Jaques Audiard’s feature film, Dheepan, won the Palme d’Or, the highest prize, at the Cannes Film Festival this year. Partly inspired by Montesquieu’s Persian Letters, the film tells the story of three Tamil refugees who flee the civil war-ravaged Sri Lanka and come to France, in the hope of reconstructing their lives. Kalieaswari Srinivasan plays the female lead of the film, alongside novelist-turned-actor and former LTTE child soldier, Antonythasan Jesuthasan. A theatre actor based out of Chennai, Srinivasan talks to us about the Cannes experience, working in an Audiard film and the problems theatre artistes face in this country.
How overwhelmed are you after the Cannes experience?
I am quite overwhelmed, of course. The sheer magnitude and the passion people have for cinema there was so palpable and overpowering. But, I was at Cannes for and because of my work, and I am back to Chennai now to do just that.
How did Dheepan happen?
The casting director of the film had come down to Chennai, and two of my friends from Alliance Francaise gave my reference. So, I went for the audition. I got a call from him almost a month later, saying that the director wishes to meet me and work with me for two weeks before he could decide on the cast. It was after the workshop that my participation was confirmed.
It is quite a complicated subject. What is your personal take on it?
To me, the movie deals with universal concepts of love, relationships and violence at various levels. It has the beauty of simplicity and also the complexity of layered emotions and characters.
And what was it like, working with Audiard?
Mr. Audiard is an explorer and a constant creator. He includes his actors in his journey of exploration and discovery and therefore, it was quite exhilarating working with him. I adored Un Prophète (2009) which was the first movie of his that I watched. I also loved The Beat That My Heart Skipped (2005) and Read My Lips (2001).
You have a theatre upbringing. Theatre artistes in Mumbai complain about lack of space and sky-high stage rentals. What are the problems you face in Chennai?
It is quite the same. Most of us in Chennai still rehearse in backyards or terraces, or even in public spaces like parks. Those who have a dedicated space are constantly struggling to sustain that space with theatre-generated income. I personally feel that Mumbai is a more supportive city for theatre artistes, given the number of performing spaces available and the sheer frequency of shows in a year.
What is your opinion of contemporary film and theatre writing?
As far as Indian movies are concerned, there are quite a few contemporary films in both Tamil and Hindi that cater sumptuously to the brain and the heart. Some of the recent films I really enjoyed were Badlapur, Ugly, Queen and the National Award-winning Kaakaa Muttai and Jigarthanda. In theatre, we could do with much more contemporary writing, especially in regional languages. And the effort has to be mutual between actors, directors and the playwrights for Indian theatre to be strong and relevant. The writing plays a major role in keeping theatre indigenous, relevant and unique. Or else we will keep falling back on foreign content again and again.
Why do you think the Indian media has not gone crazy over Dheepan? Is it because it is an indie French film?
The Tamil and English media — newspapers and magazines especially — in Tamil Nadu have gone gaga and are still talking about the movie and the Indian connection.
Have you seen Masaan, the Indian film that won two awards at Cannes this year?
It was screened before I got to Cannes, and so I did not get to watch it. But I did watch Titli (the other Indian film which was screened in the Un Certain Regard section) which is yet to be released in India but is making quite a splash in Paris.