From its inception in 2009 till the latest season in 2019, the show has played a key role in introducing talent like Karthik Subbaraj, Vijay Sethupathi, Alphonse Puthren and others to Kollywood.

Director Alphonse Puthren on the left, actor Vijay Sethupathi in the centre, director Karthik Subbaraj on the right.commons.wikimedia/ Silverscreen Media Inc/Facebook
Flix Kollywood Friday, December 03, 2021 - 16:27

In 2012, director Karthik Subbaraj and actor Vijay Sethupathi teamed up for the experimental horror film Pizza, which won critical acclaim and shot them both to fame. But this wasn’t the first time the director-actor duo had collaborated. Both of them had previously worked together in 2009 in the first season of the Tamil reality show, Naalaiya Iyakkunar in which Karthik was a participant. “It was a turning point. I had an interest in filmmaking when I was in college but I never pursued it. Participating in the show gave me the right push I needed to take up filmmaking seriously and if not for it, I might still be a software engineer,” director Karthik Subbaraj, who has made a host of films including Jigarthanda and Petta tells TNM.

Naalaiya Iyakkunar, started airing on the Tamil television channel Kalaignar TV in 2009. The reality show was started with the aim to provide a platform for aspiring filmmakers and in the process actors, editors, cinematographers, writers and other technicians also got to showcase their talents. In each season, around 32 amateur directors took part, they worked with teams of their choosing to make 5-6 short films across genres, including horror, romance and even children’s movies. In fact, Karthik Subbaraj, roped in actor Vijay Sethupathi, who was then a newcomer to the industry to be a part of his films in the show.

And they both aren't the only ones who found their footing in the Tamil film industry, thanks to the reality show. From its inception till the latest season in 2019, the show has played a key role in introducing new talent to Tamil cinema. Over six seasons, a long list of directors like Karthik Subbaraj, Kalyan, Balaji Mohan, Alphonse Puthren, Vijay Kumar, Ramkumar, Arunraja Kamaraj, Nalan Kumarasamy, as well as actors such as Manikandan, Bobby Simha, Vijay Sethupathi, and Karunakaran, found fame. The directors and actors who emerged from the show have significantly changed Kollywood's landscape, by doing experimental films and diverse roles.

The reality show was the brainchild of KG Jayavel, who not only created it but was also on board as the producer. “I was working as a cameraman for a while before I got involved in reality shows. I came up with the idea in 2009 when I was speaking to directors of short films who felt like they needed more hands-on training and experience to have a better shot at pursuing it professionally,” says Jayavel. So with his team, which included students in media studies and graduates in Visual Communication, he conceived the show. He also adds that back when Naalaiya Iyakkunnar started airing, there weren’t any similar shows in other languages. 

As the show grew in popularity, Jayavel was able to bring in big names from the industry to judge the short films. Actor and director Prathap Pothen, Kumki fame director Prabhu Solomon, late director Balachander, as well as directors like Vetrmaaran, Bhagyaraj, Sundar C; and actors Vijay Sethupathi and Kamal Haasan have been judges or special guests. “We wanted to rope in prominent filmmakers and actors from Tamil cinema so that participants get insights that they’d be able to put to use in future,” Jayavel points out. 

The participants in the reality show say that the nuanced feedback has enabled them to find their weak spots and improve their skills. Illustrating this with an example, Rashmi Bedi, the title winner of season 6, says: “I have worked as a writer for several years in the film industry before I tried my hand at filmmaking. There were many specific takeaways that have helped me. When I was working on an adaptation, the judges pointed out that I am not making the character my own. That’s not usually the case with characters that I write but adaptations can be tricky,” Rashmi points out.  

Echoing this, Rohit Muralidharan, who had played the lead in a couple of shorts directed by Rashmi Bedi, states that receiving feedback from accomplished filmmakers like Vetrimaaran was an invaluable part of the learning experience.  

Short films to silver screen 

Many filmmakers like Nalan, Karthik Subbaraj and Kalyaan continue to work with technicians and actors they met during the course of the show. In season one, when Karthik Subbaraj participated in the show he cast Bobby Simha and Vijay Sethupathi in his short films, two actors he continues to work with. Nalan who won season 1 worked with Karunakaran Kalidas in the show. Speaking to TNM, actor Karunakaran, who rose to fame with his performances in Soodhu Kavvum, Jigarthanda and Pizza, observes that Naalaiya Iyakkunar was a huge learning curve for him. “I acted in eight short films under Nalan’s direction. It was very new to me. Apart from acting, we also had to take care of production since we had tight deadlines. I was presented with an array of opportunities.I was working at an IT consultancy at that point and if not for the show, I am not sure if I would have entered the film industry,” he says.  

If being on the reality show has served as a ticket to the film industry for some artists, for others it has served as an opportunity to hone their skills. The title winner of the second season, director Kalyaan, who has helmed movies like Kaathadi, Jackpot and Katha Solla Porom, says that the show helped him to produce movies within an allocated budget. “I was directing short films before I entered the contest. But since the competition required us to have a working knowledge of different aspects involved in production, it equipped me to be able to make a directorial debut with my first feature film Katha Solla Porom,” says Kalyaan.  

Remember Kadhalil Sodhappuvathu Yeppadi, the Balaji Mohan directorial that starred actors Siddharth and Amala Paul in the lead? The 2012 film is a quirky romantic comedy that narrates the tale of two engineering students in love. It was popular among critics and fans alike, and also reportedly had a good run at the box office.

Interestingly, director Balaji Mohan, who was a participant in season one of Naalaiya Iyakkunar, conceptualised and submitted it as a short film in one of the rounds in the competition. Actor Siddharth had reportedly watched the ten-minute short on YouTube and expressed his interest in turning it into a full-length feature film.  

Although Naalaiya Iyakkunar extensively focuses on filmmakers, it has also been helpful for technicians. “Even in the first two seasons, judges included comments about the contributions made by each member of the crew. In season 3, we introduced awards for technicians. That really helped in boosting up their morale and promoting healthy competition,” states AR Vimal Raj, a producer of Naalaiya Iyakkunar. 

READ: 10 yr challenge: The story of this pic of Karthik, Vijay Sethupathi, Alphonse and others 


Exploring new avenues 

While the first and second seasons of Naalaiya Iyakkunar helped boost Kalaignar TV’s TRPs, Jerin, who is onboard as co-director of the show, mentions that the subsequent seasons did not receive the same kind of response from audiences.“The short films and clips from episodes have a lot of views on YouTube, but the target audience for the show – people below the age of 35-40 – is not the same as the channel’s audience base,” says Jerin.  

Jayavel also adds that they have managed to retain their brand image over the years, but would like to explore new horizons. Spilling the beans, he shares that the team is working on a reality show built on similar lines, which is likely to be out on an Over-the-top (OTT) platform in the near future. “It will still be a competition for filmmakers but we would like to change the format to open more doors for participants,” he states. 

He further says that the format of the new show is built to suit the decreasing attention span of viewers. Talks are underway to come up with a similar reality TV show in Telugu. As for season 7 of Naalaiya Iyakkunar, Jayavel mentions that they are waiting for a go-ahead from the channel.

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