Exclusive! Director Julian Karikalan on his new film Love & Love Only

Director Julian Karikalan on the set of Love & Love Only.

Director Julian Karikalan on the set of Love & Love Only.

Love & Love Only is a cross-cultural romantic drama between an Indian International student and a working class Australian girl set in the suburbs of contemporary Australia.

India’s legendary music composer Isaignani Ilaiyaraajahas composed the songs and musical score for the film.

The film is one of the first few features shot entirely using the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, and completed using the Adobe Creative Cloud. This is an experimental film in a way, experimenting a new, cost-effective production methodology, with minimal crew and a shoestring budget.

Director Julian Karikalan on:

The San Francisco Global Moview Festival 2015
I am really excited that the film was well received by the multicultural audience there. Seeing people from various cultures including Americans and Asians relate to the film was a satisfying experience. It shows that what I deal with in the movie is universal, and not just for India or Australia alone.

One particular concept I experimented with this project, worked out well. I wanted to see if the same scene could bring totally opposite reactions from different cultures. When the Indian audience were seriously relating to the pain and embarrassment of the lead character due to his cultural shock, the western audience were laughing out loud, which was a great result. But whichever way they saw it, they enjoyed it which is what I wanted.

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The story of Love and Love Only
Love & Love Only is a cross-cultural romantic drama between an Indian international student and a working class Australian girl set in contemporary Australia.

The lead character Kris is a well-pampered Mummy’s boy from a rich Indian family. He is forced to go to Australia as an International student, and is shocked in seeing a different world where his rules doesn’t matter anymore. The film shows the realities of being an international student in a westernised country, unlike the glamorous student life usually shown in films. In such an environment, he meets Stacey who is a school drop-out from a broken family. But fate brings them together in love. Though love is a universal concept, the way we perceive love differs based on culture. This is a love story between a Family-Oriented VS Individualistic Culture.

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The challenges of directing
Directing the film was a nice experience. Being the writer and producer gave me all the freedom I wanted on set. And my production methodology with minimal crew meant I had to do a lot of things during filming which was a huge challenge. I knew I wouldn’t have enough time for directing the actors on the spot. So, I had extensive rehearsals before we started principal photography. So, every actor knew the whole script, their character, motivation, lines etc by heart. It was like rehearsing for a stage play. Still, I had to do a bit of directing the actors on the spot when it came to the actual filming. But it was definitely easier with the rehearsals.

Though most of the actors were newcomers, they have had experience on stage plays. The absolute newcomer in our film is the lead girl. I wasn’t fully satisfied with the 150+ applicants for the role, and finally picked her from a list of extras and prepared her for the role. After the first trial shoot, people mocked at me for choosing her. But I liked something about her and felt that my audience would love her if I could project her the way I had envisaged. I took that as a challenge and spent a lot of time with her to transform her to the character that I had written and imagined all along. She gave her full cooperation and went through that transformation which really paid off well. Now, everyone likes her character the most. After the music and the writing, every audience mention her character. Even the same people who mocked at first are shocked to see such a performance from her. This gives me great satisfaction as a director.

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Working with Isaignani Ilaiyaraajahas  – This is the first ever English language motion picture for which the legendary Ilaiyaraaja has composed original songs.
Working with him is a lifetime achievement for me, and a blessing I should say. I have always been a huge fan of him and have tried to see him from a distance, many times as a fan. But I never got to do that. The first time I saw him in person was as a producer/director having a one on one conversation! He was very down to earth, but I still had a kind of fear out of respect whenever he was around. Even today, when I call him from Australia, my body language changes! He taught me a lot about how I should approach a completed creative piece, and the perspective I should take.

I’ve heard a lot about his speed in composing music and his spontaneity in getting out tunes. Sometimes I have even wondered if that was really possible. Fortunately, he gave me permission to film the whole process, and I did most of it. He finished the whole background score in 5 days including the recording and mixing. The film had a lot of scenes with subtext and I wasn’t sure if I have told that clear enough through the visuals. I gave him no direction. I just played the film to him and he came up with a wonderful score that perfectly picks the subtext and highlights the emotions of each scene in a surrealistic way. I myself enjoy the scenes with the music and forget that it is mine. It is actually his now! He has really shown his mastery in background score once again, and I am sure the western audiences who aren’t familiar with him will fall in love with it.

For one particular scene, I was doubtful about the clarity of the subtext and went to explain the scene to him. He smiled at me and explained the scene to me in much more detail than I myself would have. He then played the music to me, and it was more than what I could ask for. He himself played the keyboard for the whole film, and he personally enjoyed the film which was a very big accolade to me.

