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Making waves with Leelai

Last updated on: May 3, 2012 09:20 IST

Making waves with Leelai

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Shobha Warrier in Chennai

Urban romcoms are hard to find in Tamil cinema. It is this vacant space that a film like Leelai fills. Though it took two years to be released, the film looks fresh and interesting. In the lead are non-Tamil actors, Shiv Pandit and Mansi Parekh. 

The unexpected success of Leelai has made the debutant director Andrew Louis a happy man. Like Sasikumar paved the way for Madurai-based films, Andrew Louis looks like being a trendsetter in making urban films in Tamil.

Andrew Louis talks to Shobha Warrier on how Leelai was made.

It has been a long wait... two years for your first film to be released.

Yes, it was a very long wait, but I immersed myself in writing other scripts. Also, the post production work was very slow.

Didn't it bother you that your first film was taking so long to be seen?

It definitely did bother me. But the strong person that I am, I kept telling myself that everything would turn out fine. I didn't really let it affect me or my work.


Image: Andrew Louis with Shiv Pandit and Mansi Parekh


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'As a debutant I knew I would not get a big budget to make my film'

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Urban films are rare in Tamil cinema. Why did you choose to make an urban love story when Madurai-based films rule the roost?

I am familiar with this milieu as I was born and brought up in Chennai. I haven't travelled to villages much. So it was easier for me to recreate the urban atmosphere authentically.

Why did you decide to make a film with Information Technology as the backdrop?

As a first-time film director I knew I would not get a big budget to make my film. With the limited budget I had, I thought I could give a rich and glossy atmosphere to the film if I had IT as the backdrop.

Another reason was that nobody had made an authentic film on IT professionals in Tamil before. I thought my film would be appreciated if I made a film that was not artificial. With many of my friends working in the industry, I am quite familiar with the way they work.


Image: A scene from Leelai


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'It took me almost eight months to write the script'

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What kind of research did you do?

Most of the inputs came from my friends. I have been watching their lifestyle for quite some time now. I also made frequent visits to their offices. So, I knew how they behaved in the work place.

Are Malar and Karthik played by Mansi and Shiv based on your friends?

Not at all. Malar is a very urban girl, very strong and independent, but vey soft and gentle inside. I have found that most girls are soft and tender like Malar though they portray a different image.

Karthik is the typical urban guy. Though he flirts around with girls, once he falls in love with a girl, he is serious about her. He goes to any extent to get her.

How long did it take you to write the script?

It took me almost eight months. It was a very slow process as I write in sequential order.


Image: A scene from Leelai

Tags: Karthik , Shiv , Mansi

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'I was positive that people would like the film'

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Was it difficult to get a producer as it was your first film?

I narrated the entire script to the producer (Aascar Ravichandran) and he liked it. He only had apprehensions about it being too urban for the Tamil audience. He said he liked the story.

He gave me the go ahead but it took me some time to find the guy and the girl.

Why did you choose two non-Tamil actors to portray two Tamil characters?

I wanted someone who is already groomed and not just fresh faces. I had imagined the story in a particular way and I didn't want to compromise on the quality of the product.

I did a lot of searching around here but could not find anyone who could be my characters.

By accident I saw the Airtel commercial with Shiv Pandit in it. It was a pan India ad and he fitted in perfectly. I didn't think at that time that he was a North Indian. I felt he would be perfect as Karthik. It was only later I came to know he was from Mumbai.

In the case of Mansi also I saw her in a couple of ads and found her so fresh and vibrant. I also noticed that her face was extremely expressive. I met her in Mumbai and recorded her on my digicam. Back in Chennai I looked at what I shot and what struck me was her bright smile. Her smile was very captivating.


Image: A scene from Leelai


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'I am happy that I made something that is not outdated'

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Was it difficult directing them as they didn't know the language?

Yes, a little bit of extra hard work was needed because they didn't know Tamil. Shiv initially had some problem but Mansi being a singer got the hang of it fast. 

I made them enact the lines in English first so that they got the expressions right. After that, I gave them the Tamil lines. So, they found it easy the second time. 

Finally, after two years, when the film was about to release, how did you feel?

I had no time to feel anxious as I was running around to get the digital copy out. I was more worried about getting the conversion on time than thinking about the reception.

Only when I went to the theatre on the first day was I nervous.

Did you expect this kind of appreciation from both critics and the audience?

It is overwhelming. I was positive that people would like it but to this extent.... I didn't imagine it. I feel so happy.


Image: A scene from Leelai

Tags: Mansi

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'I am writing my next script with Karthi in mind'

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So, the wait has been worth it?

Very true. What I am happy about is, nobody said the film looked jaded or old. On the contrary, all said the content and looks are so fresh. I am happy that I made something that is not outdated even after two years.

This kind of appreciation from critics and audience alike has given me the urge to think ahead.

So, have you started thinking about your next film?

I have quite a few scripts but I have a very fresh idea which I feel fits into the urban milieu. It will not be a love story but a kind of city based thriller. I am very excited about this idea.

How did you get into films? Were films a passion for you when you were young?

My father was passionate about films and wanted to be a film-maker but became a businessman instead. I studied visual communication and soon after that, I got to work with S J Suryah in his Vali days. That was a great learning experience.


Image: A scene from Leelai

Tags: Vali , Karthi

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'It is always an advantage if you are working with an established actor'

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Most first time directors want to work with established stars...

I would definitely say it has its advantages if you are working with an established actor. But it all depends on the script. If the script requires only newcomers, I will definitely go for newcomers. If the script demands a star, you better go with a star.

So, does your new idea require a newcomer or a star?

It requires a star.

Do you have anybody in mind?

I am very impressed with Karthi and I am writing the script with him in mind. Let us see how it goes...


Image: A scene from Leelai

Tags: Karthi

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