A year after he fought and lost a battle with the Central Board of Film Certification to release his film Neelam, about the Sri Lankan civil war, Tamil filmmaker G Venkatesh Kumar has announced his next project. Seerum Puli is a two-part biopic of Velupillai Prabhakaran, the founding leader of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka. Kumar, a student of veteran filmmaker Balu Mahendra, announced Seerum Puli on Monday on Prabhakaran’s 64th birth anniversary.
Starring Bobby Simha, the two-part film will be shot in Tamil Nadu in January 2019. Among the motivations for the film is the director’s admiration of Prabhakaran. The will attempt to “set the record straight” on a man who “belongs to our state, our people and our race”, said the director of Unakkul Naan (2016) and Lightman (2017). “We have been told a very wrong version of the story, especially about Eelam and Prabhakaran,” Kumar said.
Kumar’s Neelam, which chronicles the incidents leading up to the civil war in Sri Lanka in 1983, was not released in theatres. The censor board refused to certify the trailer for containing references to the LTTE and its armed struggle for a Tamil nation.
For Seerum Puli, Kumar does not anticipate trouble from the censor board. “As a leader, Prabhakaran is in the same vein as MG Ramachandran or Jayalalithaa or Karunanidhi,” Kumar said. “Whatever we may say, in Eelam, at least for about 30 years, there was an autonomous government which was ruled by a man called Prabhakaran. Sure, he was ruling it under shelter. But he is still a leader whose story needs to be portrayed to the outer world. I don’t think the censor board should have a problem with a biopic of a leader. There are a lot of biopics made on great personalities and celebrities. Why not Prabhakaran?”
Born on November 26, 1954 in Velvittiturai, Velupillai Prabhakaran led a civil war for nearly three decades for the creation of an independent state for Sri Lankan Tamils. Prabhakaran founded the Tamil New Tigers as a teenager, which later morphed into LTTE. On May 21, 1991, an LTTE suicide bomber assassinated former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in Tamil Nadu for sending the Indian Peace Keeping Force to Sri Lanka between 1987 and 1990.
In 2009, Sri Lanka announced the end of the conflict. Prabhakaran was killed by the Sri Lankan Army at the end of the military offensive.
The first part of Kumar’s biopic will focus on Prabhakaran’s early years, between 16 and 30. “In that phase, he is not the Prabhakaran that we all know,” Kumar said. “He was not a leader who came to power on his own but people brought him to power out of their choice.” The second part will touch upon events in Prabhakaran’s life in the 1990s, including the arrival of the IPKF in Sri Lanka.
The biopic will be a personal history of Prabhakaran and will not examine the politics of Sri Lanka, Kumar claimed. “We are going to delve deep only into Prabhakaran’s life and roots,” he said. “For instance, in the 1970s, there were a few things that happened that brought about agitations among students – there was a people’s revolution that was created, and Prabhakaran was just one man in a crowd. But he stood out among the other rebels because of his elusive and intelligent approach. What my film is trying to understand is if as a student, a man is prompted to take up arms, then what are the circumstances that make him do so?”
Kumar chose Bobby Simha because he resembles Prabhakaran. “I also felt that he can do justice to the role,” Kumar said. “And he accepted because he also feels that Prabhakaran is a legend and a film must be made on him.” The rest of the cast is being finalised.
Kumar declared that Seerum Puli was born out of the censorship battles faced by Neelam. “They oppressed me with that film,” he said. “My response is this film. An artist cannot and should not be kept inside a cage. An artist has the right to express anything he wants. It is up to the audience to decide what works, wins or loses.”