'Big stars guarantee a bumper opening at the box office'
The first week collections of the film Jilla has shattered all previous box-office records for a tamil film, both in India and abroad.
Director R T Neason, who made a low-key debut in Tamil cinema with his film Muruga in 2007, makes a spectacular comeback with Jilla. The film features two of the biggest names in South Indian cinema today, Vijay and Mohanlal.
Basking in the success of the film, R T Neason talks about his long journey in the film industry and his experience of working with superstars.
A huge success, how does it feel?
I feel really very happy. Working with Vijay Anna and Lal sir has been a dream-come-true.
The journey has been a long and arduous one. I completed my training at the Film Institute in 1997 and it is 2014 now. It has taken me more than 15 long years to reach this position.
Does having big names give the film an advantage?
Big stars do guarantee a bumper opening at the box office, but there has to be something in the film to sustain the collections. Nowadays, after the very first show, people across the world start tweeting about it in all the social networking sites. Star-power alone cannot assure success.
The story need not be out of the world, but the script certainly should have something to attract the audience otherwise nothing will work. Going into the film with two huge stars and a good script, I was doubly positive.
In fact, Lal sir was confident that the Tamil audience will love him in the film.
Image: Mohanlal in Jilla
'I was initally nervous to work with Vijay and Lal sir'
Was it intimidating working with two of the biggest names in South Indian cinema?
On the contrary, they shared half my burden. Initially I was very nervous; Vijay has been in the industry for more than 20 years now and Lal sir (Mohanlal) for almost 35.
It was only with their support and cooperation that I could transform my vision for the film into a reality. Their personal relationship is so good that it helped enhance the wonderful chemistry they shared onscreen.
Were there any ego issues on the sets?
Vijay usually likes to hear the entire script before deciding on a film. So, right from the start, he knew that there was another very powerful character in the film.
When I narrated the script to Lal sir, he too knew exactly what he was getting into.
There was never any hassle on the sets. Vijay used to wait patiently for Lal sir to complete his shot and vice versa. Even outside the sets, we had a great time; we frequently shared dinner and visited each other’s homes.
Just yesterday, Vijay hosted a small party for us; it is really nice to see big stars from two different states being so close.
Image: Vijay and Mohanlal in Jilla
'I wanted a fresh combination for my film'
Was Mohanlal your first choice? Did you consider other Tamil artists?
We have some hugely talented actors in Tamil cinema, but I wanted a fresh combination. Sathyaraj and Prakash Raj have already worked with Vijay many times.
While training at the film institute, I had the opportunity to watch and enjoy many of Lal sir’s films. Also, I knew that he had not worked in a commercial film in Tamil. I felt that he would be the ideal choice, but was not sure if he would accept. Fortunately for me, everything came together perfectly.
Why did you choose Madurai as the backdrop for the film?
The film did not depend on any particular location. I wanted some recognisable landmark as the backdrop so that it stayed in people’s mind. Every time Lal sir was in the frame, I retained the image of a huge gopuram behind him.
When you think Madurai, you invariably picture the temple. If it was Coimbatore or some place in Tirunelveli, it would not create that image.
Image: Kaajal Aagarwal in Jilla
'Fans messaged us with requests to make Vijay sing'
Tell us about Vijay, the singer.
Fans messaged us with requests to make Vijay sing. When I mentioned this to Imman, he felt that for a change we should give Vijay a melody instead of the peppy numbers he usually sings.
So we planned the song, Vairamuthu penned the lyrics, we brought in Shreya Ghosal and only then approached Vijay. He was very reluctant at first, but we finally convinced him.
The song was recorded at A R Rahman’s studio and it turned out just perfect. Vijay is a thorough professional; he surprised everyone when we completed the recording in just four hours.
You have already had a success meet for the film on the 13th of this month. Can you predict a film is a hit within three days?
On the very first day of its release, Jilla registered a record breaking collection in Kerala, an impressive 2.7 crore.
YouTube videos show that on the day of release, as early as three in the morning, people were queuing outside theatres. Excited fans were seen celebrating with music and fire crackers, and there were policemen and road blocks on the streets to prevent any untoward incident.
The film did very well in Dubai and France too.
In several towns in Tamil Nadu, like Madurai and Coimbatore, the film got a great opening. The distributors were very positive of the outcome.
Image: Vijay and Kaajal Agarwal in Jilla
'it was difficult to find the right balance as I had two big stars in the film'
Any regrets on how the film finally shaped up?
In retrospect, the film definitely could have been better, especially the screenplay and the length too was a bit of a problem.
Having two big stars, it was very difficult to find the right balance. I was walking on a very thin line. Getting the animosity just right was very crucial for the film. Any overstepping on either side and the film would have lost its impact.
One other thing I felt deeply about was not being able to do full justice to Lal sir. He is such an extraordinary actor, but the story could not accommodate all the many aspects of an actor of his calibre.
Tell us about yourself. What made you get into film making?
My family was not very keen on me getting into films. They even got me a medical seat and wanted me to continue my studies.
But I always wanted to make films and decided to join the film institute. I completed my training in 1997 and since then worked with director Bhagyaraj on the screenplay of a few films.
I also worked as an assistant director in Iraniyan, Thavasi, Telugu film Premato Raa, and Ondha Gonabha, a Kannada film, as well as several ad films.
In 2007, I directed a film titled Muruga, but the film did not do very well and I stopped making films for a while. Later, Jayam Raja, who was my junior at the film institute, invited me to assist him in the making of Velayudham.
That is when I met Vijay and after that everything fell into place.
Have you watched Veeram?
Actually Siva called me a few days ago and I asked him if he had seen my film. He told me that if he went to the theatre, the fans would certainly bully him.
I told him that since I was afraid of the same thing, we should watch each other’s films together. Then if something goes wrong, we can protect each other!
Image: Mohanlal in Jilla