Filmmakers have finally realised the value of female crew members: Assistant director Sugita Thangavelu
“I started out as a media photographer; I was also acting and directing in a travelling theatre group,” she says
Here are some excerpts from the interview with Sugita Thangavelu, who works as an assistant director in the Tamil film industry:
When did you realise cinema was your calling?
I started out as a media photographer; I was also acting and directing in a travelling theatre group. There’s a stigma about women working in the film industry, and so, when I wanted to get into the field, I decided to work with someone I already knew. Director Kamalakannan is an acquaintance and he struck me as someone comfortable to work with. Meanwhile, actor Pavel Navageethan, a friend of mine, invited me to join Bramma for Magalir Mattum. After a formal interview process, I joined his team.
What are your impressions of your directors?
Bramma is organised, and I realised the importance of this only after I saw how chaotic other sets were. With Kamalakannan, it was like working with family. He would allow anyone to make contributions to the film. Meanwhile, I knew Balaji from his RJ days. His team is chilled out, and he goes the extra mile to make sure the whole team is comfortable.
What’s the oddest or most memorable thing you have seen or done as an AD?
A hectic shooting schedule for Mookuthi Amman in Nagercoil was made manageable by the people of that town, who were extremely accommodating. They often served us food they made and it was great to be surrounded by such nice people.
What’s an area of filmmaking you had a tough time with, but are better at now?
As someone from a theatre and media background, I didn’t have much trouble with the technical aspects. What felt overwhelming was maintaining a chaotic environment. It took me a while to cultivate that confidence. Another challenge is to make the rest of the cast and crew share your vision and make sure everyone is on the same page.
What is your take on present-day cinema?
Filmmakers have finally realised the need to have women in their team and the importance of encouraging perspectives from women in their scripts. Earlier, women ADs were used mainly for the costumes. Now, we share opinions on the story and situations as well. The improvement is slow, but I’m glad it’s happening. It took me so long to prove that I can offer way more than costume suggestions; I had to work more than my male counterparts to make this point. Directors like Bramma make sure that every AD knows every department thoroughly.
What’s a change you wish to see in Tamil cinema?
Approaching producers is a challenging task for new directors. Some production houses are organised and professional, and they explain the stages of how approval for a script works. Some even give us reasons for rejection. With most other houses though, we have to wait for months on end. During this time, we are not allowed to pitch our script elsewhere either. So, we are forced to have four to five different scripts on hand to pitch to different companies. Also, studios expect the scripts to be in English, but there are a host of experienced ADs who don’t know the language well and suffer due to that.
Who would be the dream cast and/or crew for your debut project?
To make someone feel what you feel via music is an art, and for that reason, I would love for AR Rahman to make music for my film.
Films worked on: Magalir Mattum, Vattam, Mookuthi Amman
Directors worked with: Bramma, Kamalakannan, RJ Balaji, NJ Saravanan
Main responsibilities: Costumes, Script work, Continuity