Finding 'love' again in Silver Films 2018: An Interview with Png Zhen Yu and Kannan Vijayakumar

 
 
 
Silver Films, part of National Arts Council’s Silver Arts, which is an annual festival organised by NAC that advocates the meaningful possibilities seniors have in the arts, is back again and this year, featuring a selection of heartwarming films on living life to the fullest and holding our loved ones closed to us.
 
Silver Films is presented in two formats – Silver Features, and Singapore Silver Shorts. Happening on 6 September, Singapore Silver Shorts combines into one screening five short films by Singapore filmmakers. The films are Eric Khoo’s Cinema, Ng Xinmin’s Longevity Peach, Ellie Ngim’s Run, Chicken, Run, and two new commissions – Love in a Convenience Store by Png Zhen Yu and New Bike by Kannan Vijayakumar – that will make their world premiere at the festival. The screening will be approximately 90 min.
 
We caught up with the filmmakers behind the two commissions, Png Zhen Yu and Kannan Vijayakumar on the making of their shorts.

Png Zhen Yu on Love in a Convenience Store
 
Love in a Convenience Store tells the story of an elderly couple reignites their romance at an unlikely place - a convenience store.

What inspired the storyline? A personal experience? Marcus Chin?
The idea for Love in a Convenience Store came when I was buying a drink one day at a 7-eleven store when I saw an elderly couple serving me at the counter.  The incident made me think of my maternal grandparents. Unlike the other married couples, they were not close to each other. Although they lived in the same flat, they were always apart; different bed, different room and eventually different house. They were not having a bad relationship. This was simply how their relationship was.  They hardly communicated with each other, often staying within their own rooms.
 
The elderly couple at 7-eleven made me think about the possibilities of seeking true, genuine love even at an older age. Why would they seem to be “cute”? Seeing them interact seemed to be like a courtship, just like how any young couple would interact while dating. Maybe it was an odd fitting of seeing such interactions between an elderly couple that made it oddly pleasant, interestingly “cute”.
 
It has been a social norm to see my parents’ generation and those before them to put courtship and dating behind them after marriage. The love they have for each other has, somehow, channeled to their children. Of course, I would hope for them no to end up like my grandparents. For when their children become adults, and when they have the freedom of time, humble wealth and no work to worry about, they can do anything they want to do, especially things they had missed or forgotten.
Why did you decide to cast Marcus Chin as the lead and how did you convince him to take the role?
Marcus Chin wasn’t my first choice, actually. I was looking at another veteran actor to play the main character of the film, but I got rejected. When David recommended Marcus to me, I was reluctant at first as I didn’t want a familiar face to star in my film. As the development of the script added more comedic personality to the character, I eventually decided to cast Marcus for he seemed really fitting to the role.
Marcus was quite keen to take up the role when we first approached him. Despite his busy schedule juggling his radio programme and a feature film shoot, he tried his best to free out time for us. I am grateful towards his genuine participation in this story.
Describe your experience of working with the 2 older actors? How do you relate to them and make them achieve what you want?
Marcus and Guat Kian are both experienced actors with a great chemistry on screen.  
Working with them was such a pleasure; they kept the morale high despite having two back-to-back overnight shoots. It's a pretty tough work schedule, especially for their age! They were also very supportive towards the crew and me throughout the shoot and I really learnt a lot from this experience. It was a blast!
 
What would you like your audience to take away from watching this film?
Be happy and to cherish every little pleasant moment with your loved ones. Life should be about seeking happiness through appreciating the simplest moments we often take for granted.

Love in a Convenience Store challenges and encourages elderlies to express their hidden love towards their spouses. Typical of that generation to only show their love through presence and acts of service, this story explores the possibility of other expressions of love including the subtle use of words, touch and gift. On a regular outing as an elderly couple, it is common not to see them holding hands but still caring enough to pick out their partner’s favourite colour or food. This is their way of showing affection – with a silent treatment. Through common memories and shared experiences, elderly intimacy can also be professed through understated song lyrics, gleeful dance moves, oddly even gifting packet snacks – almost child-like.
Hopefully Love in a Convenience Store can encourage the elderly in Singapore to re-live their memories while reinvigorating their golden age.

In your opinion, what is the most misunderstood about the older generation in Singapore?
A lot of people perceive life after retirement to be dull and mundane, or even the end of achieving goals and chasing dreams.

But life truly just started after retirement, in my opinion. Without the worries from work, having enough savings and the freedom of time, being in the silver age should be the time of our lives to do anything we want, especially things we had missed out at a younger age.
 

Kannan Vijayakumar on New Bike
 
New Bike tells the story of Selvam, a jaded 65 year old retired bank officer, who feels isolated after scrapping his car which was his only companion. After a few stumbles to fill this void, Selvam finds a new lease of life when he makes the best out of an unlikely birthday present – an electric scooter.

What do you think of Singapore raising the retirement age and seniors still working into their late 60s?
I think it has pros and cons. In my personal opinion, I will think that 60 is a good age for seniors to take a break from work. But the ‘retirement’ shouldn’t restrict seniors for seeking out and explore many possibilities or aspire to learn new things. Learning and discovery doesn’t stop at any age. In fact, that is the crux of ‘New Bike’.
Is this based on a personal experience? Where did the film’s idea come from?
The main idea sparked through observing the common use of e-scooter. My co-writer Qing was the one who came up with an idea of making a film about a senior and an e-scooter. Having owned one, Qing thought that it will make the scope of the story very interesting. From there, we started to sketch the film’s character. The main character Selvam was inspired from my dad and uncles who love M.G.R. (legendary Tamil Actor) and watch his film during any break time. I felt that this aspect of Selvam will be related well with the seniors from the Tamil community. The main crux of old vs new technology is a content that was derived from reality too.

 
When we wrote Pudhu Vandi, New Bike, we wanted to conceive a family drama short film that highlighted the positive and negative reactions of seniors towards the cultural and technological changes that have been happening in the society.
 
Especially in recent times, as a society we have evolved quite a bit. The film highlights how seniors are adapting or struggling with the changes. What started off as a heart-warming, serious drama during the concept stage, was later developed into a black comedy drama by me and my co-writer, Qing. We wanted to convey our serious messages through realistic, light hearted scenes. The tint of black comedy is sprinkled in the film throughout as we see Selvam, the lead character struggle to overcome is constraint perspective of life. New Bike symbolises a “New Life” that Selvam will discover through his emotional journey.
The film is rather well-casted. Where did you find the cast for the film?
Lingam and Kokila are veterans from Vasantham (local Tamil TV channel) who are acting for almost 20-30 years. Especially Kokila is my personal favourite actress and we share a good rapport when I directed her TV shows as well. Varman is one of the strongest actors we have in TV and I really wanted him to essay this challenging role. He was my first choice and I was glad that he liked the story as well. Nutan as Elizabeth gave her best while another veteran Ali Kahn made us laugh off and on screen with his dynamic persona in a brief role. In overall, I was never have been this pleased with the casting for any of my works.  
 
 
Do you think love naturally fizzles out when couples reach their silver years, and most of the time it is companionship? Or do you think love can exist?
Love never fizzles out. It matures and takes a whole new form by age. And if love didn’t exist, the world would have been a cemetery by now.

Both films have been produced by The Filmic Eye with David Lee and Eternality Tan as Executive Producers.

 
From 6-30 September, enjoy Silver Arts’ wide range of programmes held at venues islandwide. Bring your parents, grandparents, and family to enjoy and experience this year’s festival offerings! Visit silverarts.nac.gov.sg for more details.

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