Associate Professor of English Swarnavel Eswaran has found national and international success for his work as both writer and director of the groundbreaking film, Kattumaram (Catamaran), which has been accepted into several film festivals across the country and around the world.
This past week, the preeminent Frameline: San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, which is the largest and oldest LGBTQ film festival in the world, selected Kattumaram as one of the recommended films and screened it twice in the iconic Roxie, one of the oldest continually running theatres in the world, and the equally significant Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas.
The success of Kattumaram means a lot to me as it showcases the fundamentals I have focused on as a teacher at MSU, particularly in my screenwriting and film production classes.DR. SWARNAVEL ESWARAN
“The public reaction to the film has been very positive. In New York as well as California, Toronto, Mumbai, and London, Kattumaram (Catamaran) was received well. Particularly, the female audiences were very moved by the film and many of them emailed me their heartfelt responses,” Eswaran said. “The success of Kattumaram means a lot to me as it showcases the fundamentals I have focused on as a teacher at MSU, particularly in my screenwriting and film production classes.”
Kattumaram tells the story of Anandhi, an unmarried teacher in a small Indian village that has been ravaged by a tsunami. After the tsunami destroys the village, Anandhi along with her nephew Mani and their uncle Singaram find they are the only surviving members of their family. In an effort to fulfill his traditional paternal duties, Singaram works tirelessly to find a groom to marry the reluctant Anandhi. Amidst her uncle’s efforts, Anandhi begins a blossoming relationship with Kavita, the new photography teacher at the local school. As Anandhi’s feelings develop, she must face the consequences a queer relationship will have on the conservative community and her family’s reputation.
Besides the central themes of sexual identity and acceptance, this cutting-edge film explores the specific role that queer identity has in rural, conservative Indian communities and how the community reactions to same-sex relationships reflect the social values and traditions of that demographic.
“Kattumaram engages with patriarchy and sexual orientation in a rural space, which is rare in Indian or even world cinema,” Eswaran said. “The film emblematizes the ‘Bolder by Design’ spirit of our University, so I am happy that I could do my bit for the Spartan ‘Pride.’”
In addition to the Frameline: San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, Kattumaram recently appeared at the Birmingham Indian Film Festival in the UK (June 21-July 1), the Bagri Foundation London Indian Film Festival (June 20-29), and the Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival (June 12-16). In May, it was screened at the InsideOut Toronto LGBT Film Festival and New York Indian Film Festival. In April, it appeared at the Out Shine Film Festival in Miami, Florida.
Kattumaram engages with patriarchy and sexual orientation in a rural space, which is rare in Indian or even world cinema.DR. SWARNAVEL ESWARAN
“I was very moved when Kattumaram was screened at the Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival, where many colleagues from the film school I studied at came to watch and there was a standing ovation after the film,” Eswaran said. “Also, in London and Toronto, they invited me on panels to discuss the possibilities and challenges of the digital era regarding the production and distribution of cinema.”
Next, Kattumaram will be screened in Singapore and Scotland. It also has been invited to Sweden, the Czech Republic, and Australia among others.
Eswaran graduated from the Film and Television Institute of India and received his doctoral degree in Film Studies from the University of Iowa. His research areas include the history, theory, and production of documentaries and short films, popular Hindi films, and the specificity of Tamil cinema and its relationship with Hollywood. His other recent films include Nagapattinam: Waves from the Deep (2018), Hmong Memory at the Crossroads (2016), Migrations of Islam (2014), and Unfinished Journey: A City in Transition (2012).
Currently, Eswaran is working on an indie film set in Detroit in the backdrop of independent artists.