Interview Tamil

Housing is a global problem: Filmmaker Chezhiyan Ra on his National Award winning film To Let

In a quick interview with us on the sidelines of the ongoing Habitat Film Festival, the filmmaker spoke of some of the issues that his film engages with.

Photo: Habitat Film Festival

Sukhpreet Kahlon

The National Award winning Tamil film, To Let (2017), was screened at the Habitat Film Festival. The film marks the directorial debut of Chezhiyan Ra, who has also written and done the cinematography of the much appreciated feature.

His first film as a cinematographer was Kalloori (2007), but an international appreciation came when he won the award for Best Cinematography at the 2013 BFI London Film Festival Awards for Paradesi (2013). Chezhiyan has also written a book on cinema titled Ulaga Cinema (World Cinema) that was published as a series by the Tamil weekly Ananda Vikatan between 2005 and 2007.

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To Let (2017), produced by the filmmaker's wife, Prema Chezhian, was received warmly by audiences in New Delhi. The film higlights the problems of urban housing and wide discrimination faced by tenants at the hands of landlords, an issue many from the audience could identify with.

The film's cast primarily consists of newcomers who evoke our sympathy for being caught in a terrible situation. The audience was enraptured by the acting talent and endearing expressions of the child actor, Dharun, who plays Siddharth.

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We spoke to the filmmaker about some of the issues that his film engages with. Excerpts.

In the post- screening discussion, you mentioned that many of the experiences in the film come from your own life and one gets a sense of that, especially with the attitudes that people harbour about the film industry — it’s seen as an unstable profession as opposed to the more ‘respectable’ IT profession.

Actually, this is just 5% of the story. There are so many problems that are not told in this film. 

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But there are several things that you are hinting at and there are such simple moments that you have captured so beautifully, especially through the child.

I have to read children. I have my kids and the kids of my friends. Their world is very beautiful. They manage to retain their innocence.

Your film looks at housing problems at a time when we are looking at perhaps the greatest ever issue of migration in the world. The last shot captures that as Amudha is contemplating the home where she has spent 5 years and her feelings in leaving it behind. So your story is about a family, but it is also about the global problem of housing.

Yes, this is a global problem. I met a director from France in Kolkata, who saw the film and said that they were facing the same problem in France. It’s the same problem in Ireland. In India, some of the houses have been vacated by the IT industry, but there [in France], houses are being vacated in the name of tourism as people want to build cottages for tourists. So this is a global problem. 

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What has it been like to win the National Award?

It is a proud moment for me as this is an independent movie and we have made this movie ourselves. So, if we get any recognition, we will be happy.

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