We want to win people’s hearts and not awards – Ratnam

Island

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The picture painted about Sri Lanka in Tamil Nadu is false. This film needs to be shown in India so they can get the real picture of what Sri Lanka really is.

By Sajitha Prematunge

Siva Sithambram’s mundane life takes a hilariously dramatic turn when a distant relative Pat and his family from London decide to stay with him to attend a family wedding. While contending with financial problems he is putting up with a nagging wife and an unmarried daughter.

With only 20 rupees in his pocket and this film script King Ratnam sets out to make his first movie Komaali Kings (Clown Kings).

Produced as an all-out family entertainer with elements of comedy, romance, action, suspense and thriller, Komaali Kings is a film about finding one’s identity back home. Written and directed by King Ratnam, the grandson of famed stage, radio and film artist MS Ratnam, the film casts King Ratnam himself as Pat, as well as Kalabooshan Raja Ganeshan, Dharshen Dharmaraj (Best Actor ‘Ini Avan’, Hiru Golden Film Award 2014), Niranjani Shanmugaraja (Best Supporting Actress ‘Ini Avan’, Hiru Golden Film Award 2014), ‘Pravegaya’ villain Gajan Kaneshan and television anchor and presenter Sathyapriya Ratnasamy. Mahinda Abeysinghe served as the film’s cinematographer, while music director role was helmed by Shriraam Sachi and the role of editor by Anjelo Jones.

Ratnam started his career at Ya TV in 1999. He worked as an audio-video specialist in Norway and London. After gaining experience as a television journalist, producer and presenter abroad he returned to Sri Lanka in 2004. After his return, he wrote commercials, documentaries and biopics. His foray into Sri Lankan cinema came with his role as Assistant Director under Asoka Handagama in The East is Calling. Ratnam also acted in three of Handagama’s movies; Ini Avan, Let Her Cry and the latest Thundenek.

In an interview with The Island Ratnam revealed that there were times he doubted whether the film would ever see the light of day.  It turned out to be a 30-million project.

Ratnam’s Komaali Kings, was released in 50 plus cinemas last month.

Q: What inspired Komaali Kings?

A: Charlie Chaplin said “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.” And I believe that my community was able to overcome the adversities and trauma of a three-decade long war only because of our sense of humour.

When I started writing Komaali Kings all I had was a plot about coming back to one’s motherland and rediscovering the love for one’s country of birth. It was an attempt to refresh the Sri Lankan identity. All communities Sinhala, Muslim, Tamil, Burgher and Malay are struggling to find that one Sri Lankan identity because we are not united. Mine was an attempt to find that single identity. And judging by the reaction to the movie, I am convinced that all of us need a common identity.

This is a 100 percent Sri Lankan movie. I made a conscious decision not to hire anyone from India. So, the whole cast and crew were Sri Lankan. In fact, 80 percent of the crew members were Sinhala. The story starts from Colombo, moves to Batticaloa and thence to Jaffna. One of the salient features of the movie is the diverse set of Tamil dialects and accents, including Jaffna Tamil, Batticaloa Tamil and Colombo Tamil. There is also Sinhala and English.

It’s Sri Lankan in other ways, too. It satirises the hypocrisy of people who migrate and is also about one’s love for one’s country of birth. Reconciliation is a hot topic today and crew of about 150 people of all three races working together, this movie is an example of reconciliation.

Q: How has the international reaction been?

A: International media such as BBC and Al Jazeera have taken the movie seriously, with favourable reviews. We have also received many requests to release it elsewhere. In fact, we are hoping to release it in Malaysia as well.

Q: It’s the first commercial Tamil language feature length movie in over four decades. Why did it take the Tamil community so long to make such a movie?

A: The last Tamil language film, Komaligal, was released in 1976. There have been many other films since. For example, Asoka Handagama’s Ini Avan was released on the Sinhala cinema circuit. But no commercial movie was made by a Tamil director. This is the first such for the Tamil fraternity.

One reason for the delay was the war. But, more significant is the 40-year invasion of South Indian cinema and television. To come out of this is the greatest challenge because many of the young aspiring film makers have lost their identity. They have lost originality. They think that South Indian cinema is our cinema, which it’s not. So, somebody had to take the initiative.

Q: Was the movie inspired by South Indian Cinema?

A: Inspired, but not influenced. Growing up in Sri Lanka, it is difficult not to be inspired by TN cinema. All we ever wanted to do as kids was watch Tamil Nadu movies. I myself am a big fan of Kamal Haasan. I was inspired by Directors like K. Balachander, P. Bharathiraja and newcomers like Karthik Shivaraj and Selvaraghavan. Musicians such as A. R. Rahman and Ilaiyaraaja PVB have also inspired me. Having said that, we were very careful to maintain our identity in the film.

Q: Do you think Sri Lankan Tamil language cinema can compete with South Indian cinema?

A: Komaali Kings proves that it is possible. We are, in fact, on par. If not people wouldn’t accept us.

Having said that, the manner in which the Sri Lankan film industry, especially the theatre circuits treat us is pathetic. A majority in the industry likes making easy money by bringing down a film from South India and releasing it. But for us, this is three years of hard work. Theatres and distribution companies have to act more responsibly in facilitating local productions such as ours. The government, film fraternity and the industry have a responsibility for giving the film as much screen time as possible.

Q: How has Tamil Nadu reacted to the film and are you going to release it in TN?

A: We are still negotiating with TN about releasing it there. But the producers and I have made a conscious decision not to change anything in the film. For example TN asked us to dub the Sinhala dialogues in Hindi or another language in order to release the film there, which we vehemently refused to do.

Politically speaking, the whole picture painted about Sri Lanka in Tamil Nadu is false. This film needs to be shown in India so they can get the real picture of what Sri Lanka really is; the different locales and the other communities and how many Tamil dialects there are. In fact, there are lots of drone shots, just to provide a bird’s eye-view of the country, to make it visually appealing.

Q: Being a Tamil, why weren’t you tempted to make a movie on the subject of war or post-war reconciliation?

A: In Sri Lankan cinema, war is used as a tool to get attention and gain international recognition. There are filmmakers who have genuine concerns about the effects of war. But winning the hearts of people is more important than winning awards.

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