THE HORROR, THE HORROR…
Talking to an Indian filmmaker who’s made a bit of a splash in America by scaring people…
FEB 4, 2007 – THE AMERICAN DREAM, FOR ARUN VAIDYANATHAN, has turned out to be a nightmare – one involving ghosts and unborn children and voices from beyond the grave. These are the cheerful narrative threads that run through The Séance, the film – the short film, really; it lasts for all of 6 minutes and 3 seconds – that’s put Vaidyanathan, a one-time software engineer, on the American moviemaking map. Not Hollywood – not quite. But The Séance was nominated in the weekly competition conducted by the Sundance Channel and the Sci-Fi Channel. It was an official selection on Triggerstreet.com, Kevin Spacey’s online community for independent filmmakers. “The great thing about the Triggerstreet festival is that they have more than 3000 short films, for which other filmmakers, writers and movie buffs write reviews and vote. So just getting nominated from that great pool of talent is fantastic,” says Vaidyanathan, whose short has also played in the Terror Film Festival, Philadelphia, the Chicago Horror Film Festival and the London Horror Film Festival.
The first thing you want to ask is, “You mean, there’s actually something called the Terror Film Festival?” And the second thing you want to ask is, “Why is a nice boy from Sirkazhi, Tamil Nadu – whose father is a drawing master and mother a Tamil teacher – trafficking in horror, of all things?” Vaidyanathan says he’s made comedy shorts and dramatic shorts earlier, but it’s the horror short that got attention in American film festivals, “not only because of its genre, but also for the production quality.” While there may have been artistic reasons for diving into this genre – “I loved scary movies like The Shining and Evil Dead” – there’s also the distinctly practical consideration that getting funding for horror films is easier because “the return on your investment is almost guaranteed.” In any case, this short is really only a teaser. “When I decided to raise funding for a horror feature, I just wanted to shoot a small scene from the script. The Séance is a precursor to the feature film, and it also happens to stand alone as a short film.”
Vaidyanathan is terribly frank about the nature of the business he’s in. “Each and every filmmaker would love to do a feature and reach the maximum audience that he or she can. But the budget is the first and foremost constraint. Feature films demand a lot of energy, time and money, and although filmmakers are more than equipped with the first two qualities, it all boils down to money.” Yet, if it were simply money that Vaidyanathan was after, he could have continued with his other profession. As he puts it, “I was riding two horses, where my day job was in software.” But after a course in filmmaking at the New York Film Academy, “I decided to quit and take up filmmaking as my only career.”
Vaidyanathan wanted to be an actor at one time, probably taking after his father, who “responded to director Sridhar’s casting call for Kaadhalikka Neramillai. And one of my father’s brothers even ran away from home to act in the dramas which were so popular in the 50s and 60s.” But as his exposure to films increased – “My town and environment played a big role in my love towards movies, since we had no other entertainment” – he wanted to write and direct them. But first he had to complete his studies in Physics, followed by an MCA, and when his parents were – not surprisingly – against his decision of joining a film institute, he “made a temporary compromise by working part-time in television. I wrote and directed numerous shows for Sun TV and Raj TV, and meanwhile, my computer education landed me a job in the USA.”
When I ask if he faced any challenges being an “Indian” filmmaker in America, Vaidyanathan says, “All filmmakers are up against the same kinds of challenges, irrespective of nationality.” But he will allow that many of the Indian filmmakers there who tried their hand at independent filmmaking got themselves pigeonholed with the same kinds of subjects – about the diaspora – and “a lot of ‘Hinglish’ movies got released with poor acting and production quality, just so that their makers could get themselves the I-made-a-feature-film tag.” Vaidyanathan hopes to avoid these pitfalls, at least in terms of subject. He has worked on a treatment for a suspense thriller in Tamil, and he is currently in Chennai pitching this project to investors and also to “a few heroes I have in mind. The story is set in the US but the problem my protagonist faces is universal.” Running after big-name stars is always a terrifying prospect for a no-name filmmaker, but then Vaidyanathan’s appetite for horror is as healthy as ever. “A Tamil version of The Séance is also on the cards.”
Copyright ©2007 The New Sunday Express