N Chandrakumar is no ordinary auto-rickshaw driver. He is also a part-time writer whose novel earned him an invitation to the Venice International Film Festival last year. The Tamil movie Visaaranai (Interrogation), which is based on one of Chandrakumar’s books, was the first Tamil movie ever to be screened at the festival.
Co-produced by Dhanush (actor Rajinikanth’s son-in-law) and directed by noted Tamil filmmaker Vetrimaaran, the movie is running to packed houses in Tamil Nadu, turning the 53-year-old into a celebrity. He comes with his own moniker as well – ‘Auto’ Chandran.
Spending much of his time penning thoughts and stories in between shuttling passengers, Chandran has several novels to his credit and is now drawing film makers like bees to a hive. The author is penning the script for a second film -- Veppamatra Velloliyal (White Light Without Heat), which began shooting recently.
In spite of his newfound fame, Chandran remains busy negotiating the clogged roads of Coimbatore. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the city last week meant an unexpected holiday for him. His auto stand is near the ESI hospital that Modi inaugurated and most auto-rickshaw drivers took the day off to avoid police harassment.
Once in a while, Chandran does face the perks of his popularity. He bought a ticket for Visaaranai and accompanied Vinod, the producer-director of his new film, to the theatre. As the show got over, the audience spotted him. “They took lots of selfies with him and surrounded him, to talk to him,” Vinod said.
Auto Chandran is pleased with how things are unfolding, what with filmmakers from Chennai getting in touch with him. He however considers working with Vetrimaaran his best experience yet. A 10th standard graduate, he was arrested in his 20s in a case of doubt by the Andhra police. He wasn’t a free man for almost six months after. Post release, he eventually moved to Coimbatore where he’s been driving an auto ever since.
Lock Up, the inspiration behind Visaaranai, is the gritty tale of Auto Chandran’s incarceration. Quite a bit of his work is auto-biographical. Perhaps that’s also why Chandran continues to drive the auto-rickshaw and involves himself in auto union matters.
His next script sounds like it could be shoo-in at film festivals – it deals with the sexual identity of today’s youth. A low budget film set under Rs 50 lakh, it follows 20 characters for a day in Coimbatore.