Swarnavel Eswaran Pillai, an associate professor in both the Department of English and the Department of Media and Information, is an accomplished film producer and scholar. With a range of expertise from documentary production and history of film to Hollywood and Hindi genre cinema, Pillai brings his many skills to both his teaching and his scholarship.
Having taught more than a dozen different classes at MSU—from introduction to film and film technologies to film history and even a capstone seminar on the digital documentary — Eswaran Pillai’s ability to combine the scholarly with the creative has propelled his success in the classroom. For example, in the Film in Britain Program, Pillai designed several production-oriented classes on documentary technologies and screenwriting, and embedded them in the specific context of the British cinematic tradition, where documentary has played an especially vital cinematic role. In this way, he combined historical analysis of the British documentary with production of documentaries situated in Britain, allowing students to apply their newly acquired historical understanding to their own creations.
As a scholar, Eswaran Pillai focuses on the history, theory and production of documentaries; some of his specific work examines Tamil cinema and its complex relationship with Hollywood. His 2015 book, “Madras Studios: Narrative, Genre, and Ideology in Tamil Cinema,” a meticulously researched history of Madras Studios and Tamil films, has been hailed as the first sustained and scholarly study of Tamil cinema to date. The study received the prestigious Tamil Literary Garden Award, which recognizes annual significant achievements in Tamil in a number of genres and fields.
Eswaran Pillai’s work as a producer has been equally acclaimed. His 2012 documentary, “Unfinished Journey: A City in Transition,” was selected from more than 200 entries by the African World Documentary Film Festival for screening at the iRepesent Film Festival in Lagos, Nigeria, and at the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis.