The last rites of late Tamil filmmaker SP Jananathan took place on Monday morning at his parents’ residence in Mylapore, Chennai. He died of a cardiac arrest on March 14.
He was 61.
Jananathan had been working on his upcoming film Laabam, starring Vijay Sethupathi and Shruti Haasan. He has previously directed Tamil films E (2006) and Peranmai (2009). The filmmaker had carved a niche for himself in the Tamil film industry with these films.
Balaji, Jananathan’s assistant director and personal assistant who was by his side when he breathed his last, said: “It is an emotional loss for me. He has taught me the ropes of filmmaking and gave me the opportunity to come into this industry. I hope the film [Laabam] will bring out a great message and will reach all at a greater level.”
Balaji, who left his hometown Hosur in 2011 to pursue filmmaking, had worked for a year at the office of the Tamil Nadu Film Director’s Association. It was then that he got acquainted with the late filmmaker.
“I did not have an idea to join him as an assistant director. All I wanted to do was learn direction. After working there for a year, I requested him to join as his assistant and he agreed. He had then started Purampokku Engira Podhuvudamai (2015) and I was given a chance to become an assistant director. I have also worked with him for Laabam,” he said.
Balaji said that Jananathan was more of a father figure to him since he did not have one.
Independent filmmaker Manimekalai called the late director a “real comrade”. She said that in a film industry that operates in a “machismo, feudal, and hierarchical way”, Jananathan embraced and respected everyone. Calling the trait “rare”, Manimekalai said that he was the pioneer in bringing political filmmaking into mainstream cinema.
எந்த கணத்திலும் என்னைப் பெண்ணாகப் பார்க்காமல் சக மனிதராக, பரஸ்பர மரியாதையும் சுதந்திரமுமான நட்பை தந்த நல்லாத்மா.தோழர் என்ற உறவுக்கு எடுத்துக் காட்டானவர். வெகுசன சினிமாவிலும் விடாமல் அரசியல் படங்கள் செய்த முன்னோடி. Rest in thoughts Comrade #Jananathan. Will miss you terribly💔 pic.twitter.com/oefLrbXy57
— Leena Manimekalai (@LeenaManimekali) March 14, 2021
“His E was an out and out political and successful film commercially. His work has been outspoken about Marxism. His films had political symbolism present and it is a revolution. He made main cinema artists say something politically. That is important. It created a unique path and inspired filmmakers to talk about politics in mainstream cinema” she said.
Talking about how the presence of the directors’ association came in light during his leadership, Manimekalai said Jananathan acknowledged the work of independent filmmakers like her.
“My film Sengadal was selected as part of Indian Panorama at the 42nd International Film Festival of India  and it was the only Tamil film to be selected in Indian Panorama. But in the Chennai International Film Festival that year, while they screened all the films selected under the Panorama section, they had not allotted any screening for my film. They wanted to avoid the film due to its political tone. At that time, Jananathan was the president of the Tamil Nadu Film Directors Association and had issued a statement sating that they would boycott the festival if independent filmmakers were insulted. They took a stand and had a voice,” she said.
She said that Jananathan did not have a gender bias in his personal or professional life.
Director Mohan Raja called the late director “inspiring”. Raja’s brother actor Jayam Ravi had acted in Peranmai and Bhooloham (2015) (produced and dialogues written by Jananathan). Raja said that he was acquainted with Jananathan when the latter used to narrate scripts to Ravi and his father.
So heartbreaking this is..
RIP #SPJananathan sir..
Such an inspiration to me n many 🙏
A great soul to be remembered always 🙏
— Mohan Raja (@jayam_mohanraja) March 14, 2021
Raja said that he was fond of E and said that Jananathan’s vision of world politics was “thought-provoking and over-whelming”.
“It gave me the strength to work on subjects like organised crime that I did in Thani Oruvan. It gave me the confidence to give such messages to people. I might have been skeptical of such issues if I had not interacted with Jana sir,” he said.
“A filmmaker’s quality is determined how far they compromise for regular audience. He is an inspiration when it comes to breaking the rules and exploring to unexplored areas. He paved the way to explore many things that will be eye-opening to people. I learned this while conversing with him,” he said.
Raja recalled Jananathan saying that he tried to talk about socially and economically backward sections of society in E. However, he found another layer beneath- the lives of tribals- which he later explored in Peranmai.
Raja said that he has not seen anyone apart from Jananathan who had a strong hold in the knowledge of world politics and film theory. “There may be many things that he would have left to say but my question is, have we understood fully what he tried to say till now? They may not have been explored fully so far. What we can do is celebrate his work,” he said.
Jananathan is survived by a brother and two sisters. He was unmarried.