Raising awareness on autism in local movie Natchathiran

Raising awareness on autism in local movie Natchathiran
Kak Yan (Yan Ibrahim) tries to console Sunil (M Subash) in Natchathiran.
PHOTO: RK Vision

When he is not writing, directing, producing and acting in his own movie, M. Subash runs tuition centres for the primary and secondary school students in Mantin, Negri Sembilan and Klang Valley. It is his means to come up with the budget for the films that he wants to make.

But at times, it also serves as a source of inspiration for his next story.

His latest film, titled Natchathiran, came to be when he was approached at one of the centres by a parent of 11-year-old autistic child Pratap. She wanted Subash to teach the Standard Five student as she was at a loss at how to cope.

By changing the way he teaches a little bit, Subash found Pratap to be adept at learning things quite fast.

"Autism is misunderstood by many," said Subash. "A lot of us may think children with autism are mentally challenged when the truth is they excel in certain fields specifically."

Talking to Pratap inspired Subash for his third Tamil arthouse movie which revolves around Sunil an autistic boy who grew up in an adoptive Malay family.

Filmmaker M. Subash taking a break on the set of Natchathiran. Photos: RK Vision Filmmaker M. Subash taking a break on the set of Natchathiran. Photos: RK Vision

Sunil has only known Kak Yan as his mother. His real mother left the family when he was still small and his father - a polio victim - left Sunil with Kak Yan.

Now that Kak Yan is in need, it is up to Sunil to help her with the household's finance situation. Meanwhile, Sunil also wants to realise his dreams of becoming a dancer.

According to Subash - who's behind the award-winning film Pensil (2008) - there are two layers to Natchathiran.

One layer is the straightforward aim to raise awareness about autism.

After all, the film's tagline says it all: "Autism is not a disability, it's a different ability."

The other layer is slightly complicated. Subash explained: "Sunil and his father are metaphors of how things are and were for the Indian community in Malaysia within the two generations."

In this movie, Subash decided to tackle the dual roles of Sunil and Sunil's father, Maniam.

"By playing both these characters, I want to show that the father and son are the same but there is a drastic negative change to their situations."

The 45-year-old put on 20kg for the role of Sunil. "To put on weight, I just ate nasi lemak and briyani," he confessed.

Maniam leads a hard life, but one that he manages to make the most of. Subash also plays Maniam, Sunil's father, in Natchathiran.

Since Subash runs marathons, he said: "Losing weight is easy for me."

After editing the film and showing it to the people who have family members with autism, Subash decided to go back and re-shoot some scenes.

"There are many different types of autism. Some of them did say my portrayal is OK, but I didn't want to offend anyone so I reshot certain scenes."

Natchathiran was made for RM200,000 - most of which was funded by Subash.

Besides Subash, the film also stars Yan Ibrahim, Elisya Sandha, Mira Nair, Ragu and Mohan Gopala. It will be shown at GSC Nu Sentral in Kuala Lumpur for two weeks only.

Subash hopes the 110-minute feature will travel internationally through various film festivals.

"Pensil was shown at film festivals in Chennai, Bangkok and Dubai. I am sending Natchathiran to the same places."


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