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Penguin producers Karthik Subbaraj, Kaarthekeyen Santhanam and Sudhan in conversation for their release, Penguin!

By BFFC Network Thursday, Jun 25, 2020 10:31: AM

From its promising catalogue of direct-to-OTT releases, Amazon Prime Video brings the much-awaited psychological thriller – Penguin, which released on 19 June 2020. A Karthik Subbaraj, Stone Bench Films and Passion Studios production, the film stars National Film Awards winning actress Keerthy Suresh in the lead. The producers of the film - Karthik Subbaraj, Kaarthekeyen Santhanam are excited for the release and have a lot to tell, ahead of its release. 


Q. Tell us about your vision for the film. Why did you choose the project, what were your concerns, the challenges?


Karthik: When we started Stone Bench, the main idea was to produce good content. And the primary idea was to produce films for the new, first time directors. That’s what we actually aimed at. Our first production was also with a first time director. The idea is to produce good content with unique, fresh scripts for first time directors. We wanted our production house to be a place where new filmmakers bring their best ideas to. So the first production was also with a new director… Meyadhaa Maan… Rathna… Then we produced my film, Mercury and after that we decided to go for production. Eashvar actually pitched this film to Kaarthekeyen and they just told me an idea about the film and I quite liked the plot of the film, also because it’s more of a woman centric thriller. There is a strong female character, but it’s not preachy. It’s more of a thriller but with a strong woman character, so that’s the thing I liked. The entire narration and the entire treatment of the film was very unique and felt very unique to me. We could actually visualize the film. The suspense was maintained till he revealed the film’s ending. We thought it would be a good film, so we got into this production. 


Kaarthekeyen: In terms of message, the film talks from a mother's perspective, which eventually becomes women-centric. Then you have a thriller and mystery component added to it, which add to the richness of the script. The film also addresses a social issue that is not evident outright.  This is done without taking a higher moral stance or being preachy. This you will realize when you watch the film – there are several layers of messaging and themes in the movie


Q. Penguin is a very interesting name for a film but what made you decide on it?


Kaarthekeyen: Pengiuns are known to be very protective of their young – and that is where the idea for Penguin came. Also interestingly, in the Tamil language, "pen" is "women'' and queen is queen so it's like saying that it's, "women queen" not literally, but phonetically you get that effect of "women queen". And the film, as you know, is carried entirely by Keerthy’s character. The story also starts with her narrating a story about a Penguin to her kid, so it's all connected. Watch it to connect all the dots.


Q. So, Keerthy Suresh was your first choice and she hasn’t done the role of a mother before so how did you feel this would be the right role for her?


Karthik: As soon as he mentioned Keerthy’s name, we all felt she would be the right choice for this. After seeing her performance in Mahanati - she carried the entire film, and delivered a superb performance, we were confident that she could pull this off very well


Kaarthekeyen: If you look at it from a performance point of view, after Mahanati, which Keerthy got the National award for, she was in the hearts and minds of all the people because of her performance.  Keerthy played the heroine for big heroes. She was one of the heroines who came at very early stages, like 20-21 and before 24, she was able to act with all superstars of Tamil and Telugu industry. Very few people have achieved that. But from a performance point of view that was completely different and Mahanati really set her apart. So when we were discussing, I was telling Eashvar, "Eashvar we need a great performer. What Keerthy did in Mahanati was out of the world so I'm sure she will do a great job." 


Q. How was the experience of shooting? So, tell us more about the setting and some of the concerns while you were doing the entire process of production? What did you start out with and does the finished product exceed your expectations?


Karthik: As far as my involvement is concerned, I am involved with the initial creative process of the film, and then once the production starts, it was Kaarthekeyen who took care of everything. But what I actually told them was, when we were listening to the narration, the movie needed to be visually brilliant – it needed to be visually strong and a technically great film. So we made sure we got the right technicians on board. As far as the genre is concerned, the technicality of the film needs to be very strong. Karthik Palani, the DoP, I know him because he has worked on my film. I knew he would turn out to be very good DoP. And once he was on board, I was sure it’ll be visually good. And location wise, the entire mood of the film needs to be what was written and a lot of credit goes to the director and his team. They found the location after a long search. During the shoot and in-between they just showed me a one minute footage of what they shot and I was really happy and I could see the film was coming out really well. And after that I saw the final product we were all very happy. 


Q. Talking about the location, how did you decide on that? How did the team come along on that?


Kaarthekeyen: So basically when it comes to hill stations in Tamil Nadu obviously, you know, we have Kodaikanal and Ooty, the two promising and prominent hill stations over here. The first thing is, most shoots happen in Ooty. So we said let's not go to Ooty because Ooty has been explored a lot actually. The other film, which we're going to make, had the same location.  So we chose Kodaikanal and I would say the whole credit goes to Eashvar and the cinematographer, who actually made their way all the way to Kodaikanal along with our executive producer, and they made sure that they got a very nice location. I'm sure - 70% of the locations we've shot in have never been shot before.


