When debutante filmmaker Indhu VS was searching for an actor to play the lead character of a writer from Tamil Nadu living in Kerala, for the film 19 (1) (a), she immediately thought Vijay Sethupathi could pull it off effortlessly. She did not have other options in mind and went to great lengths to set up a meeting with the actor in 2019. Indhu was informed that Vijay Sethupathi, who was on a signing spree and works across film industries did not have dates in near future.
Indhu had the chance to meet the actor briefly in Kerala, after rigorous follow-ups, while he was shooting for Maamanithan. She was then asked to share the synopsis of the story. The Super Deluxe actor, upon listening to the plot, assured her that she had a good script. Traffic congestions are infamously obstructive but luckily in this case, Indhuâ€™s 10-minute meeting with Vijay Sethupathi turned into an one-hour long session, which gave her the chance to explain the script in detail. And by the end of the car ride, the actor said he was game despite having many films in the pipeline. â€śIf not for the meeting, I donâ€™t think the film would have happened,â€ť Indhu tells TNM. Nithya Menen, who works in Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil and Hindi films throughout the year, too did not have dates to spare but was willing to sign up after listening to her.
Making of the film
Indhuâ€™s debut film, 19 (1) (a), is named after Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech and expression, and is based on an intriguing story of two writers. The teaser, released earlier this month, had a line about the convergence of fiction and non-fiction, which piqued the interest of fans. Without giving away too many details about the plot, Indhu says, â€śI wanted to share my take on the discussion around breach of freedom of expression and censorship through the emotional journeys of the two lead characters. It is a political film. It is an extension of my politics but it was not a conscious choice and it isnâ€™t a loud film. I feel even if I were to do a movie about a widely debated topic, I would still base it on the individual journeys of the characters and place it within a larger political context.â€ť
Teaming up with the biggest stars of south cinema was an exciting opportunity for the Kerala-based director. â€śIt is a small film in terms of the budget, scale of production, technical team, etc. But the presence of two stars is our asset. Vijay Sethupathi is always looking to work with different directors and bring interesting stories to the fore. He is aware of what is going around the world and has an eye for detail. As for Nithya, she is an actor who can offer depth to a character. She has a sensitive approach towards life and has a deeper side to her personality. Although she is a very vibrant person, she loves playing introverted characters and I felt she could do justice to this character,â€ť Indhu observes.
When the pandemic struck, Indhu became unsure if the movie could be made. â€śNithya was eager to come back to sets after the lockdown. She felt that sheâ€™d come back with a fresh set of eyes. Vijay Sethupathi had dates available after a long time, only during the pandemic. He was also interested in commencing production. The pandemic helped me since I could revisit the script and work on different drafts,â€ť says Indhu. The film went on floors in November 2020 and was extensively shot in Kerala.
Watch the trailer of 19(1)(a) here:
Introduction to world of cinema
Indhu, who grew up reading a lot of short stories and watching films, recalls being drawn towards stories and becoming inspired to write. â€śI had this urge, a voice inside me that pushed me to write and tell stories. However, I was not good at writing. I donâ€™t know how, but I realised I could tell stories visually. I hail from Kottayamâ€™s Olassa where working in films was unheard of. And yet, I was interested in cinema. I got a still camera while I was in school and I ended up clicking many photos which enabled me to see things from another perspective,â€ť says Indhu.
Following her graduation, she enrolled in a filmmaking course offered by Keralaâ€™s Chetana Film Institute where she was introduced to the world of cinema ranging from successful classics to acclaimed arthouse films from India and the world. â€śIn 2008-2009, there werenâ€™t too many film institutes in Kerala. After joining Chetana, I was living in Thrissur, which is the cultural capital. I attended events organised by Sahitya Akademi, the Goa film festival, and other film festivals. For instance, I remember how watching films like Pather Panchali and Amaram helped me understand aesthetics better,â€ť says the 33-year-old filmmaker.
Did those films also inspire her to develop a trademark style of filmmaking? â€śI am still figuring it out. I like slice of life films. Even when I sit down to write something, I think of my life as a screenplay and some of the aspects from it, take shape as beautiful characters. I am mostly inspired by the small moments and little things in life,â€ť says Indhu.
Once she completed her filmmaking course, Indhu worked as an Assistant Director (AD) in film projects by Salim Ahamed like Adaminte Makan Abu (2011), Kunjananthante Kada (2013), and Pathemari (2015). She also joined the Women in Cinema Collective (WCC) in 2017, which helped her to network with people from the film fraternity. â€śI am proud and happy to be part of WCC since its inception. I have seen how things have changed in the sets and there is more awareness among technicians about workplace harassment, and WCC has had a huge role to play in bringing about this change.â€ť
Indhu, however, observes that women filmmakers continue to experience gender disparity on the sets. â€śI was taking care of costume continuity in all the three films I worked in as an AD. Even while directing 19 (1) (a), technicians were sometimes reluctant to take instructions from a woman. I donâ€™t advocate for a hierarchy to exist but in this case, the director who is helming the project, is clearly required to pass on instructions. And yet, it is not my role as a filmmaker that people look at, but it is my gender that they take into consideration,â€ť she quips.
Indhu is looking forward to the release of her debut film 19(1)(a) on Over-the-top (OTT) platform Disney Plus Hotstar on July 29.