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Forged from painful reality, Murali K. Thalluri’s debut feature, 2:37, was made entirely with private finance, premiered at Cannes in Un Certain Regard and is the first of three totally different films Thalluri intends to make before his 25th birthday, he tells Andrew L. Urban.

In the week of his 22nd birthday (August 4, 2006), Murali Krishna Thalluri’s first feature film, 2:37, opens around Australia, having had its world premiere at Cannes a little earlier (May 2006), selected for the official section, Un Certain Regard. Also selected was Rolf de Heer’s Ten Canoes, which greatly added to Thalluri’s sense of achievement since de Heer had mentored the young Adelaide filmmaker and taught him some vital disciplinary skills for writing.

It was 3am when he got the news that 2:37 had been selected for Un Certain Regard, and he immediately phoned de Heer, who didn’t seem to mind the time, considering the news.

Thalluri was just 18 when he first met de Heer, and he’d been writing stories, poetry and music with burning enthusiasm but without discipline. “I remember showing Rolf something I’d written and I’d spelt the word grease as in Greece; Rolf told me off for it, for lacking the discipline to get the details right, and he was always helping out with honest feedback.”

"started writing furiously"

By then, Thalluri had been writing things for some three years. It started soon after a gang of a dozen youths had randomly attacked Thalluri one night on the streets of Adelaide, stabbing him in the right eye. “I’m still blind in that eye, but the advantage of that is that I see the world in 2D, like a camera,” he says cheerfully. Until then, Thalluri was on course to be a doctor, as are both his parents and his brother. He doesn’t know why, but on recovery, he just started writing furiously.

The first work of writing that has come to see the light of day is 2:37. The title refers to the moment in time that a teenager commits suicide at her school and the film is a powerful story of how the lives of some of her fellow students intersect on that day. It seems like a demon he is trying to exorcise, since a friend of his had committed suicide and left him her last, dramatic and traumatised self-made video, made just before she killed herself. The distress it caused him made him angry at his friend, until he found himself in a deeply depressed state some time later, pain from his eye injury and from long term kidney ailments causing him to swallow 14 pain killers, washed down with most of a bottle of Jim Beam.

He had retired to his 4th floor bedroom – a frequent practice of his that didn’t alert his parents on the ground floor that anything was amiss. He was lucky to wake up a few hours later and vomit the contents of his stomach. But now he better understood how a youngster, feeling totally alone even within the warmth of the family home, can be driven to thoughts of suicide.

His childhood was happy enough within a caring family, but his recurring kidney problems kept him in hospital for extended periods. The family even moved from Canberra, where he was born to Indian parents, to live in Adelaide to be near the kidney specialist treating him. At primary school he was ostracised for wetting his pants (caused by his medical condition), “but high school was better, except the school thought I had anger management problems because I’d argue about things. If I thought I deserved an extra mark, say, I wouldn’t leave it alone,” he says.

There is a direct line from that dogged determination to his approach to filmmaking. He soaked up information and knowledge very quickly, and he set his sights on Hollywood sound designer Leslie Shatz, who works with the likes of Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and Gus van Sant – the latter’s film Elephant was something of a template for Thalluri’s 2:37.

When he managed, with some ingenuity and lots of effort, to track Shatz down by email, he started begging him to take on the job. Shatz finally gave out his phone number, and one Adelaide morning Thalluri stayed up till at 2am to ring Shatz in Los Angeles. “Eventually he said to me, ‘ok, come and meet me at the Cannes Film Festival, and show me a rough cut, and we’ll talk’. I was psyched, but there was only one problem, the Cannes Film Festival (2005) was the following week, and Nick (Matthews, producer) and I had no money. So we both went to our principal investor, telling him that he had already put so much money into the project, and in order to protect his investment, he should give us $20,000 to go to Cannes and meet Leslie.”

After a meeting that went for about an hour, “which included us showing him a rough cut, he shook my hand and said ‘you are one determined mother f*****… I’m in!”

A while later, Thalluri was back asking his backers for yet more money so he could go to New York for Shatz to mix the film. “They weren’t happy with me, in fact I think I left with us no longer on speaking terms, BUT, they sent me to New York, and when I came back and they screened the film with the final mix, they were gob-smacked,” says Thalluri.

"a profound learning exercise as well as major therapy"

Eyeing his birthday, Thalluri confesses he has another goal: “I want to make three films before I’m 25 – all very different.” Even as 2:37 opens around Australia, he is closing a deal with a Hollywood studio to shoot a film in New York early in 2007, “which is the exact opposite of 2:37,” he says, desperate to shout the details for the whole world to hear, but restrained by confidentiality contracts. The deal came about after some agents had got hold of a pirated copy of the film once the news of its Cannes selection got out; anxious to find a new client, they sent it to studios to generate interest – which it did.

The making of 2:37 – without a cent of Government funding – was a profound learning exercise as well as major therapy for Thalluri: “I call it ‘the film that saved my life’, and my ultimate hope is that it will save many others.”

Published August 17, 2006

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Murali K. Thalluri

Interview published August 17, 2006
2:37 national release date: August 17, 2006


... on set

Kent Smith, Murali Thalluri and Nick Matthews (at Cannes Premiere)

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