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Censorship is a key worry, admit directors Vetrimaaran and Pushkar-Gayathri

Speaking on the panel of Southern Waves at the 5th Indian Screenwriters' Conference on Friday, the directors shed light on a number of topics ranging from censorship, writing-directing credits and the digital medium. 

Shriram Iyengar

One of the loudest applauses of the 3rd day of the Indian Screenwriters' Conference in Mumbai was reserved for director Vetrimaaran's response to a question on depiction of violence in the teaser to Vada Chennai (2018). When an audience member questioned how the director could say India had a censorship problem when the teaser showed violence, Vetrimaaran wittily responded, "These have not been censored. Yet."

Censorship formed one of the key issues of discussion on the panel, titled Southern Waves, during the morning session on Friday. Led by Sridhar Raghavan, the panel consisting of directors Vetrimaaran, Pushkar-Gayathri spoke on the issues plaguing Tamil cinema.

"Obviously, we live in India today. So, obviously, we are very careful about censorship. This is a country where one does not have freedom of speech," said Vetrimaaran to applause.

The director of India's entry to the Academy Awards in 2017, Visaranai (2016), also said, "There are certain stories that really need to be told, but we are not sure whether those stories would be told."

The solution for this, the panel implied, might lie in the digital platforms currently exploding on the scene. The success of Netflix's Narcos, director Pushkar said, had proved that filmmakers no longer needed to limit themselves to language or region in order to reach out to a larger audience.

"Right now, you have access to a larger audience. A story set in a Gujarati family, doesn’t need a bhangra song. Root it completely in that mileu, make it realistic in that milieu. I think there is an audience that might watch that," the director of Vikram Vedha (2017) added.

The director's opinion was seconded by Vetrimaaran who called the current era 'the golden age' for screenwriting. "With the digital platforms opening up, you don’t need to restrict yourself to writing for two hours. Whatever I have written for Vada Chennai, I have 7.5 hours of footage. I now have to make it into 2-2.5 hours of film. This need not happen on the digital platform. We can evolve as people writing a film, or restrict ourselves to language," Vetrimaaran said.

Despite the space, all directors concurred that Tamil cinema continues to face a shortage of writers. While Vetrimaaran was of the opinion that the scarcity emerged from writers choosing to turn directors, or directors choosing to write their own films, Pushkar-Gayathri said this lack is one of the main reasons for delay between their films.

Gayathri said, "We would have made more films if we had good writers. Because we take too long, since we are not natural writers."

Pushkar added, "One of the things we face all the times is how do you stop being a writer, and start being a director at any point of time. Between me and Gayathri, we take a conscious decision to flip hats. After 3-4 drafts, we start thinking as directors and stop thinking as writers. But it never happens that way. Since the pen is in your hand, you keep making changes."

As the conversation concluded, the directors admitted that things were looking brighter. Finishing up, it was left to the directors to add that while there are opportunities, aspiring writers and directors might do well to start with short films before trying out feature scripts.

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