Dilani Rabindran




When I interviewed Director Lenin M. Sivam to discuss his work and the changing face of Tamil cinema he was hot off an incredible reception for his latest film A Gun & A Ring at the 16th Shanghai International Film Festival (SIFF); and yet the filmmaker exuded sheer humility regarding the recognition his second feature is receiving. As the first Tamil film to ever be invited to SIFF for competition, A Gun & A Ring’s team has been bringing global attention to Canada’s small but fascinating multicultural film industry. In fact, the team recently announced their latest achievement – it has been officially selected for the Montreal World Film Festival to be held in August, in the same category spot occupied by Dhanush’s “Aadukalam” in 2011.

The film focuses on the lives of Tamils residing in Canada, and explores the emotional burdens faced by immigrants as they work to rebuild their lives in adopted lands, especially after fleeing their homelands due to war. Lenin wrote the screenplay after being influenced by news footage of Sri Lanka in the past years, and found ambitious young producer Vishnu Muralee, founder of Eye Catch Media, to help bring the story to life. The Tamil & English language film features a multiracial cast comprised of actors from Canada and Europe, and an impressive crew – including composer Pravin Mani, associate of AR Rahman, who helmed the music for Chikku Bukku. As the film recognized as representation of the entire Canadian government at SIFF the team was steadfast in its explanation at a recent press conference that A Gun & A Ring is not an ethnic film, but across-over – one that could apply to the realities faced by generations of immigrants setting up their lives in foreign lands no matter what their race– one of the reasons why Lenin believes Shanghai’s programming team valued the film. “About 14 million people from rural areas come into Shanghai to work and they too are called immigrants”, he explains, conjecturing that SIFF saw the parallels in the film to their own community. Shanghai was incredibly fond of the film, where its screenings sold out & had tickets scalped for 10 x the original price. But Lenin also predicts that the programmers saw the honesty in the film that was by far the lowest-budget production in the Shanghai lineup, created by a 72-person team who used their vacation days to volunteer for the film. As he describes the overwhelming fanfare at SIFF it becomes clear that the director did not set out to create the impactful film with dreams of fame in mind – but instead to tell an important story.

The Sri-Lankan born, Toronto raised filmmaker always had a passion for cinema. His father was a playwright, actor, and director, and he looked up to the works of Mani Ratnam while growing up. With hopes to one-day join the ranks of his cinematic heroes he pursued filmmaking, after gaining an education & job in Computer Science, as per his mother’s wishes. His first feature 1999 received several accolades and travelled to numerous film festivals, including the Chennai International Tamil Film Festival. A varied filmmaker who follows Kollywood wholeheartedly, and also aspires to “one day make a film as great as [Hollywood’s] Coen Brothers” he never expected himself to create films that skewed more towards art house cinema, because he was raised on the commercial type – so instead we decide that his cinema is in the ‘grey’ – not as black & white as artsy versus mainstream, but just in between.

Having started in short films, Sivam also recognizes the power of such experimentation to break into the big-time. While discussing Kollywood’s recent wave of low-budget or debutante films a-la NKPK & Soodhu Kavvum, Lenin proclaims how refreshing the whole trend is: “Now with the internet the world is so open… a film like Pizza [by a newcomer] can become a blockbuster, but I don’t know if that would’ve been possible 10 years ago…it’s going to spin off the [South Indian] industry in a very healthy manner.”

Whilst continuing its film festival tour the team remains focused on commercial success for the film, and producer Vishnu is in talks with Indian studios to give the film a Kollywood release. Lenin hopes that the film can secure financial success as well as a critical one so that it can be “an example that you can make a film in Canada and do more than just recover the money”. Strongly believing that their film has the potential to help build a true market for Tamil films in North America, and encourage other aspiring filmmakers, the team seems committed to bringing A Gun & A Ring wherever audiences will gather. And does the thoughtful team leader have any plans to eventually bring his moving form of filmmaking to the mainstream Indian Tamil market, given the new wave of filmmaking taking over Chennai? For now he remains focused on his productions in Canada (he has a thriller in the works), but is “open to anything” and recognizes that he probably found better support making the films he is now rather than the commercial screenplays he wrote in the past because his true purpose was “to tell the stories no one else was telling” all along.

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