It was 30-40 kilometers away from where the team was put-up and they were driving every day to the location, but it was all really beautiful. We, as a team, really believe in pre-production, if the pre-production is good, post-production and production become much easier. I have a set of incredibly talented technicians I call the 'magnificent 7', so I said anything that goes into the flow will have to have the approval of the magnificent 7. Even if one is concerned, then it has to be discussed and the concern has to be met. So I think the credit goes to the entire team for that actually.


Q. The film is now premiering exclusively on an OTT platform like Amazon Prime. So how is this change for you guys, now that it is going to be on Prime video?  


Kaarthekeyen: I'm not denying the fact that the film was made for theatre. For me theatre or OTT the way we're going to shoot the film and the amount of budget we're going to spend on the film is always going to be the same. The product is a baby. For me it's about delivering the baby the right way, keeping the mother safe and keeping the baby safe. That's what is most important for me. So obviously, we don't look at any differences between how we're making the content we have set a benchmark as a production house. So when we had this situation come into picture, we considered all the possibilities for commerce, creativity and most importantly making sure the audience got to watch. Across the entire nation the Amazon team has chosen only a few quality films and Penguin was one of them – it will now premiere in 200 countries and territories. Second thing is, now it has become a three languages film. Initially it was supposed to be Tamil, Telugu only, now Malayalam has also been added  - the number of eyeballs that's going to watch the film is going to be much bigger than what we could've even imagined when planned for theatrical release. I am also sure the team at Amazon Prime Video will market the film well, ensuring it reaches the right audiences. We are quite happy with the decision we took.


Q. We heard that everyone was very clear, that this has to be entertaining and a message is something that comes organically from it. What was your intent when you started out?


Karthik: Yeah, because when Eashvar actually first told me about this, he told me that it is more than a thriller, it’s actually a story of a mother. I think the emotional connect was there throughout the script. A mother’s connection to protecting her child and how far she would go to save her child. That emotional core is there right throughout the film I think most audiences would be able to connect to it. 


Q. The film is at par with any International production just in terms of cinematography, in terms of styling, even in terms of performance delivery. Is that a conscious decision, is that something that you sort of thought about and said we want to go down this route?


Karthik: Eashvar had a clear vision of what he wanted the film to look like. When he narrated the script, it was very unique. I told him this has to transform into a screen the way you narrated, and I think they have done a very great job in bringing that out. Because I was keen on bringing not just the thriller aspect but also to the psychology of the protagonist, the trauma, that's all very unique which we don’t often see in films. 


Q. So, this is actually also a psychological thriller right? So did you dive into any reference material, talk to anyone? How did you build up to that kind of a psychological thriller space?


Karthik: When I saw the first cut we actually discussed how the sound element has to play a very important role in the film and also the music. And also I had a very long discussion with Santosh. He was seeing the first cut of the film and was clear what sort of music has to go in. His way of treating the background score is going to be more International and sort of… merging with the sound design, and silence. So I think both Santhosh and Kurian Thomas have done an excellent job there. 


Q. We heard that the music was actually done while the lockdown was on. So it would be one of the first albums produced within the lockdown. 


Kaarthekeyen: It was all done during lockdown. Usually the director sits along with the music director for the background score and they sort of plan. This was more of a video conferencing and then discussions. But it was all pretty much a new experience for all of us. 


Q. Why did you particularly choose the Charlie Chaplin mask for the antagonist?


Karthik: So again, it was the director’s choice to bring that out because when he initially told us that it would be a mask used throughout the film for the antagonist and all that. And then when he said it’s going to be Charlie Chaplin’s, I sort of liked the idea because we have seen Charlie Chaplin is like a legend in comedy and we all like him and love him for his comedy. Using Charlie Chaplin as a negative character that instills fear is a very novel idea – I think it has worked out well for us.


Q. We also see the umbrella and the use of the colour yellow very significantly, right? Again, was there a thought behind that?


Karthik: For the umbrella, I think the visual assistant’s internal decision with the DoP and the director made that possible. They have brought out that colour palette very well. Especially in the background of the forest, it was very stark. It really stood out. 


Q. Shooting in a forest must have been tough. Can you tell us what went behind it? 


Kaarthekeyen: Shooting in a hill station is challenging and then there are a lot of night shoots. When they actually shot, it was very cold. The shoot had its challenges from dogs attaching the team, a bee-attack and forest rangers protecting the shoot team – it was all quite an experience.


The mystery psychological thriller Penguin is directed by Eshavar Karthic, which is also his directorial debut. The film stars Keerthy Suresh, and was simultaneously shot in Tamil and Telugu languages. 


As the makers put it, Penguin is the story of motherhood and is exclusively streaming on Amazon Prime Video.


Watch the Penguin trailer here:

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Sandip jaybhaye 06 Jul 2020, 12:20 AM
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