The first look poster was released by the makers on social media on Sunday. Witness is produced by TG Vishwa Prasad under the People Media Factory banner.
Deepak, who has earlier worked as a cinematographer for Telugu documentaries, makes his directorial debut with the film. He says, “Witness will talk about the deaths caused due to manual scavenging, as well as touch upon the caste system in India. It also includes elements of a courtroom drama. But, at its core, it is a story about a mother and a son and how the mother battles for justice. Shraddha’s character gets connected to this battle and the rest of the film is about the nature of support she lends. We have tried to portray the emotions of the characters in an authentic manner.”
Deepak mentions that Rohini plays the role of a conservancy worker who sweeps roads during the night, while debutant Tamil Bhuminathan plays her son, a college-going student. “I felt that Rohini ma’am would understand the political stance of the film. She had a lot of night shoots and she cooperated very well. Likewise, when we shared the screenplay with Shraddha, she understood the importance of the topic the film deals with.”
“The film is set in contemporary Semmencherry, a neighbourhood in southern Chennai and we have also roped in working-class residents of the area to act in the film,” the director adds.
Deepak has penned the story alongside his friend and screenwriter Muthuvel and JP Sanakya. “We have worked on this subject for about three years. We made documentaries on manual scavenging, followed up on death rates among people in the profession, met with lawyers, and attended meetings of sanitary workers and their unions. While indie films in Kannada and Malayalam have been made on this topic previously, we wanted to present it in a commercial, mainstream movie on a larger scale,” he says.
Deepak notes that the team aims to create more conversations around manual scavenging with Witness and raise questions about the basic amenities provided to people in the profession.
The filmmaker tells us that Witness also deals with the eviction, displacement and resettlement of marginalised communities in cities. “We chose Semmencherry for this reason, to show urban audiences a glimpse of an area that is 30 km away from the city, the routines of the people living there, the difficulties they put up with, and the hardships their children face.”
The film went on floors in December 2020 and was wrapped up in March 2021. It was shot in Semmencherry and other parts of Chennai, by Deepak himself. On handling both the direction and cinematography, he says, “I felt that was easy because I always work with a director’s perspective. Most of my team members have been with me for three years and have assisted me with camerawork.”
He adds that he has incorporated certain camera techniques to portray the psychology of the characters. “For example, in courtroom scenes, I have experimented with a mix of wide and close-ups, to depict the heightening tensions.”
Witness has been certified ‘U’. It is edited by Philomin Raj. The music is composed by Ramesh Thamilmani and the film has two songs. “One song is a montage that depicts the lifestyle of Semmancherry. Another one stresses on raising questions when the characters are in a confused state of mind,” Deepak says.
Aside from Tamil, Witness will also be dubbed and released in Hindi, Kannada, and Telugu. However, the team is yet to decide on the date and medium of release.