Chennai-based Rajiv Menon's Madras Beats or Sarva Thaala Mayam, starring music composer G V Prakash, will be one of the three Indian titles to screen at the upcoming Tokyo International Film Festival.
The two other movies are Aamir Khan's Dhangal (helmed by Nitish Tiwari) and Akshay Kumar's Padman (directed by R Balki).
Oscar-winning composer A.R. Rahman has written the score for Madras Beats – a film about a boy from India’s ‘untouchable’ caste who dreams of becoming a drummer in the South Indian Carnatic classical music tradition. Prakash, who is a trained classical musician in addition to being an actor, will play the lead.
For those who may not be familiar, South Indian Carnatic/classic music has been an almost exclusive preserve of upper castes with the others having been kept out for decades. However, the scene is now changing, and Menon's creative effort may underscore this.
For Menon, Madras Beats may well be a comeback feature. His last film, Kandukondain Kandukondain, came 18 years ago in 2000 – although he was the director of photography for Mani Ratnam's Guru in 2007. Menon also enjoyed similar credits for Ratnam's 1995 Bombay.
Kandukondain Kandukondain, adapted from Jane Austin's poignantly romantic 1811 novel, Sense and Sensibility, had an impressive star cast of Mammootty, Aishwarya Rai and Tabu. Menon's earlier Minsara Kanavu (1997) was also a romance and had big names as well, Kajol, Aravind Swamy and Prabu Deva.
Madras Beats will be Menon's third feature, and Tokyo seems like a great stage for the movie. It will have Nedumudi Venu, Aparna Balamurali, Vineeth and Dhivyadarshini playing varied characters. Menon has made two versions with a longer 125-minute cut for Indian audiences and a shorter 111-minute drama for the international market.
Much has been written about Dhangal and Padman, and their attraction at Tokyo would perhaps lie in their star appeal. Khan has had a great innings not only in India, but elsewhere too with China having been a huge platform. Akshay Kumar's Padman will be testing the waters in an essentially Japanese milieu.
It is unclear why the Festival picked a relatively old film like Dhangal, which opened in 2016.
Last year, the Festival had more up-to-date Indian fare – Sanal Sasidharan's S. Durga (retitled from Sexy Durga) and Pushkar-Gayathri's Vikram Vedha. Apart from these, Tokyo also screened as part of its world premiere Deb Medhekar's Bioscopewala, a contemporary take on Rabindranath Tagore's immortal classic, Kabuliwala. It narrates the story of a daughter's search for truth after her celebrated photographer father goes missing on a flight to Kabul. Bioscopewala is layered with a subplot about an old Afghan man who comes out of jail and evokes nostalgic memories of the girl's childhood.
In 2016, the Festival's big Indian entry was Alankrita Srivastav's Lipstick Under My Burkha, which made a huge splash in India when it ran into a censor block.
Madras Beats may also be seen as a fairly provocative work with a Dalit drummer fighting for space in the citadel of Carnatic music, a highly guarded enclave.
The Festival will begin on October 25.