Balu Mahendra, director of such superhits as Moondram Pirai, Veedu and Sandhya Ragam, has made Julie Ganapathy after five years. Though the film won raves from the media, the response from the audience was not as exciting.
The National Award winner (for his directorial debut Kokila starring Kamal Haasan, Shobha and Roja Ramani in 1976) started his career as a cinematographer with Ramu Kariat's Nellu in 1971.
The filmmaker spoke to Shobha Warrier about the agony and the ecstasy of making Julie Ganapathy:
Is Julie Ganapathy based on the Hollywood film Misery?
No, my film is not based on any Hollywood film. I have not seen the film mentioned by you. It is based on the Tamil translation of an English novel by Esthoppan that I read long ago.
Readers say it was based on Stephen King's novel.
I only read the Tamil translation. The author's name was given as Esthoppan, which could be the Tamil name for Stephen.
I would say this film has something to do thematically with my earlier film Moondram Pirai, which is about a mentally retarded girl being brought up by a simple, male school teacher. Here, she [Julie Ganapathy] is a mad woman who has a normal man in her house. And, in a brutal way, she loves him.
Since when have you been thinking of making a film based on the novel?
After five years of hibernation -- although I don't call it hibernation as I was making television serials all these years -- when I was given an opportunity to make a film, the novel cropped up from nowhere. Since I was coming back after five years, I thought a good psychological thriller would be a safe bet. It has been a long, long time since a good thriller was made in Tamil. I made Moodu Pani long ago.
When you were given the chance to make a film after such a long gap, why did you want to make a mainstream film? Why not a film like Veedu?
You cannot compare Julie Ganapathy with Veedu. It was a totally different kind of a film, for a different kind of audience. This time, I was clear I was making a film for the mainstream audience.
I am extremely happy with the reception the film got from the media. In my 30 years as a filmmaker, I have never experienced this kind of a unanimous ovation from the press. But the film is yet to pick up commercially. They have given many reasons. They say it is because of the World Cup and [school] examinations. This could have been avoided. I don't know why my producer decided to release the film at such a time.
But after the reviews appeared in the newspapers, the film is slowly picking up. Publicity by word of mouth has also helped the film.
Any reason why you chose a big-built person to play Julie? The Hollywood film also has a similarly built actress (Kathy Bates) playing the title role.
I have not seen the English film. The story describes the woman as huge. Moreover, the last sequence needed Julie to overpower a man. So the woman had to be physically strong. That was the main reason why I wanted a huge woman as Julie.
Besides, I did not want Julie as the typical filmi heroine who looks good and thin. I decided to go for an oversized woman in her late 30s or early 40s.
Was Saritha the first name that came to your mind?
Actually, her name was suggested by Jayaram. He asked me if I had seen Saritha recently. I said I had seen her only a couple of years ago. He told me to have a look. When I met Saritha, I knew she was my heroine. She was already fat, but I asked her to put on 10 more kilos. She was a bit upset initially. I asked her to think about it and let me know. Later, she called me and said she was willing to put on weight. Over a period of two months, she added six, seven kilos.
She has not acted for a long time. Did she need any persuasion?
She did not need persuasion to act, but she needed persuasion to put on weight! In fact, she told me the role was a dream come true as she always wanted to act in my films. She said her 25-year-long wait was finally bearing fruit!
And what a performance she gave! Her body language and the use of her huge, powerful eyes are amazing.
You made Balakumaran (played by Jayaram) a Malayalee brought up in Tamil Nadu.
I decided on Jayaram because I have great respect for his ability and range as an actor. I have been watching his films as part of a jury in several award committees for the last few years. His work is brilliant. He can do slapstick comedy and serious roles. I did not want a younger hero. I wanted a family man in his late 30s or early 40s.
Jayaram speaks Tamil fluently, but with a Malayalam accent. I like the accent very much. I had two alternatives -- I could either retain the accent or get his voice dubbed. I chose the first because his voice is so good.
This is why I made him a Malayalee born and brought up in Tamil Nadu. There are so many people like that who even write in Tamil, like Jayamohan.
His role was very difficult as he had to lie in bed during a major part of the film.
It was a very challenging role -- there was the physical restraint and you have this woman in every frame, like a huge waterfall.
When I told him the story, Jayaram's spontaneous reaction was, 'What do I have in this film -- simply lie down and watch the other person doing all the histrionics?' I said no. It is a typical Moondram Pirai situation. That was a Sridevi film, but you needed an actor of Kamal's (Haasan) calibre to support that performance.
Like Kamal, Jayaram also came up with a brilliant performance.
Was it not a big risk, making a film with just two characters in a room?
It was a big risk. Actually, it was a great challenge for me as a filmmaker. Just two artistes and that, too, the hero does not walk in the film except in the last sequence, and a huge woman as a heroine. On top of it, 90 per cent of the film was shot in a room. The room had only one window and all the lighting had to be done with that in mind.
Why did you include a dance number by Ramya Krishnan, which was totally out of place?
It was a miserable compromise. You can simply clip the song and throw it away. If you recollect in Moondram Pirai, a song was picturised on Silk Smitha and Kamal Haasan. It was not needed at all but it became a cult song.
Do you feel bad when you have to include such songs in your films?
Of course, I feel bad. I felt awkward to include it. It was totally out of place. But then, these are commercial compromises one has to make. If I had my way, I would not have had a single song in the film.
When I decided to have it, I thought of picturising it in a very seductive way. Here was a guy who was half-sedate and had been away from his wife for a long time. So I visualised the song as a kind of a wet dream.
I have a great relationship with Ilayaraja. He has done a marvellous job as music director. He has also provided the background music for the film. His music has given the film a new dimension.
The background score is a bit loud at many places.
It is very subjective. Personally, I would have liked to keep the music down at some places but one has to think of an audience that has to be slowly introduced to a different kind of cinema.