S'porean horror film screens in India

Director Srinath Ramalingam (seated, centre) and executive producer N. Shanmuga Sundaram (seated, second from right), on the set of Unakkenna Venum Sollu in Chennai, India.
Director Srinath Ramalingam (seated, centre) and executive producer N. Shanmuga Sundaram (seated, second from right), on the set of Unakkenna Venum Sollu in Chennai, India. PHOTO: RANJIT KUMAR

Tamil film helmed by a local executive producer gets 150-screen commercial release in India

A Tamil film helmed by a Singaporean executive producer is getting a 150-screen commercial release in India. It is probably the first Tamil film with major Singaporean involvement to get such a wide release in India.

Titled Unakkenna Venum Sollu, which translates to Tell Me What You Want, the horror film about a father-daughter relationship opens in Chennai, Mysore and Kerala today and in Singapore at Rex Cinema tomorrow.

At the helm of the film is 34-year-old Singaporean executive producer N. Shanmuga Sundaram. Although he did not direct it, he marshalled the film into existence, obtaining funding and distribution rights for the film, serving as the B-camera director and even co-writing the script.

He adds that the film - directed by his Sri Lankan film-making partner Srinath Ramalingam, whom he met in film school in California - will also be dubbed in Telugu for release in the Andhra Pradesh market.

Shot in Chennai over 45 days from July to September last year on a budget of about $400,000, it stars Deepak Paramesh and Jaqlene Prakash, both of whom found fame on the short film circuit in India, as well as Singaporean actor Gunalan Morgan, who was in the popular Vasantham drama Vettai.

For Sundaram and Ramalingam, the decision to make a horror film for their first major project was as much a practical as a personal one - both of them love the genre.

"Horror films are the only way to break in without a star. It's the only genre that you don't need a star. If you do romantic comedies, action films or anything else, you need a recognisable name," says Sundaram, who considers Japanese film The Ring (1998), Korean film Thirst (2009) and Hollywood classic The Exorcist (1973) among his favourites in the genre.

The Media Development Authority (MDA) scholar spent about eight years in the United States, including getting his degree in cinema and television arts at the California State University, Northridge, and working there on everything from films to hip-hop music videos.

Back in Singapore, he worked as a gaffer and grip at MediaCorp on Vasantham and Channel 8 drama serials and variety shows.

Meanwhile, he assembled a team which includes Ramalingam to try to break into India. "We thought, 'Let's try the India market, there is an audience of a billion,'" he says.

After MDA rejected his application for a film grant in 2012 ("They said to me, 'You don't have any experience in India'."), Sundaram spent 11/2 years shuttling between Chennai and Singapore, building up his network there as a producer.

Then, a horror short story by a writer from Madurai named MRK, revolving around the spirit of an eight-year-old girl who disturbs two families, caught his attention.

This time, with a grant of $39,000 from MDA's Development Assistance scheme, Sundaram and Ramalingam got the project off the ground, developing the script, filming a teaser and putting together a package and business plan.

Sundaram, a father of a 14-month- old son, says he is optimistic about his film's chances in India.

"In India, there are a thousand films fighting for a hundred screens, so we're considered the dark horse, having come out of nowhere."

The support for the film on the Internet has been promising so far.

Sundaram says: "I think we're good. At least a few shows will be packed."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 24, 2015, with the headline 'S'porean horror film screens in India'. Print Edition | Subscribe