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|October 16, 2001||
Gautam Menon, the young director of Rehnaa Hai Terre Dil Mein is a mechanical engineer. With a school teacher for a mother, a software engineer for a sister and a physiotherapist for a wife; filmmaking for him was a most unlikely career choice. But that's what Gautam Menon always wanted to do.
Minnale, his first film, starring Madhavan and Rima Sen, was the biggest Tamil hit this year. Born and bred in Madras, Gautam is every inch the cosmopolitan. That would explain why Minnale became a grosser with the yuppie Madras crowd.
Shobha Warrier met him at the Media Artists’ lab in Madras.
Minnale released earlier this year and RHTDM, a remake of the same film is already for release. How did you make it happen?
Directing a film in Hindi was not on the cards originally. I thought of making a few Tamil films and the occasional Malayalam film. Hindi films were supposed to come into the picture much later on.
But Madhavan was very keen to do a Hindi film. When the producer Vashu Bhagnani saw Minnale and contacted Madhavan, he agreed to do the Hindi version. But he wanted me to direct it. I was rather confused initially; I wasn't sure the Hindi remake would turn out well. I was apprehensive.
Did it take you very long to decide?
Half an hour. Madhavan was very keen that I make the film. I originally wanted to work with the same unit for the Hindi film too but Vashu Bhagnani felt that we needed people who knew the Hindi audiences better.
Cinema is a creative medium. Were you satisfied with merely rehashing your earlier work?
We knew what we had to do, so everything was ready on the sets and I had to only shoot. But trying to be creative with what was already done was boring. So, I decided not to remake the film shot by shot and we started everything from scratch.
Did you write a fresh screenplay?
Yes, keeping the Hindi audience in mind. We changed a few elements, deleted certain scenes and added some more.
Since Minnale was my first film, I had to oblige the producer. This time, I decided to make the film my way.
Did Bhagnani interfere at all? Or were you given full freedom to make the film according to your sensibilities?
Yes, he did. I'm more satisfied with the Hindi product. There are some portions where I feel the original is better but only I can tell the difference. If you were only to see only the Hindi version, you wouldn't even notice it.
What changes were incorporated to make the film more palatable to the Hindi audiences?
We've retained all the college scenes. In the Tamil film, the girl is a Christian but in the Hindi version, she's Hindu.
Though religion doesn't have any part to play in the scheme of things, I wanted her to be a Christian because a Christian wedding would look better visually. But the Christian angle was not incorporated into the Hindi script.
Are you nervous or excited about your foray into Hindi cinema?
Both... nervous and excited. The feelings fluctuate. The film is my heart and my soul. It will decide how my career will shapes up.
Making a Tamil film is not very different from making one in Hindi. The only difference is that the reach is greater for Hindi films.
Hindi films also have more colour and grandeur. The canvas is bigger. As a filmmaker, it provides you with more scope to experiment.
Did you expect Minnale to be such a big hit?
I wasn’t very sure of what the verdict would be. I knew I had a good film, and the music by Harris Jayaraj was extraordinary.
We had a great opening because of the music. Harris’s music pulled the crowds into the theatres, and once they were in, they found that it was a decent film. Actually, it had a very simple storyline. But we worked on the screenplay a lot, and the music was superb.
Is music very important to a film?
Absolutely. It's the music that reels the youngsters in.
A Hrithik Roshan or Shah Rukh Khan can pull in the crowd. But it may take newcomers like Madhavan, a popular TV star in his own right, a little longer.
Also I'm a relative unknown. But Vashu Bhaganani is a respected producer and we hope that Harris’ music will give us a grand opening in Hindi too. Once the crowd is in the theatre, they will find a good film.
When I saw Minnale for the first time, it was an emotional experience. The whole unit was present and all of us cried. We knew that it was going to be a hit film.
Any particular reason why you picked up a love story with college as the backdrop?
Our intention was to bring the young crowds back to the theatres. And with Minnale, we hit bulls’ eye.
Was shooting the film reliving your college days?
Of course. In a way, the film is straight out of my life. A lot of scenes were taken from my college days. There’s a lot of me in the character…. Looking back, it was real fun. I completed my engineering at Trichy but I wasn’t an excellent student. Even when I was doing my engineering, I knew films interested me.
When did your fascination with films begin ?
I can't say exactly. I'd watch a lot of films and whenever I saw one, I had this strong urge to make one. Though my parent were shocked at my decision to turn filmmaker, they were very co-operative.
It was my mother who suggested that I join an ad agency first. She gave me the name of Rajiv Menon’s ad agency and, soon, I came to assist Menon in his first feature film, Minsara Kanavu. After that, I decided to work on my own.
What would you attribute to luck in the making of Gautam Menon, the director?
I'm lucky. I didn’t have to struggle for my first Tamil film or my first Hindi film. It’s not like I didn’t have my share of difficulties. But all things considered, 'my struggle period' didn't last very long.
Before I made my first film, I watched a whole lot of films in various theatres to see the peoples' reactions to scenes; when they went out to smoke, when they booed, when they clapped. As a filmmaker, you must know the mindset of the film going public…
Before you can make films from the heart, you've got to make ones from the head. Films that cater to the audiences.
Photograph: Sreeram Selvaraj
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