017, Rathindran collaborated with actor Abhay Deol on what was supposed to be the former’s Tamil directorial debut Idhu Vedhalam Sollum Kadhai. The film was co-produced by Rathindran’s wife Basak Gaziler Prasad and Deol himself. An action-fantasy film, it was also supposed to have marked the actor’s Tamil debut. However, the film went through a series of delays, and four years on, its release date has not been announced.
A week after the release of Boomika, in an interview with Silverscreen India, Prasad discusses his filmmaking process at length. He also speaks about his understanding of the natural environment and his long-awaited film Idhu Vedhalam Sollum Kadhai.
How do you feel after the release of your first feature film Boomika?
It is overwhelming because I’ve had two releases this month. I am not a very social person. I only have my phone switched on for certain hours in a day and I am off social media. However, because of the releases, my brother advised that I keep my phone on at all times and answer every message. Now, my phone rings often. I’ll sometimes get a call from an unknown number and it will be a big celebrity talking to me. All this is very new to me. In the last month, I feel like I have become a different person.
How did the idea for the film come about?
Boomika happened in 2009 when I was travelling in Ooty. I saw this abandoned building with creepers and I stopped to have a conversation with a tea-shop owner. He was talking about the viciousness of nature and that sounded interesting and eerie to me. I wanted to make a film about the ongoing extinction of species due to human activity. Instead of going into CGI and VFX, I wanted to convey the message in a powerful way. So, I decided to make a horror film and weave elements from our existing world into it.
Can you tell us a little about your writing process for Boomika?
I wrote the story nine years ago but horror was not in trend at that time. Only Yaavarum Nalam and Eeram (successful horror films) had come out. Even Pizza (a popular Tamil horror film directed by Karthik Subbaraj) hadn’t been released. People were sceptical about horror and so I left the script. I went on to work on my first film Idhu Vedhalam Sollum Kadhai but it was halted due to several factors. So Vijay Sethupathi encouraged me to work on Boomika again. (The actor had read the script when it was first written.) I had lost my interest in it because a lot of horror movies had come out in the last 10 years. But Aishwarya (Rajesh) was interested as well, so I thought to myself, “Why not?” It is about nature and the issue is still fresh.
Would you term the film a female-centric one?
No, it is mistakenly getting projected as an Aishwarya-centric film because everyone else is new. My intention was not to make it women-centric. But I do like writing strong women characters, be they negative or positive. In Inmai, Wahida (played by Parvathy Thiruvothu) is manipulative and cunning, but you can’t deny that she is strong and has a lot of conviction. I have grown up seeing strong women. My mother is a strong woman and I have worked under female directors. My mentor is a director called Pushpa Vinod.
You directed Inmai in Navarasa and that was also based on fear. Are you drawn more to the horror genre?
Not really. When Inmai came to me, the producers already decided that the topic would be fear. Initially, Mani Ratnam sir wanted me to direct a horror movie but I decided against it because I just worked on Boomika. Instead of making a genre-specific film, I said that I’d rather do a film that revolves around the topic of fear. I wanted to do a Shakespearean tragedy. In his plays, Shakespeare usually takes one emotion and exaggerates it. I wanted to do something like that with Inmai. We went into what fear is and decided to give it an Islamic background because we based it on Rumi’s quote: “Non-acceptance of uncertainty is fear.”
Your films are known for their picturesque landscapes. Do you have a specific way in which you collaborate with the cinematographers?
I choose the cinematographer based on the script or the idea. Idhu Vedhalam Sollum Kadhai and Boomika have different styles. In Boomika, it is all about lush green nature whereas Idhu Vedhalam Sollum Kadhai is about dryness, action, and male rage. I’d call these films yin and yang. However, landscape plays a major role in both films. I met Roberto Zazzara (Italian director and cinematographer) in South Korea in 2016 and I was stunned by his cinematography. He’s an expert with landscapes and I was sure that he would be a good cinematographer to shoot Idhu Vedhalam Sollum Kadhai. When I decided to shoot Boomika, I couldn’t find any other cinematographer who could do justice to landscapes like Roberto, so I worked with him again.
As a filmmaker, what were some of the differences that you noticed while working on an anthology as opposed to a feature film?
I did not see any difference other than the duration of the film. I put the same effort into both my projects. There are differences while writing. In a short film, you use a different structure while constructing the screenplay as compared to a feature film.
Do you make a conscious decision to raise awareness on issues that are important to you through your films?
Actually, I don’t like to preach through films. However, I think that we should work with ethics. As a filmmaker, I try to follow certain ethics which are personal to me. Basically, I’m making a film that is socially responsible but I’m not trying to impose my views on anyone. That’s why every character is equal and has a certain interest. In Boomika, the characters are the voices in your own head when put in a situation. I see it more like that.
After leaving ad films, you got into organic farming and travelling. Can you elaborate on these experiences?
As soon as I left ad filmmaking, I started travelling. I was inspired by Motorcycle Diaries. Your mind travels from one extreme to another; I went from being an ad filmmaker to an organic farmer. I have travelled, trekked and I have almost gotten caught in a sandstorm. I have seen the vicious side of nature. It is not just pretty and giving. Travel taught me a lot. It made me a balanced person.
What drew you back to filmmaking?
When I was doing all this, my father had a conversation with me which was impactful. He told me that I should make films if I wanted to make a difference. It made a lot of sense and I realised that the skill that I had learnt was being wasted.
Apart from direction, you are also interested in sketching and anime. Do you incorporate these elements into your films?
I never thought that I could sketch. When I was doing Idhu Vedhalam Sollum Kadhai, I was finding it very hard to communicate certain things to my art director and costume designer. That’s when I started sketching. It helps me communicate my visual language to my technicians. I don’t like using references of any kind. So, I started taking a few online courses and I learnt landscape drawings and perspectives. I have also started learning to draw human anatomy. It helps me in the filmmaking process. With respect to anime, I am a fan. For example, a portion of Idhu Vedhalam Sollum Kadhai is in anime. I worked closely with an anime filmmaker based in Thailand and he taught me a few things about anime filmmaking.
What is the most interesting book/play you’ve read or seen that you would like to make into a film?
Your first film was supposed to be Idhu Vedhalam Sollum Kadhai but you mentioned that it ran into legal issues. Are there any updates on the film?
The legal issues have been resolved. We were waiting for Boomika to release. Now, we will be bringing it out soon. We are in talks with a few platforms.
Are there any projects that you would like to work on in the future?
I want to experiment with all genres. But there are certain genres that I am not comfortable with. For example, I don’t think I will be doing a romance or a film with too many songs. Apart from this, I like every genre.