Murali K Thalluri, the widely acclaimed director of the high school suicide drama 2: 37, has seen his film shown at the Cannes and Melbourne film festivals, where he was one of the youngest filmmakers around.
The Adelaide-based son of immigrant physicians from India was in Toronto last week for the North American premiere of his film.
He discussed at length with rediff.com his turbulent life including an attempted suicide a few years ago, and his indebtedness to his parents, Rajkiran and Jyoti Thalluri.
You say you were assaulted by a young man at age 15. How did it affect you?
It has affected my eyesight. I also had kidney problems. I thought at one stage that I was going to be hopelessly ill and that was one of the reasons I tried to kill myself.
Now that we know the attempt was not successful and you have made a film to warn people against suicide, you must feel wonderful, isn't it?
I do, but in Australia some newspapers have refused to believe my story.
They say I invented the story to sell my film. I have offered them the hospital records but some people refuse to face the facts. It could make their stories go away, you see.
And they don't believe that a friend, who killed himself, before my own suicide attempt, sent me a tape in which he discussed his decision to end his life. My critics say the video tape doesn't exist.
Can't you show it to them?
I can, but I won't. The family of the friend who killed himself is too distressed. And the tape itself is horrible. To see someone scream, shout, and beg (for help) and at the same time prepare to end his life is horrible.
I showed the tape to a Justice of Peace and told the newspapers about it. But the reporters did not contact the Justice.
Was anyone arrested for assaulting you?
No, but I believe it was one of those foolish, stupid acts.
The funny thing is that I know who the person is but I did not press charges against him. I hope that he will work on facing his mistake and seek forgiveness.
Not mine. I believe there is a higher being. I have sent the word that I have forgiven him but he has to seek forgiveness from the higher authority.
Are you religious?
No, but after my suicide attempt, I have become spiritual.
A few years from now I want to work on a film that brings out the spiritual essence of various religions. That will be my opportunity to shoot a film in India.
Were you raised in a religious home?
I, along with my two siblings, was raised a Hindu. But age 15, I became a Christian.
How did that happen?
Perhaps it was due to my friends. I joined the Pentecostal denomination.
That did not prevent you from trying to take your life.
(sighs) True, true But I guess everything in life has a purpose.
How does someone who was working in a tax office become a filmmaker at age 20?
For one thing, I had dreamt of making films from my childhood but thanks to a number of factors, I ended up in one of the most boring jobs in the world, in a tax office. Then my girlfriend and I broke up. I had endless depression. I feared my health was going to be worsening.
As my suicide attempt failed, as I started vomiting the whiskey and codeine tablets, I promised myself that I was going to make a film.
Writing the script was my part of my healing process.
But you had to polish the script.
Not only that, I also had to raise money from private sources, as the government-backed film agencies were telling me I was too young to make films.
I spent many weeks in Border bookstores reading every book on film, television and theater. I began meeting with filmmakers.
I even studied the taxation system all over to find holes in it, so I could get real estate developers and other businesses to put up the money for my film.
The movie was made on a minuscule budget (reportedly less than $500,000) isn't it?
True, but try raising that much money for a film being made by a kid and a film that had no stars.
How did you generate the self-confidence to make this film?
I do not claim to have the knowledge of half of my colleagues in the film industry.
I strongly believe that human knowledge doesn't just consist of physics, math and chemistry. It is comprised of the volumes of knowledge written on the human heart, chiseled on the human soul, and engraved in the human psyche.
I believe in miracles and I believe this film is going to touch millions of hearts. And I hope it will save many lives, too.
What else was important to you as an emerging filmmaker?
Imagination and persistence.
I went around looking for aspiring filmmakers who were as determined as I was. And I succeeded. But the real story of persistence concerns how I got one of the best designers for practically nothing.
Who is this person?
Leslie Shatz who has worked with the George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, especially on the latter's Apocalypse Now.
Did you put a gun to his head?
In a way, yes. I could not get his contact number or e-mail address. So I wrote to more than 30 reporters in Australia and America who had interviewed Leslie. One reporter forwarded my e-mail to him. Something must have aroused Leslie's curiosity.
After exchanging about a dozen e-mails, I begged to talk to him over the phone. Finally, he said I could meet him at Cannes with the rough cut.
How did you manage to go to Cannes?
That is another story of persistence. Nick Matthews (the co-producer and director of photography) and I had no money left with us to go to Cannes.
So we both went to our principal investor, telling him that since he had already invested quite a bit of his money, he ought to invest $20,000 to protect his investment. He wasn't happy with us, but eventually he agreed.
Where was the sound mixing done?
In Los Angeles and New York. Each time we enhanced the sound I showed the film to the investors, telling them, 'Guys. It is a good film, but if you want it to be GREAT FILM, you will have to send me back to America.
Leslie was in New York working on Milos Forman's Goya's Ghosts. In between his work for that big budget film, he worked on my film.
Isn't this a funny story?
When I look back, I find it all hilarious. But at that time, begging and putting pressure on the investors was absolutely necessary. All along the production, the next step was taken because we made it a necessity, not an option.
We hear you are making a $10 million movie.
I am discussing it with investors and studios in Hollywood. There are tentative plans to make it in Canada or America. People ask him if I want to move to Los Angeles but I know I do not really belong to Hollywood.
My heart is very much in Adelaide. Besides, my parents are also there. I have given them quite a bit of grief but they have been like a rock to me. I am truly blessed to have their love and understanding. This film is also for them.