Production Talk with Thilagan Narayanasamy on 'Tudung'

'Tudung' was nominated in the Best Script and Best Performance categories in the recently concluded 5th Singapore Short Film Awards.


Tudung is about the reunification of a runaway teenage girl who comes back 5 years later, pregnant, wanting to live with her sister and turn over a new leaf, after the death of their father. The story revolves around two sisters, Nora, the older one and Sara, the younger one. Sara returns home five years later, pregnant, after their father’s death and demands to stay in the house with Nora. Nora on the other hand, is unhappy with the idea of having Sara around, considering that she attracts unwanted attention and brings negativity to the family. Both sisters have their flaws, like how Sara ran away and came back pregnant; Nora listens to rock music under her tudung. As the story moves forward, the sisters learn to accept each other for their flaws and stay together like how they were, five years ago.

How did you come up with the story? Was there any personal ties or experiences that contributed to the film?

Tudung wasn't written by me. It was written by a fellow classmate. 

This is her reply:
I drew inspirations from various parts of my life, for example my relationship with my younger sister, my dad, the neighbourhood etc. However, the most signifiant of them all that has very close ties to the sisters in 'Tudung' would be my relationship with my older cousin whom I have always looked up to like an older sister. About 5 years ago, she ran away from home. She never maintained any contact with me and we grew apart. When she finally returned, it was clear that 5 years was ore than enough time for the both of us to grow older and change, both physically and mentally. She stopped wearing the tudung totally; I never once took it off whenever I'm outdoors. It was not a pleasant surprise for me. In my state of naivety, I looked down on her and judged her in my head. Then as time passes by, I found myself struggling to sustain any conversation with her that frequently ended after only 2 sentences. One day, it suddenly hit upon me that the tudung was never really the big loss - i lost my sister. I was ashamed of my attitude. Several meet-ups later and it was still tense and awkward between us. I really wanted to connect with her again but I was never any good at expressing myself, never a courageous person myself. So I did the next best thing. I wrote 'Tudung' down.    

-Nadiyah Rahmat

Tell us a bit about the casting process? How did you find your actors and why did you select them?

Casting was relatively challenging. I chose the climax scene of the script as the audition script. Quite a handful came down for auditions but for some reason, I just didn't feel it. After a week of casting, my team and I went on a hunt and manage to get Nafisah Anwar and Nadiah M.Din to come down for auditions. I chose both of them because of two reasons; instantly catching their characters and the relationship/bond they both shared off screen. The chemistry between them was really good which made things look much natural on screen.

What was the experience like being part of the Short Film Awards?

Honestly, being part of the Singapore Short Film Awards was something for my team and I to be proud of. This being the first film festival/competition that Tudung got nominated for, the experience was "different" I would say. The journey was interesting because the feedback I was getting was not those typical "this cut is weird. This shot is redundant", but more of how the film sent out a very subtle message about family. It was heart warming to get so much positive feedback, not only from the judges but also the public. 

What was the most difficult part about making this film?

The most difficult part about making this film was the language. I studied the malay language back in Kindergarten 1 and 2. That was obviously not sufficient for me in order to understand the language fully. Being an indian director, it wasn't easy on my side to be able to capture the delivery of dialogues. I kept questioning myself, "did she say that right?", "is she pressing on the correct word?". With the help of my friends, I managed to get the hang of the malay language in a short period, thus making things easy for me as I directed this film.

Can you share any interesting anecdotes/experiences in the process of making this film?

I wouldn't say it's an interesting story but more like an interesting fact. My team is made up of 5 people (1 indian, 3 chinese and 1 malay).

On another note, directing the main leads was an interesting experience. Tudung was my first time working with professional actors and it was really a new experience. It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. Things moved really fast, performance was consistent, everything just fell into place. It was the first time I worked with actors who actually suggested how the script can be changed, how the story could be told better, how certain dialogues can be added/removed to make the film more interesting. As much as they are just actors, it's really interesting to hear their suggestions. It wasn't from an actor's point of view but more from an audience point of view. For me, it's rare to hear actors actually giving their creative input. So yea, thought it was interesting. 

Who are your influences in filmmaking? Any favourite directors?

My favourite director would be Yasmin Ahmad. As many people know, her films are very family orientated. Always incorporating family values. Though her films are known for tackling controversial issues such as inter racial relationships and religions, her storyline always revolved around family. Her films highlight the importance of family, which the current generation seem to neglect. I admire her bravery, her sense of humour, her works. 

Having now worked in a number of positions (eg editor, art assistant) what advise for current students or insights have you had since joining the industry? What do you have planned for future projects?

Enjoy everything you do. Learn as much as you can. Apply everything you've learnt. Always remember why you chose this path and what you want to achieve out of this and work towards it. Be creative. Be spontaneous. Be different. 

For current students, volunteer yourself to help out with your seniors or even your juniors shoot. Honestly, I learnt a lot more when I went down for my seniors shoot. On set experience is the best experience any film student or filmmaker can ever get.

As for future projects, there are thoughts of doing a series of experimental films; emotional drama through dance. But it's still tentative. Due to national service, I haven't really plan things out. 

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