SINGAPORE: For film-maker Eric Khoo, it was a “dream come true” that his movie My Magic was shown in a competition at Cannes.
So it is even more unreal for 14-year-old Jathishweran Naidu (picture), who stars in the show, to have walked the red carpet alongside Khoo at the world’s most prestigious film festival in May.
But when My Magic – about the complex relationship between an alcoholic magician father and his young son – opens here this week, Jatish won’t be able to watch it on the big screen due to its NC-16 rating.
He will be at the movie’s gala premiere on Thursday, but when the lights dim, he will perhaps be having a burger with Khoo instead.
He saw the movie at Cannes (where he rubbernecked Angelina Jolie, Natalie Portman and Sean Penn), but says he is still “bummed off” that he can’t watch it with his mum and dad.
In the movie, the slight, bespectacled Unity Secondary School student plays Rajr, the 10-year-old son of an alcoholic carnival performer who has sunk to working as a cleaner in a bar.
As the story progresses, the father (played by real-life illusionist Bosco Francis) performs tricks that border on the sadistic and which, reviews from the Cannes screening suggest, are not for the squeamish.
The movie – Singapore’s first contender for the Palme d’Or (Golden Palm) award – received mixed reviews but also a standing ovation.
The Singapore Film Commission has now entered it as Singapore’s official entry as a foreign language film for next year’s Oscars. It was shot mostly in Tamil with a smattering of Hokkien.
Jatish would like to watch it again, too, because the first time – and the only time he has done so – in Cannes, he said his heart was “pounding like nobody’s business. I was asking myself ‘is the audience liking it? Do they understand it’?”
You could say Jatish has made his own magic – from being a Secondary two student in a neighbourhood school to Jathishweran, the film actor (type Jathishweran in Google and you get directed – among other links – to Hollywood.com and the movies section of The New York Times).
He undertook the journey from Woodlands Street 81 to Cannes’ famed Croisette – literally and physically – by himself.
His father Gopalan, 53, a prime mover driver, says he and his wife Shantakumary, 50, who works with SingTel Mobile, have always brought him up to be independent.
So when he got a call from Khoo for auditions at the Goodwood Park Hotel, Jatish went by himself because his parents “were busy working”.
He read his lines, clinched the part and the next night sought his father’s permission for his first movie role.
He even learnt how to eat fire in preparation for his role. “It took just 10 minutes, although I did burn my lips,” he says.
His parents are concerned that their youngest child (there is a older sister and brother) don’t take on too much.
Indeed, arranging to meet him over the weekend required some sleight of hand.
Saturday was not possible because of school activities and also because Jatish was at a shoot for a telemovie for Vasantham Central that would end way past 11pm.
Sunday was proving tricky too due to tuition and homework demands until Jatish pulled a card from his sleeve and managed to push his tuition to end earlier at 10am, thus freeing up an hour.
The guitar-playing Jatish discovered his dramatic flair when he was shortlisted for an Indian drama workshop at 10 years old. He has not looked back although his role in Khoo’s movie is his biggest break to date.
After My Magic, he hopes to act more while keeping away from too much media attention. “I don’t want to be ‘over- treated’,” he says. He concedes that “my education level is getting harder and harder to cope with… if I want to do acting, I have to manage my time”.
Among other things, he hopes to get his black belt in kalari payat, a specialised form of Indian martial arts, do well in his Secondary 3 streaming, remain the “same talkative, jovial person” his friends know him to be, persuade his parents to let him have a drum set, meet Michael Jackson and become a lawyer.
A tall order for now? Not really. If MJ, a role model, could “persevere although he had to face so many obstacles and struggles in life” and “still come through in the end”, so can I, said Jatish.
“No matter what happens to you in life, no matter how much you have to get through, you have to persevere.” That is his philosophy of life.
So, will he get that drum set after all? Perhaps. “My parents are pretty cool… but they get annoyed by what I do sometimes.” –
Channel News Asia