K Rajagopal goes from Cannes to kids’ show
SINGAPORE — After a career-defining year which saw his grim debut feature, A Yellow Bird, premiere at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, Singaporean filmmaker K Rajagopal is returning to the small screen. His latest endeavour is one that’s considerably lighter than A Yellow Bird, with its themes of redemption and racial tensions.
Rajagopal, 51, is at the helm of the children’s television show, Whoopie’s World. To many, this may seem like a surprising about-turn. But Rajagopal has worked on at least two other children’s series, and considers television to be his main rice bowl.
“Working on a feature film and a television show is a completely different experience for me. The approach is different as well,” said the award-winning director, who has worked on short films for The National Heritage Board, a travelogue for Mediacorp TV Vasantham, and a reality show for Channel 5 since completing A Yellow Bird in 2015.
“I enjoyed making my feature film and it came with its own challenges. The challenge here with (Whoopie’s World) was that it was inspired by a book, and I had to stay true to its form and themes, unlike the feature film, which had an original screenplay,” he says. He adds that working with children is refreshing for him as a director.
“I think children keep you on your toes and I like that,” says Rajagopal, who worked with Simorrah Nadya Seow, 10, who played the lead role; and Elijah Michael Tan, 8, who plays her brother, on Whoopie’s World.
“Kids are not predictable and they often surprise you, as they... can be very spontaneous when it comes to performance, which I appreciate. It keeps the show alive,” says Rajagopal.
“The only drawback with children is their attention span compared to adult actors. They need to be entertained with little perks or treats to keep them going, especially in a long series. I am good with kids, but I can be quite serious with them to get a better performance out of the children,” he adds.
Whoopie’s World is an adaptation of the children’s book Whoopie Lee: Almost Famous, written by Adeline Foo. It is a spin-off from to Foo’s popular The Diary Of Amos Lee.
Describing himself as a fan of children’s book authors like Enid Blyton and Shel Silverstein, Rajagopal said he was drawn to Foo’s books because they “had the same kind of charm in the storytelling, especially from a child’s perspective, with a moral dilemma or a social conscience and responsibility”.
When asked about how his favourite kid-lit might have influenced Whoopie’s World, and Rajagopal says that “The Famous Five, The Giving Tree, and The Little Prince are my all-time favourite (children’s books). I definitely drew on the spirit of adventure from these books and shows”.
Foo, who acted as head writer of Whoopie’s World, says she learnt much from her experience working with Rajagopal. He taught her to be more explicit in thinking like a production manager, and to consider if a story would be practical or realistic to shoot before writing it.
And, she says, “with the previous screenplays that I’d worked on, the producer or director would just take over the scriptwriting and change your story”.
“But with Raja, he’s very respectful towards the writer’s creation, and I’m grateful that he consulted (me) every step of the way,” the 46-year-old mother of three added.
Rajagopal has no plans to make films for children, saying he prefers to stick to themes about social, racial, gender or sociopolitical issues for his films. But he says he is happy to direct more children’s TV shows.
“(Children) are very positive towards their work, and I see them enjoying themselves on shoots a lot more (than adults). They are often less inhibited,” the filmmaker says, adding that he is currently working on short films and television documentaries. “I have done (several) children’s shows and I am not adverse to it at all.”
Whoopie’s World premieres on Mediacorp TV okto at 8.30pm, on Tuesday (Feb 14). The 14-episode series will air on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.