Exploring Chezhiyan’s Vision of Tamil Cinema

Contemporary Tamil cinema has avoided social realism with its blockbusters. Is Chezhiyan's film 'To Let' a sign of change?

Nikhil Venkatesa

April 11, 2019

Exploring Chezhiyan’s Vision of Tamil Cinema

Last year, cinematographer and filmmaker Chezhiyan spoke about the state of Tamil cinema in an interview before the release of his debut film, To Let. “When I traveled to Sri Lanka...I came across many types of tea ranked as first grade, second grade, and third grade in quality,” he said. “And finally, there was dust tea. The best quality tea was being exported. This is in fact the state of Tamil cinema today. Remarkable work is being done overseas. In India, we are still drinking dust tea.”

It’s rare for a first-time filmmaker to express such dogmatism, at the risk of antagonizing one’s peers, but Chezhiyan is not a typical filmmaker.

He entered the Tamil film industry, known as Kollywood, as an assistant to veteran cinematographer PC Sreeram. He was then a cinematographer for established Kollywood directors like Bala and Seenu Ramasamy before directing To Let, a film that he also wrote, shot, and produced. To Let has been screened at 100 festivals and has won 32 awards, including India’s National Award for Best Feature Film in Tamil in 2018. It’s become a sleeper hit in the Tamil theatrical market and was released in the US, Canada, and UAE last month.