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Indian in Cannes' Aussie pack

Murali Thalluri is set to make the global splash, writes Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: May 08, 2006 12:28 IST

A self-taught 21-year-old Australian filmmaker of Indian origin is all set to make an international splash with his privately funded debut feature.

Adelaide-based Murali K Thalluri’s 2:37, a film about six desultory teenagers that ends in a horrific suicide, has made the cut for the Un Certain Regard section of the 59th Cannes Film Festival later this month.

The film has got the buzz going and Thalluri is already in negotiations with a big Hollywood player for his second feature.   

Among the 22 Un Certain Regard entries and one of seven debut efforts to make it to the section, 2:37 will be playing alongside the latest work of fellow South Australian and Thalluri’s mentor Rolf de Heer, Ten Canoes, the first Aussie film ever made in an indigenous language.

“Rolf is a huge inspiration for me,” says Thalluri in response to an emailed questionnaire. “I think he is a genius. He helped me with motivation and advice.”

Thalluri is expected to lead the charge in what is clearly a big year in Cannes in terms of number of films from the movie industry Down Under. As many as eight Aussie films – five features and three shorts – are among the 61 films in Cannes’ official selection.

According to the young filmmaker, 2:37 is a dream that sprang from the depths of real-life despair and depression.

Thalluri, born in Australia to parents who migrated from India in 1980, has encountered more of the vicissitudes of life than people his age usually do.

En route to becoming a filmmaker, he survived severe kidney problems, a vicious mugging incident that led to a serious eye injury, an unnerving video suicide note from a friend who gave up on life “in an incredibly horrific and bloody manner” and, finally, a seemingly foolproof attempt to kill himself by consuming 14 Codein tablets and a bottle of Jim Beam.

Incredibly, each hammer blow that life landed on him took Thalluri a step closer to his goal – making films. “I guess my filmmaking career began when I was born as I believe that filmmaking and storytelling are ingrained in one’s soul,” he says in response to an emailed questionnaire.

“It came to fruition when I was 15 and was attacked by a bunch of rowdies in the city… I was stabbed in my right eye and bashed in the head. Since then I went from being science and maths-minded to being creative.”

Recovering from the after-effects of a failed suicide bid, Thalluri wrote the first draft of 2:37 (then called All in a Day) in 36 hours flat. In the director’s statement, he says: “The story unfolds on an ordinary day in school, filled with mundane activities associated with school life ranging from the classroom to the sports field…”

“We allow the audience,” Thalluri says, “to see the entire day from the different perspectives of each character, allowing the audience to view one’s problems from the root of their individual souls, highlighting the fact that problems as seemingly petty as relationship troubles are just as likely to drive one to suicide as something as horrific as rape…”

Thalluri has no specific cinematic influences. “I grew up watching films from India with my parents. Other than this, I didn’t watch too much. It is only in recent times that I began to broaden my cinematic scope. I guess I am the opposite of a cinephile,” he says.

“I think the lack of cinematic knowledge helps me as I’m not trapped in preconceived notions of what should be in a film and what shouldn’t be. I just do what feels right,” says the writer-director.

The film happened despite the fact that Thalluri failed to secure government funding. “They told me I was too young and immature to make a film and declined my repeated requests for funding,” he says. So he had to find ingenious ways of raising private finance for his dream project. “It was painfully difficult but at the same time a fun adventure,” he adds.

Thalluri’s links with India run deep. “I still have a lot of family in India and I visit regularly,” he says. “I love India. To me, it is the land from which one of the strongest cultures on earth originates. One day I hope I will be able to bring that culture to the world. In fact, I have always dreamt of doing an epic version of the Ramayan.”

Here’s one Aussie career Indians will watch with keen interest in the coming years.