‘Being a woman, you did a commendable job’, is the most hurtful comment: Director Halitha

Halitha Shameem, whose film ‘Sillu Karupatti’ releases this Friday, speaks to TNM about the making of the film, her creative process and the sexist questions she gets asked.
‘Being a woman, you did a commendable job’, is the most hurtful comment: Director Halitha
‘Being a woman, you did a commendable job’, is the most hurtful comment: Director Halitha
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Director Halitha Shameem’s second film, Sillu Karupatti, will be releasing this Friday and the young director is pumped. At the Chennai International Film Festival (CIFF), which concluded just a few days back, Halitha received a standing ovation from the audience.

“I expected a good response but that was overwhelming. I never expected it,” Halitha gushes.

Even while the film was slated to release in theatres, she shares that she had no apprehensions choosing to screen it at CIFF, calling the film fest audience her actual audience. “I don’t miss any of the film festivals in the city and I consider myself one among the festival audience. My first film, Poovarasam Peepee, was also screened and got a tremendous response. They are my actual audience,” she adds.

And the standing ovation came right in time to lift her spirits. “I’ve been watching this film in closed spaces, all alone for many months, since I was also the editor. So when the appreciation finally came, it felt surreal to me. It boosted my confidence,” she shares.

Sillu Karupatti, the trailer of which we saw earlier this year, was ready for release six months ago. But Halitha had to go through a period low in confidence, waiting for the right people to deliver her film.

“Everyone who saw it before the release told me they liked it but also added that it may not be “theatre material”. Even the distributors whom I approached told me that they were sure of critical acclaim but not sure of making money. I was very confident while writing it and while working on it, so the feedback was very disappointing for me. There was a sudden dip in my confidence and I went through a brief phase of depression,” she opens up.

We discuss more – the making of this film, her creative process, and the sexist questions she’s tired of being asked.

This film is an anthology. Tell us how you got the idea to make one.

We have short reads, flash fiction, etc. in books. In movies there’s only one story that’s holding our attention for over 2 hours. I like reading short stories, I like the medium very much. My idea was to make a compilation of short stories in a film. The theme is love and humanity set in an urban background. It’s a feel-good movie.

This is a multi-star cast film. How did you decide on your cast?

I approached many of them, pitching the story, and only those who liked it came on board.

Director Samuthirakani, whom you’ve assisted, has also acted in this film. How did that work out?

I think there are people who want to do something in return for what you’ve done for them. We’ve worked for them and they want to return it in kind. I worked for Kani sir and he’s also a well-wisher. In fact, he did a cameo role in my first film. Similarly, directors Pushkar-Gayatri are also very supportive. Kani sir was genuinely happy to be a part of the film and support me.

As a young filmmaker, who does not come with the backing of big banners, what challenges did you face while trying to release the film?

Like I said, the movie was ready 6 months ago. But I took time to make sure it reached the right people. I think the time it took was good for the film. It has now reached the right kind of people. I am confident of the content.

Sure, we face challenges. They can easily dismiss a film saying it’s not “theatre material” but in my case, whoever saw it were able to see its charm. So this process of letting things takes its time is something you follow in your work too.

This film was shot over a period of two years…

Yes, I don’t rush shooting. For this film, for example, there was no art director or editor. I took up all those responsibilities. I did all of it myself with help from 3-4 ADs. I confidently go to shoot only when everything in place. I do a lot of research before shooting to be absolutely sure. I work at my own pace.

In your first film too you did the editing in addition to directing. So you prefer wearing multiple hats all the time?

Actually, I didn’t know I would be doing it at first. I had an editor for my first film but I ended up doing it myself. The thing is I have my own way of working and I can’t keep hovering over others all the time. They have their own ideas, and I can’t impose my views over theirs. If I want it to be the way I want it to be, I thought why not do it myself? I also did the colour grading myself in that film. I didn’t plan on all this at first.

Your first was a children’s film, a coming-of-age film. Your next too, Minmini, is on children. Can you tell us why you’re drawn to this genre?

I enjoy being around children and the elderly. I enjoy their company. I think I get along with them better than with people of my age group (chuckles).

And Minmini has been put on hold?

It is intentionally paused, for the children to grow up. The film is on friendship and is based on survivor’s guilt. The story actually demands this much time. I’m not doing it for the sake of it. I have all my hopes riding on this film and I believe it will bring me international acclaim.

Do you face sexism at work and what are some of the questions that surprise you?

In interviews, starting a question with “Being a woman filmmaker…” itself is sexist. “Why aren’t women filmmakers thriving? What are the hurdles you face as a woman?” are other questions I get. But what hurts the most is, “Being a woman filmmaker you’ve done a commendable job.” “Your work is good among women filmmakers.”

This freaks me out! I don’t face it while working. No one in the industry treats me like that. I feel they are much fairer than the media. They only see talent. Only when the film comes to the media, I become a woman filmmaker. Otherwise, I’m just a director (laughs).

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