Photographs: Dani Charles
On Sunday, Koogai Thiraipada Iyakkam, a library that was recently launched by Pa Ranjith’s Neelam Cultural Centre, held a discussion on 96, the Prem Kumar-directed movie that has gained a lot of appreciation since its release a few weeks ago. Directors Prem Kumar and Vasantha Balan, author Tamil Prabha, actors Gouri Kishan and Vijay Sethupathi and writer-journalist Kavitha Muralidharan were among those present at the event.
Tamil Prabha, author of the novel Petta, observed that Vijay Sethupathi’s role in 96 was one that deviated from the norm for the actor. “I did not want to watch the film because Vijay Sethupathi’s act in every film remains the same. He’s great at dialogue-delivery and all directors have made use of that. In Chekka Chivantha Vaanam, he was the one who stood out from the rest, but it still wasn’t something he hasn’t done. In 96 though, I was surprised to see a different Vijay Sethupathi. His life in the film did not bore me.”
Journalist Kavitha Muralidharan said that while the portrayal of women in mainstream cinema has always been disappointing, Trisha’s character in the movie was dignified. “But even though most of her roles have been that way, I felt they were not sincere. The film’s success lies in the fact that every person can connect to it. Also, Trisha called Vijay Sethupathi an ‘aambala naatukatta’ in the film; the term is usually used to describe women, and not in a flattering manner. That’s something I did not like. And if Trisha can play his wife for a few minutes in a café, why wasn’t she able to oppose her marriage?”
Vijay Sethupathi, who spoke after everyone, said that he chose the film because of the way the story was narrated to him. “It was all because of Prem. Any kind of communication needs to be simple. And in cinema, the director must be able to convey the plot in a way that the audience understands – that’s his responsibility. That way, Prem was quite sincere.”
The 96 meet was the first event to happen at Koogai, which aims to be a space where aspiring directors have access to books that detail the minutiae of filmmaking, and also host discussions and debates on cinema.
Visiting Koogai on a sultry afternoon long before the discussion was held, we walked – barefoot – into a large hall with shelves of books, and a few patrons who we learnt were up-and-coming filmmakers. Kavin Antony, an erstwhile assistant of director Bala, manages the space. “It was created to birth a movement,” Antony said of Koogai, “Every aspiring director has to be aware of the current socio-political happenings, and must be armed with the knowledge of art and literature. That way, the library is a place for discussion.” Antony added that he’d always wanted access to a library when he was an AD and was happy to be a part of Koogai when the opportunity arose. “We have ordered a wide range of books, are also planning to place projectors and screen films in tune with current events. Around 10 to 15 patrons visit us on a day; thus far only registered readers can access the library but steps are being taken to open it up to everyone. We also plan to host reading sessions.”
On one side of the library were shelves named after various filmmakers – Pa Ranjith, Meera Kathiravan, Pushkar Gayathri, Suseenthiran, Krithika Udhayanidhi etc. “The names are of directors who sourced the books for us – the ones they have read and want others to read,” said Antony. Other sections in the library included Marxism, feminism, literature and others. There were tomes on world cinema, dramatizing scripts, writing a screenplay, short stories and novellas – we spotted Vennira Iravugal too – a Tamil translation of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novella White Nights.
The interiors, we were told, were designed by Ranjith’s wife; tiny canvas paintings by his daughter Magizhini adorned the walls. Pa Prem, a volunteer at Koogai said that they would like women patrons to be an active part of the space. Viduthalai, an aspiring lyricist and independent filmmaker who was also reading at library, added: “Koogai has many books on cinema, and the industry as well – from making a film to detailing the scale in which a movie can be made. I couldn’t find them anywhere else.”
Koogai Thiraipada Iyakkam is currently open to members of Neelam Cultural Centre only.