Interview: Filmmaker Kartik Subbaraj

A short film is usually considered as a first step for aspiring filmmakers into the world of cinema. Jigarthanda-director Karthik Subbaraj knows this much too well as he got his break into the Tamil industry when his short Kaatchipizhai was selected for Naalaya Iyakunar, a TV show for upcoming filmmakers. After the success of his features Pizza andJigarthanda, it goes without saying that Subbaraj has found a huge following among youngsters. His clout in the otherwise watertight industry is evident with his new project Bench TalkiesThe First Bench, a compilation of six short films made by amateur filmmakers, which he managed to secure a theatrical release for. A first-of-its kind experiment in Tamil Cinema, Bench Talkies released in theatres in Coimbatore, Chennai and Bangalore on March 6 to good reviews. 
How did the idea of releasing a compilation of short films come to you?
This may be the first time that my efforts to do this became a success, but I have been trying to get a release for short films ever since I have been making them. I tried a lot of different models. I approached theatres with the idea of playing them during the interval or in between advertisements. But no one thought of it as a good idea. Then I saw films like Kerala Cafe, 5 Sundarigal and Bombay Talkies (all anthologies of short films) and thought if they could do it, why not us. That was how Bench Talkies came about. It will be the first time that such an anthology film is being released here and I am sure it will be a new experience for the Tamil audience.
How did you select the final six?
As part of our production venture Stone Bench Creations, we have a site called Bench Flix, which allows indie filmmakers to submit their films and get them distributed on digital platforms. So we had a good pool of about 2000 films to choose from. A panel judged the films and filtered it first to about 35 and then to the final 6. The idea was to include as many different voices and genres as possible. There is a comedy film, a social message film, a thriller… each film is different and is united only in soul. The only motive is to sustain short films as a genre and promote good cinema.
Bench Talkies - Signature poster
Was it difficult to convince theatres to give out space for Bench Talkies?
Yes, it was a tough battle. But PVR and Satyam cinemas have been very helpful throughout our journey. We have come up with a plan of releasing the film first in cities like Chennai, Coimbatore and Bangalore, all three of which are huge hubs of aspiring filmmakers. Then in the coming weeks, we will extend the release to bigger cities like Mumbai and world cities like New York and Malaysia. It won’t be much different to a full-length feature and we have gone through all steps that a feature goes through–the censor board, box office release and online promotion platforms.
Is this going to be a one-off experiment or an ongoing one?
Definitely, an ongoing one. A lot of people think that a short film is a shortened feature film, that is not true. It is as hard to make a short film and the same amount of dedication goes into it. It is a pity then that they do not get seen and appreciated as features do. Nor, do they generate any revenue for the filmmaker or producers. Bench Talkies will be a platform to promote shorts and show audiences that films need not always be two hours long. This is the first bench. In the upcoming months we have two more anthologies–Bench Talkies: The Second Bench and Bench Talkies: The Third Bench–coming up for release. In the future, we are looking out for not just Tamil shorts, but also films made in other languages. We don’t want short filmmakers to get disheartened by lack of funding or platform.
Bench Talkies is a compilation of six short films directed by Anil Krishnan, Gopakumar, Charukesh Sekar, Monesh, Rathanakumar and one by Karthik Subbaraj himself.

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