Directors Jack Prabhu and Santoshh KK on their latest anthology, ‘First Nights’

Jack Prabhu and Santoshh KK of ‘First Nights’ that premiered at the New York Indian Film Festival recently, explain why their anthology worked and that it was not “made to impress”

Those who managed to watch Santoshh KK and Jack Prabhu’s First Nights, a Tamil anthology that had its international premiere at the New York Indian Film Festival recently, most possibly had a big smile on their faces after the end credits rolled. After a long time, an anthology and its directors had delivered, and how!

Without any fuss, two young filmmakers from Chennai made a slice-of-life film, took it to the festival circuit (thanks to a collaboration with Canada-based Viewfinder Film Company) and are now revelling in the bouquets coming their way. First Nights puts together four equally well-written and performed shorts, each of which leads to the other. You’re not playing a numbers game or choosing any one short to watch, as we have been doing all these months with other anthologies on the small screen.

Not a message movie

The film deals with something everyone speaks about in hushed whispers, or turns pink discussing — the uniquely Indian concept of ‘the first night’ (when the newlyweds are often also newly acquainted) — but the fact is that everyone has a story to tell, say the directors. The idea for First Nights stemmed from a casual conversation among the team. “Usually, the first night in a film is about song and dance, love-making; it’s more about action than the emotions involved. We wanted to see if we could do something about the entire range of emotions different couples go through,” says Santoshh, who directed the short film, Eyal (on the LGBT community) and is also a part of Prabhu’s (who also produced First Nights) Raging Bull Actors Studio.

“We did not want it to be a ‘message’ movie, but wanted to showcase different folks from varied backgrounds thrown into a similar situation. If you travel abroad, you realise that people want to know of a country’s culture and practices — they are not looking just for poverty porn. The concept of the first night is so alien to them, and, therefore, fascinating,” says Prabhu.

A still from the film

Keeping it ageless

The directors decided their male and female characters would have an equal say in the film, and not be hemmed in by societal expectation of how someone has to behave. That’s why Shalini’s character, played superbly by Monisha Murali, works so well in one of the stories. She is married to a man who’s behaving the way he’s used to seeing in pornographic videos, movies and the society at large. She understands that beneath all that bluster is a man who’s never really spoken to a woman. Shalini is the kind of woman who’s quietly confident, who will probably never be called a ‘feminist’, but is emancipated and sure of herself. “Yes, we wanted variations, and personally, I love Shalini’s character too. There’s a certain understanding about her that’s charming,” adds Prabhu.

Abitha Venkat’s is an interesting character too — Chakreshwari might be an ancient name, but she’s anything but that, and the grumpy groom is almost swept off his feet.

Most importantly, none of the characters are defined by the age they live in. “Yes, the idea was to keep the film ageless. You can watch it five years later, and it will be fresh,” agrees Santoshh, who plays Michael, the male lead in the first short.

A still from the film

Of passion projects

One criticism against the film has been that it looks like it was shot on a budget. “One can think about what will sell, who will buy, and let go of the passion to make a film. First Nights was not made to impress. We gave the story what it needed and it was born out of genuine collaboration,” says Prabhu.

The two directors insist that the growth of the characters and their moral core was organic, never because they had to prove a point. How do they hope to monetise their effort? “We shot it with our money and now are doing the festival circuit till the end of the year. After that, we hope to join hands with producers and distributors to release the film on OTT platforms by December 2021,” he adds.

The film also proved what the duo firmly believes — content is king. “Star power might get you attention, but for a film to work, you need content. You should just go out there and make a film,” says Prabhu, who plays the conscience keeper, Subramani, in First Nights.

What next? Santoshh is working on two scripts, one of which is with Prabhu. Another anthology? You can hear the smile over the phone, but they’re not telling yet!

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