In an interview with TNM, Malayalam filmmaker Shaji Karun, who headed the jury for India’s Oscar entry this year, explains why the jury unanimously chose the Tamil film ‘Koozhangal’.

Malayalam filmmaker Shaji N Karun and a poster of India's Oscar 2022 entry KoozhangalShaji Karun Pic: Pratheesh prakash/ Wikimedia Commons/ CCBYSA2.5
Flix Cinema Sunday, October 24, 2021 - 17:47
Written by  Subhash K Jha

On Saturday, October 23, news came that Tamil film Koozhangal has been selected as India’s official entry to Oscars 2022 under the International Feature Film category. Directed by debutant filmmaker PS Vinothraj and starring Chellapandi and Karuththadaiyaan in the lead, the film is produced and presented by actor Nayanthara and filmmaker Vignesh Shivan under the Rowdy Pictures banner. Screened at numerous international film festivals, Koozhangal won the Tiger Award at the International Film Festival of Rotterdam this year, becoming the first Tamil film to earn the recognition.

Koozhangal was chosen from 14 films nominated as India’s official entry to the 94th Academy Awards, including Malayalam film Nayattu, the Tamil Mandela and Hindi film Sardar Udham, among others. Legendary Malayalam filmmaker Shaji N Karun, who headed the jury for India’s Oscar entry this year, tells Subhash K Jha why the jury unanimously chose the Tamil film ‘Koozhangal’.

What made you and the jury select Koozhangal over the other entries?

If you look at the movies that we’re going to compete with at the Oscars, it’s like on the level of the Olympics. We should know what we’re up against. Looking at the festivals across the world that win awards, they all have one common thread – humanism. The idea of the human heart triumphing over all obstacles. That quality is common to all cultures. We wanted to select a film that celebrated humanism. If we selected a political film or a film on a specific cultural event, it could easily be bypassed if it doesn’t match the political ideologies of the people viewing the film at the Oscars.

The popular filmmaking idiom has always been for the masses. Bollywood and popular cinema caters to a particular kind of audience that is ever-changing in profile but not in philosophy. Koozhangal addresses the idea of a fractured family and a child trying to bring his father back for his mother’s sake. This is an idea reflective of a society in a flux. All art in India, at the end of the day, must reflect on the changes that have come upon us since Independence.

Koozhangal has lots of silences, so less need to read subtitles?

(laughs) You may be right. The film is called Pebbles. The child is like a pebble lost in the ocean of civilization.

Watch Koozhangal trailer here:

We rarely get to see your outstanding films, just 7 in 33 years?

Yes, seven films so far as a director. My last directorial Oolu was made in 2018 but was released in 2019.

Yes, but the film prior to that – Swapaanam – came a good many years before Oolu. Why such long gaps between films?

(laughs) I can’t rush to a new film just because I have to. Making films is a meditation for me. The inspiration has to come from within. It cannot be forced. Now additionally I have a big responsibility on my shoulders as the Chairperson of the Kerala State Film Development Corporation. I have to make sure that the responsibility given to me – of ensuring all-round improvement and development in the Kerala film industry – is well-executed. Once I get the problems sorted, I will move on and let the others deal with the execution of my ideas. But for now I’m totally involved with this job. As it is, two have years have been lost because of COVID-19.

So we may have to wait longer for your next?

Let’s see. I have two films on hand. But on my request the Chief Minister of Kerala gave me this job of upgrading cinema in the state. So that comes first. Once the process of development starts, I will get back to making a film. This time I promise you there won’t be a 5-year gap.

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