Kuru Selvarajah is a filmmaker/photographer/writer. When not indulging in mindless hours of anime, he likes to walk around and stuff. Sometimes, his works involves interrogating the mundane realities of the self/relationships and how it relates to our collective realities. Other times he'll do stuff he gets paid for. He is also interested in representation in media and how it shapes marginalized folks and their ideas of who they are and how they belong in a world that doesn't necessarily give them the power or opportunities to tell their own stories.
His first film "Chance" (2012) was selected to play at the Scarborough Film Festival, and The National Screen Institute (NSI) online film festival. He is currently working on his first chapbook of poetry, and the podcast Shade On You.
MTO: How did you come to pursue film as an art form, and did you always know you wanted to be an artist?
Kuru Selvarajah: When I was younger, I wanted to be an actual artist. I wanted to create comics. Then I wanted to be an animator. I used to make these stick figure animations, and then I went into Life Sciences, because I thought I just couldn’t be an artist - that there was no future in art. But after working full time for a few years, I realized there’s always uncertainty no matter what you do, right? I don’t even know how I got into filmmaking. I just like telling stories. So poetry, film, and photography are all connected for me, not separated.
MTO: What movies or filmmakers have been most influential in your life?
KS: In terms of movies, Wong Kar Wai. I studied life science at University of Toronto Scarborough, and I took Intro to Film. That’s where I saw Chungking Express. I really loved that film. I think that was the first film that made me realize what visual aesthetic I liked, and how I wanted my work to feel.
MTO: Is it mostly in a stylistic sense that you like that film?
KS: Stylistically, but also the way that it was told, and it holds moments right and I really love that. A lot of films just move through plot points, but with Chungking Express, you see the people and you can connect with them and you can feel what they’re feeling — and I think that’s what films should do. That’s what I want to support.
MTO: You’re involved in so many disciplines — photography, film, poetry, why do you think that is? What compels you to create in so many different mediums?
KS: I think it’s just convenience. You can tell so many stories. If I want to say a thing and photography is the right medium, then I’ll choose that. For poetry it’s the same thing. There are only so many things I can say with poetry. They’re all interconnected. For me, poetry is an extension of writing. So if it’s screenwriting — and eventually I want to write a novel — photography is just an extension of cinematography.
MTO: Something we think about with our concept of multiplicity is that we are combatting the idea of binaries and the idea that there is one discipline that you have to stick to. Do you find yourself relating to that idea of multiplicity through your artistic practice?
KS: With me doing multiple things, it can be exhausting. Even when I am doing multiple things, they’re always compartmentalized within a few months. I think that’s great because it allows me to switch between creative outlets— if I’m writing something and I have writer's block, I can go to a different medium and explore that. Right now, in this day and age, you have to know a lot of different things to get by and to survive. Even to produce your own work. For me, learning all of these skills were necessary. I had to do it myself. I got tired of waiting around.
MTO: Do you relate to that idea of creating a space for yourself in the industry?
KS: Yeah, and that’s the thing with Shade On You. Creating Shade On You with Obiri Edwards was just something we were talking about at work, things we were noticing in the industry. We initially just wanted to produce other people’s work — videos and photos. So we did do a web series, a five-part series about two roommates living together in the city, and about their struggles. I didn’t really push it, marketing-wise. But we did it, and it was a great. It was a great experience for me as a writer and as a producer. But then we realized that we couldn’t continue to do this web series without a profit. So, we thought a podcast would be much more simpler to make connections in the city with racialized folks. Right now, it’s in a very experimental stage. It’s just Obiri and people we know. It’s a process.
Right now, in this day and age, you have to know a lot of different things to get by and to survive. Even to produce your own work. For me, learning all of these skills were necessary. I had to do it myself. I got tired of waiting around.
MTO: Can you tell us more about your poetry?
KS: I started writing 10 years ago. But at that time I was just writing to encourage someone else to write, and then I ended up liking the process. Initially I was writing over Kanye’s beats — so I always wanted my poetry to rhyme and to be clever and witty. But over the years it became more of a tool to reflect emotions and the past. It’s only been in the past 3 years that I was able to explore change and what I’ve been through back home. That’s what I’m working on right now.
MTO: Do you ever impose a structure on your poetry or do you just free write?
KS: It’s mostly free writing, but lately I’ve been able to stick to editing and re-editing. It’s been a great process to just go back to old stuff I wrote, edit it, take one line and expand it. I guess I have kind of created a style for myself. My poetry is kind of like my cinematic style— visual is what I want to go for.
MTO: Are you working on your poetry now?
KS: Yeah! So I’m working on a collection. In that, I wanted to talk about our displacement because of the Sri Lankan war, militarization on both sides, and what that means. Having two different identities and two different languages. Because my mom doesn’t speak English, I grew up translating everything for her. And it’s weird, because she doesn’t understand the concept of “I’m learning English now, but my Tamil is still at a grade 4 level.” And if I didn’t know a translation of a work she’d be like, “Oh, you don’t know? I thought you were in school?” There’s a disconnect, but it has helped me to learn the language. I have been writing in my language as well.
In the past, there was a lot of my poetry where I would talk about my mom's pain. What I’ve been trying to do is bring more of myself into my work, and not delegate the pain to just my mom. I hope that’s what I can achieve, even though my mom’s story is part of my story. Just because I had the privilege to articulate her pain doesn’t mean that was the right way to do it. She’s not saying it in her own words, but through what she felt.
MTO: Can you talk a little about your process?
KS: I used to work full time, so I made it a habit to come home and write whatever. It actually helped me to create the habit. So right now, it's not so much trying to look for inspiration but it’s trying to intentionally write. When I started off, I thought I was the shit. And you’re not and you learn that you’re not. And you yourself are not going to like what you write. I read stuff I wrote 3-4 years ago and I’m like “What is this?” If I’m writing, first I’m writing for myself. I am putting it out there, but I want people to understand what I’m saying. So that process has been kind of difficult —
MTO: Communicating clearly?
KS: Yeah, to write exactly. Some poems, I do want the readers to get exactly what I say. But sometimes, I hear people interpret it different ways and I like that too. It depends on what I’m writing. If I’m writing something about the war, I want it to be intentional. But I do like experimenting with different styles.