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[InC-terview] Utter 2017 short filmmaker, K Rajagopal!

By Say Peng  /  28 Sep 2017 (Thursday)

Photo courtesty of K Rajagopal

K Rajagopal is a film director who has won the Singapore International Film Festival's Special Jury Prize for his first three shorts: I Can't Sleep Tonight, The Glare and Absence. His other works are The New World and Timeless, which were commissioned by the National Museum of Singapore. His short, The Flame, was part of the omnibus film 7 Letters, which premiered in Asia at the Busan International Film Festival in 2015. In 2016, Rajagopal's debut feature A Yellow Bird premiered at the International Critics' Week parallel section of the Cannes Film Festival.

InCinemas speaks with film director K Rajagopal about his short film adaptation of J.M. Sali's book Song of the Waves for the Singapore Writers Festival film initiative Utter 2017: SingLit Unearthed.
InCinemas: Why did you choose to adapt this particular story?
Rajagopal: When I read the english translation of the book by Sali, I was actually quite frustrated as I wished I could read the original Tamil version. I am not able to read Tamil as I was not schooled in that language. This frustrartion triggered my idea for the adaption or rather inspired the story idea for the film based on this book. I also found some commonalities in terms of characters, themes and scenarios in this story with some of my films. I naturally decided to explore them further in this new short film.

InCinemas: What were some of the challenges you faced in adapting the story?
Rajagopal: Well, firstly, it is hard to adapt any book to film. The big question is, how do you stay true to the story or the intention of the author and yet be able to narrate an interesting story visually. The story in the book is based in a bygone era and had a ship as a location. Part of the story is also set in a village in India. These were all challenging especially for the production team and for myself to recreate it convincingly. So i decided to rework the story to make it more experimental  and less natural and linear in terms of the time, characters and location. 

Film still from Rajagopal's Song of the Waves

InCinemas: This year, you have also undertaken another adaption, Lizard on the Wall, which was inspired by Balli Kaur Jaswal’s novel Inheritance. What was the difference for you between adapting Jaswal’s novel and JM Sali’s story?
Rajagopal: Actually, I improvised on the stories for the both the books but used a different approach. In Lizard on the Wall, I kept most of the characters from Balli's novel but recreated a wedding which was not written or played out in the book. The wedding was only mentioned in the book. I did this because the theme given to me was enchantment and I needed to give the audience an immersive film experience. With Sali's story, I kept the same characters but they were interchangeable from writer to actor and character. I kind of deconstructed and reconstructed the story but kept the words from the book as they were in the original and in the translation. In Lizard on the wall, I used very little of the text. In fact, I was inspired by her words to recreate and represent mindscapes of the characters through art installations on the set with the help of James Page, the production designer.

InCinemas: What is your favourite film adaption and why?
Rajagopal: The English Patient by [novelist] Michael Ondaajte. [The novel was adapted by English film director Anthony Minghella into an Oscar-winning film of the same title, starring Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche.]

InCinemas: Do you have further plans to adapt other Singapore literary stories?
​Rajagopal: Well, I have adapted and been inspired  by a number of novels, short stories and poems by Singapore writers to direct for the screen in the past like Daren Shiau's Heartland, Arthur Yap's 2 Mothers On A HDB Playground, Simon Tay's Sita's Complaint and Adeline Foo's Whoopie Lee., Almost Famous.  I am more than happy to work on more adaptions as I feel it is important for Singapore Literature to reach out to a wider audience to enjoy.

Film still from Rajagopal's Song of the Waves

Screening Dates:

Friday 29 September, 7.30pm @ Golden Village, Suntec City
*Post-screening dialogue with K Rajagopal, Lee Thean-jeen, Henry & Harry Zhuang and Jerrold Chong

Saturday 30 September, 7.30pm @ Golden Village, Suntec City
*Post-screening dialogue with K Rajagopal, Henry & Harry Zhuang and Jerrold Chong

Saturday 4 November, 730pm @ National Gallery Singapore (Auditorium)
*Post-screening dialogue with JM Sali, Lee Thean-jeen, K Rajagopal, Richard Angus Whitehead, David Lee                 
Moderator: Li Lin Wee
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