One day he called me for composing the tunes for the song and I went prepared with my camera gear. I set up the gear and decided to turn it on during the last 30 minutes instead of filming everything. I explained the scene and he gave me the tunes spontaneously and the whole composing process was over in 12 minutes. So I missed out on filming that moment, but I was fortunate enough to experience that.

Being his first English song for an English film, he wanted native Australian voices. I advertised for the gig and chose an Australian singer named Rachael Leahcar who was signed with Universal music. She was so keen to sing a composition by Raaja sir. I recorded her voice and sent it to Raaja sir for approval. He liked her voice and style and approved it. I never mentioned to him that she was 90% blind. I wanted her to get the opportunity for her ability and not her disability. The one promise I gave her was that I won’t send him any other voices unless he is not satisfied with her. Luckily he was. She is so thrilled to have got the part, and is now a huge fan of the Maestro.

For the lyrics, I collaborated with highly experienced Australian songwriter Denny Burgess, who is the president of the Australian Songwriters Association. I wrote my lines from India and he wrote his from Sydney, and we combined that to bring out Ilaiyaraaja sir’s first ever English song for an English film.

The films locations
We filmed the university scenes in the University of Wollongong which is some 100 kms away from Sydney. Other than that the whole film was shot in and around Sydney including suburbs like Parramatta, Liverpool, Toongabbie, Ropes Crossing, Harris Park etc.

Interesting experiences on set
There is a scene between the lead pair that happens in a Hindu temple. This was our very first day of filming, and we started it in the Sydney Murugan Temple with our traditional cracking of the coconut. As per the temple rules, cameras were not allowed inside the temple. So, we set up the camera outside and shot through the windows using long lenses. After the filming, the actress was chatting with me outside the temple when an old lady along with her family approached us. The lady blessed the actress and wished her success in her cross-cultural relationship and welcomed her to the wider Indian family. As there were no cameras inside, the whole family believed that they were witnessing a real life event between a cross-cultural pair, and never realised that it was an enactment. That’s a testimony for believable performance and realistic scenes.

Love & Love Only’s USP that makes it a must watch for the audience
The real USP of the film is that it is Ilaiyaraaja’s first English film with his original song and score. But more than just the name, the background score coupled with the scenes takes the audience on an emotional experience that they would enjoy and cherish. This is a cross-cultural film for a mainstream audience of any culture.

Though the film is not propaganda of any kind, there is a lot to take from the story. They would relate to different parts of the story based on their culture and experiences. The film is romantic and meaningful. Anyone in a relationship whether cross-cultural or not, can relate to the romance and learn something about relationships.

A western girl is shown in a very different light in this film. The Indian audience will definitely get a new, high opinion about the western culture after watching the film, and the western audience will get a very high opinion about the Indian culture, and the Indian way of love. There is no mockery of the other culture in this film. It’s all about appreciation of the differences and understanding the similarities.

Director Julian Karikalan on the set of Love & Love Only.

Director Julian Karikalan on the set of Love & Love Only.

The film was made on a micro budget with minimal crew, as a challenge and an experiment. My whole family worked in the film and were there on set every day. This includes my Mum, Wife, Sister and my kids. They took various roles and we never had more than 10 people in the crew on any given day, out of which 6 were from my family.

Keeping the size small helped us with permits and access to various locations without any hassles. Other than the production, the pre- production had only one person (me) and I handled the post-production myself. I outsourced the sound design, but handled picture editing and colour grading myself. There were a few effects shots, which I did it myself too. This methodology helped me keep the budget to a minimum and gave me total control over the whole production process. I wanted to explore a production methodology that will be accessible to anyone with a small budget and a great script that is meant for the budget. However, I have to add that I have done all those roles professionally for more than a decade in various stages of my career. So, it was not a decision made out of budgetary constraints. I knew I wasn’t experienced in Sound, and I didn’t even attempt to touch it. I gave it to the experts.

The micro budget methodology was planned from the first draft of the script itself. Every character, locations and scenes were designed based on the budgetary constraints. More than constraints, it worked as a good creative choice, and now the film doesn’t look or feel like a micro budget film in any way. Even the crew members find it hard to believe that it was achieved with just them. Being students from prestigious film schools here, they themselves were sceptical about my approach and had a belief that my methodology would fail! They admitted this only after watching the finished product. Now, this has given them new hope that they can get their films made the same way. May be I should start consulting for micro budget projects, or run training programs in Universities and film schools about micro-budget filmmaking!

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