An image, however fleeting, may inspire a filmmaker to weave a story. Tamil director Pravin Gandhi saw one in February 2013 on BBC’s Channel 4 and was enthused to make Puli Paarvai (Tiger Look).
The photograph was that of a boy, barely 12, eating a snack before being allegedly shot dead. The child was Vellupillai Prabhakaran’s son, Balachandran.
Prabhakaran was the man who, as the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), had fought a 30-year war in Sri Lanka against the Sinhala-dominated government. He had demanded a separate homeland for the minority Tamils in his country. Prabhakaran was eventually killed, and the civil strife had ended in 2009, but the wounds remain, refusing to go away any time soon.
With Tamils in Tamil Nadu closely bonded with their Sri Lankan brethren, movies even with just about a whiff of anti-Lankan Tamil sentiment have had a rough time in the state.
Santosh Sivan’s Inam, Shoojit Sircar’s Madras Café and Prasanna Vithanage’s With You Without You were not allowed to screen in Tamil Nadu theatres. Inam in particular and works of reputed Sri Lankan director Vithanage were by no stretch of imagination against Prabhakaran or the Tamils. Yet…
It is in a scenario such as this that Puli Paarvai is all set to open in Tamil Nadu. It has been passed by the Central Board of Film Certification. And media advertisements have been going to town with a catch line: We love India.
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This is what Pravin Gandhi emphasises during a telephone conversation in Chennai. “We love India,” he says repeatedly. “I wanted to tell the story of 12-year-old Balachandran, who was offered a snack and pumped with bullets the next minute, and his look – which was captured on Channel 4 – was bold and fearless. The boy’s (portrayed by a Chennai schoolboy, Satyadev) stare resembled that of a tiger, hence the title, Puli Paarvai or Tiger Look.” Or, it can well mean the Tigers as the LTTE was popularly known as.
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Pravin Gandhi comes across as a staunch Tamil supporter. “The LTTE was pushed into the war. It was a war fought for a just cause, and my movie will spin a yarn around this. Of course the main theme will be the tragedy of Balachandran. Of course, there will be sub-plots and subtexts, and there will be songs to cater to the masses. Otherwise, Puli Paarvai may well be a documentary,” says the helmer.
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As much as Pravin Gandhi may be steadfastly a Tamil loyalist, he has, at the same time, paternal feelings for Sri Lanka as a whole. “It is India’s baby, and both nations are linked in so many ways.”
One cannot but be reminded of what Vithanage often says. “I love Chennai. It is so much like my home.” And he is in the city very often – on work and for pleasure. But the moot point is has the city embraced him?