THE main character of Tinge Krishnan’s debut feature, Junkhearts, is a former soldier with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It was this that drew the director to the project because the Sheffield doctor turned film-maker herself experienced the condition after being caught up in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami that devastated parts of South East Asia.
A multi-stranded psychological thriller set in inner city London, Junkhearts follows the story of Frank, a reclusive damaged ex-soldier, who finds himself manipulated by a young girl and her boyfriend as they attempt to use his home as a drugs den.
The cast includes Eddie Marsan and Romola Garai alongside rising talents Tom Sturridge and Candese Reid who won the Best British Newcomer award at the 2011 London Film Festival for her performance.
After qualifying as a doctor at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital where she later worked in A&E, Krishnan left medicine in 1996 to concentrate on filmmaking. She was closely involved with Sheffield Independent Film, made a BAFTA-winning short Shadowscan, and an ident for the Showroom Cinema, where Junkhearts is being screened next week. The film-maker is returning to Sheffield to take part in a Q&A on Monday.
Junkhearts is set in the underbelly of London life, and film-maker Krishnan seems also drawn to lowlife subjects judging by her Sheffield-made shorts Groove on a Stanley Knife and Shadowscan. “It’s the kind of scripts I tend to get sent these days,” she says.
“They approached me at an early stage after the first or second draft of the script. I wasn’t sure I wanted to take it on because I had had a baby but then I read it overnight and found it utterly compelling.”
Most obviously she could identify with the PTSD aspect, so what had exactly happened to her?
“I had gone to my granny’s funeral and I had said to my mother we should go to Phuket to chill out,” explains Krishnan whose mother is Thai and father Malaysian.
The exact opposite happened, of course, when the resort was engulfed. Her mother, who runs Childline in Thailand, and the former doctor volunteered to help with the emergency. With her medical knowledge Tinge was able to act as a translator between doctors and patients and between doctors and other doctors once medical staff began arriving from all over the world.
“Then on day eight this New Zealand medic said to me, ‘You know what, you are traumatised, you need to get out of here and get yourself treated’.”
It was true. Krishnan says she was not so much affected by witnessing the disaster, but its toll. “We had seen the start of the wave and ran to high ground and we felt the earth tremor but did not witness the full force,” she says. “It was the aftermath, all the bodies and everything that did for me.”
Back in Britain she was able to take advantage of a counselling which swiftly swung into action. “There were medics meeting people off the planes and debriefing them and giving them counselling. If you have counselling quickly you can get over it. And I did Tai Chi and meditation and emotional self-expression work and it took a couple of months for the panic attacks and the flashbacks to stop.
“If Frank, the Eddie Marsan character in the film, had counselling at the time he would have been OK. But it didn’t happen then.”
Krishnan points out that that there were other aspects to Junkhearts that appealed. “For me it was the father-daughter relationship between Frank and the teenager he helps and the inter-generational relationshp – what a young person can bring to someone older and vice versa.”
Junkhearts was not intended as her first feature. “I had a couple of films all set to go which didn’t happen because of the Thailand experience and put my career on the back burner. And then I had my daughter, Ella.
“When we were in pre-production I discovered I was going to have another baby which meant I was pregnant during the shoot - and it was a physically tough shoot. There are some intense scenes in the flat and you have to get right in there with the actors – like when the soldiers are running around and shooting.”
With Ella now four and a half and son Aruno 10 months she is ready for the next project – which inevitably sounds like a trip into the dark side again.
“I am working with Revolution Films on an adaptation of a novel, Into the Darkest Corner, a psychological thriller by Elizabeth Haynes which has been earning rave reviews.”
It’s about a woman trying to put her past with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) behind her but then realising that could be her best protection when confronted by a stalker.
Krishnan hopes it will go before the cameras next autumn. “There’s the potential to shoot some of it in Sheffield and the writer is excited by that. I would love to come back and work here again.”