Koozhangal: The world according to children

Athira M R

The movie shouts out loud that the world belongs to children. Whatever ordeals a person is going through, he/she will instantly warm up to the innocence of a child. That is what 'Koozhangal' conveys.

Screengrabs from the movie's trailer

P S Vinothraj, the director of the movie ‘Koozhangal’ (Pebbles) that has been selected as India’s official entry for the 94th Academy Awards talked to Mathrubhumi.com in an exclusive phone interview and shared the story of the movie’s journey.

What were your initial thoughts when you heard of Koozhangal’s entry into the Oscars?

I started working on Koozhangal in a very simple way without any anticipation. Initially, we thought it would make an entry into any of the film festivals. And I thought if it didn’t click in the festival, I would play the movie in the village and show it to my people because at the end of the day it is their story that we tried to portray through our movie. When I told the story to the producers, they said that they did not know whether the movie would be a hit or flop, but that they liked it.

Chellapandi as 'Velu' in the movie Koozhangal

There were many issues that we faced during the shooting of the movie. The pandemic adversely affected Koozhangal’s shooting. By the time we were done shooting, most of the film festivals had been cancelled due to the ongoing Covid-19 situation. We had to wait for almost a year till the situation got better to resume the work. We did not send the movie to any film festivals during that time. We then sent the movie to the International Film Festival Rotterdam and they liked the movie. Initially, we felt that it would be great if we got nominated, but when Koozhangal won the Tiger Award at the International Film Festival Rotterdam in February 2021, we were elated. We are hoping to get a theatrical release for the movie by December this year.

Why the name Koozhangal?

That is something that one would clearly understand upon watching the movie. As shown in the trailer, the boy takes a pebble and places it in his mouth as he walks under the scorching heat. Everything that was meant to be revealed through that title will be revealed by the end of the movie. There are many reasons why I chose the name for the movie. Like in the movie, some villagers have the practice of putting pebbles in their mouths while walking under the blistering sun to avoid getting thirsty. This way one would keep salivating and that would rid the feeling of thirst.

Renowned Malayalam filmmaker and this year’s Oscar jury head, Shaji N Karun spoke highly of the movie and about the human elements involved in the story. Is humanism the aspect that stands out in this movie?

I believe that it is a great thing to receive credit from a person like him. Even though there is violence and brutal scenes shown in the movie, the boy, a symbol of childhood is what carries the movie forward. The movie shouts out loud that the world belongs to children. Whatever ordeals a person is going through, he\she will instantly warm up to the innocence of a child. That is what the movie conveys.

Vinothraj with the producers of the movie, Nayanthara and Vignesh Shivan and the child artist Chellapandi | Facebook

You have taken a major portion of your sister’s life as an inspiration for this movie. Did you enjoy watching the movie's journey from seedling to a fully grown tree?

When you make a movie about a certain incident revolving around your life, there is a fear that it is going to be too self-centred. The big question is whether the movie connects to the bigger crowd, socially and globally. I experienced those sorts of uncertainties in the beginning. But after researching the landscape and the village, I realised that it is not something that has happened to my sister alone but has continued to afflict many since then. So we decided to go forward with it. I went to Romania and Russia for various film festivals. An old lady came up to me and told me that a similar thing had happened in her life. That amplified the fact that what I tried to convey through the movie was reaching a wider demographic.

Screengrabs from the movie's trailer

What did your sister have to say about the movie when she saw it?

She watched the movie and was very happy. It was her life and her story that was being portrayed through the movie, but we have tried our maximum to hide many elements from the screen and not project the story as such.

Future projects?

We are planning to start the work of my new movie by mid-2022. It is the story of an incident that happened in one of the families that I know. There is no rush to jump into the new work. We want to take our time with it, and do it very calmly.

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