Singaporean writer-director T T Dhavamanni’s first feature film, 24 Hours of Anger, is about disenfranchised youths entangled in a drug gang and the underbelly of society.
It takes an uncompromising look at a tough segment of life here which is not often seen – where fear, violence, retribution and criminal activity rule the day.
Dhavamanni, 37, a TV veteran, wrote and directed three seasons of the award-winning drama series Guru Paarvai for MediaCorp’s Tamil TV channel, Vasantham.
He has written and directed several telemovies and stage plays in Tamil. His work has attained nominations in the Asian Television Awards, as well as accolades at the New York Film Festival.
24 Hours of Anger is the second of nine films supported by the Singapore Film Commission in 2008, with funding from the New Feature Film Fund, to be screened. Chai Yee Wei's Blood Ties was released in cinemas last September.
InSing.com speaks to Dhavamanni to learn more about his first foray into feature films.
Why make this film about drug-dealing youths on the margin of society?
I started doing Guru Paarvai, a TV drama series about students in a school, very innocently. But as I delved deeper into the series, I realised that there’s not much difference in the stories behind today’s news and those from when I was younger.
When you’re a youth, that’s a difficult period, especially when you’re from the middle or working class. Teens get angry over a lot of things – broken families, divorce, etc. For three years I collected a lot of newspaper articles and research material about young people today going wrong. I pieced them together and realised that I had a story to tell.
Is your story authentic?
My movie begins in 1992. Let me put it this way. In a developed country like Singapore, even one youth going astray is unforgivable. Because in a system where everything’s so controlled and well run, we should save each and every youth and channel his energy into something positive.
But that’s not the case. The underbelly of society is often not touched or looked into. I think what’s lacking are motivation and guidance. So when it comes to a question about whether my story is authentic, I think all you have to do is to walk to different parts of Singapore (and see for yourself).
In the film, you featured a community leader who’s a drug dealer. Isn’t that a very bold and controversial thing to do?
I don’t think we should take that literally. I’m not trying to suggest anything. To me, exploring the real issue means pushing it a little. There has to be a certain level of imagination and metaphorically, I was trying to explore the notion that all you need are a few people to go wrong and all the hard work of trying to reach out to the youths will be destroyed.
At the gala premiere, President Nathan sat next to me. Nobody talked about it. It’s just a story at the end of the day. You’re the first to ask about this.
Who are you targeting the movie at?
I hope people of all races will see it. Disenfranchised youths are not a problem faced only by the Indian community. I think every community finds it difficult to teach its youth. I made a Tamil film, but it’s really a Singaporean movie. You know, I’m only releasing it at four theatres and I think making my money back is going to be a stretch.
But I wanted to do it to inspire young people and encourage them, especially those from the middle and working class, who wish to become storytellers or filmmakers. I’m a port worker’s son. I’ve been telling my mother since I was seven that I wanted to be a filmmaker.
Were you influenced by 15 and The Days, also local films about young delinquents?
I haven’t seen The Days but I feel Royston Tan’s 15 is very sincere. I also like Jack Neo’s I Not Stupid. It’s honest. I like honest work no matter who it comes from.
I don’t want to compare my film with 15 or The Days because I don’t think it’s a gangster movie. The subtext is gangsterism but there are other things I explore in 24 Hours of Anger. This movie is very close to my heart. I classify it as a “story next door” and a thriller.
What will your next feature length movie be?
I haven’t thought about it yet. Immediately I have to return to my day job to solve my financial woes. The total budget for the film was $750,000. I had to sell my insurance coverage to complete it.
I’m going to make a Sesame Street-kind of children’s programme in Tamil. Maybe my next movie or the one after that would be in English. After all, emotions are language-less and storytelling isn’t about language.