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May 12, 2000


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'I had no plans to direct a Hindi film'

Rajeev Kumar Rajeev Kumar may be an unknown name in the Hindi film industry but, in Malayalam cinema, he has carved a niche for himself with his unconventional and daring films. He began his career as an assistant director in My Dear Kuttichathan, India's first 3-D film. His first directorial venture, Chanakyan, starred Kamal Haasan and was different in every sense of the term.

His next few films were insipid until, last year, he came out with another bold film called Kannezhuthi Pottum Thottu. Incidentally, this was also Manju Warrier's last film.

Rajeev has also directed Navodaya's production's Bible Stories for Doordarshan.

Raja Ko Rani Se Pyar Ho Gaya, a fantasy film starring Arvind Swamy and Manisha Koirala, marks Rajeev's entry into the Hindi film world.

Shobha Warrier met him at Kartik Gardens in Madras, where the digital mixing of the film was in progress.

You have always been making Malayalam films. Why did you decide to switch languages and make a Hindi film?

I had no plans to direct a Hindi film. But when I discussed this project with 'Good Night' Mohan, he got excited and asked me to think big. He wanted me to think beyond the local market. He felt the theme was universal and could go beyond the boundaries of language. He felt I would have more freedom if I made the film in Hindi. He also said that, as a producer, he would prefer a wider market.

I was delighted because I had already realised it would be difficult to make a film like this in Malayalam as the market is very small. Another problem Malayalam film-makers face is that we cannot go beyond realism into a fantasy world. It is commercially risky to have a narrative where we move from the real to the unreal and the unreal to the real.

Manisha Koirala in Raja Ko Rani Se Pyar Ho Gaya My first film as an assistant director was My Dear Kuttichathan. The film had a universal theme. It also had the added advantage of being India's first 3-D full length feature film.

With the advent of television, the taste of the viewers in Kerala has undergone significant change. They see realism and our old tharavadu (a typical Kerala household) on television and expect something different and grand in films. If we too make such realistic family dramas with an old tharavadu as the backdrop, they will not come to the theatres at all.

You feel realistic films no longer excite Kerala's audiences?

Yes. If we want to excite them, if we want to draw them to the theatres, we have to find unusual and extraordinary subjects and treat them in a different way. But we do not have big production houses in Kerala. I had to run around with one subject for five years because I didn't get a producer. (It was finally made into the successful Kannezhuthi Pottum Thottu, starring Manju Warrier, Abbas, Manoj K Jayan and Thilakan).

The story was about how a young girl revenged herself on a father and a son by using her mind and body. I concede the theme was bold, but all the producers I approached labeled the idea of a girl using both the father and the son as immoral. But if you see the Malayalam films of yesteryears, you will be shocked. Their themes were so unconventional and unorthodox!

Or is it because Kerala's audiences expect grandeur in Malayalam films, now that they are fed on superior Hollywood films?

There is a misconception among many film-makers that a film possesses grandeur only if it is shot in palatial houses and foreign locations. Film-makers erect grand sets and shoot songs in foreign locales and feel that their films are, as a result, superior.

I feel if the theme is novel and original, your film will be successful. Take The Sixth Sense for example. The content of the film was so novel that people accepted it wholeheartedly. There was nothing high-tech about the film, but it commanded an edge-of-the-seat response.

What are the reasons behind this change in attitude?

I feel today's generation is totally different from mine. My childhood was different from today's. But I'd credit my ability to keep my feet firmly on the ground and think creatively to my childhood.

Arvind Swamy in Raja Ko Rani Se Pyar Ho Gaya In what way was your childhood different from that of today's children?

I grew up being a part of temple festivals, which were rich in our culture. I feel we were more observant as children. We had joint families then. Naturally, your attitude to life itself changes with such exposures. But today's parents bring up children in a particular framework, in a closed manner.

Does that mean today's children don't have strong roots?

Yes, I feel they have no roots at all. I find them totally alienated from society. If you do not have deep-rooted experiences, you will not be able to think creatively. I will give you an example. I made a film called Pavithram with Mohanlal. When I was at my friend's video shop, three teenage girls came in and asked for new films. My friend told them that Mohanlal's Pavithram had arrived. Immediately one of the girls told the others, "Let's not take that. It is the story of a foolish brother who sacrifices his life for his sister."

That was in 1995. And there I was under the illusion that I was young! But the girl's remark made me feel very old. A young film-maker's film had no impact on the younger generation! They felt my hero was foolish because he sacrificed his life!

You mean today's generation is more self-centred...

They are extremely self-centered. But I am not criticising them. I find a difference in my attitude and the attitude of today's children.

You said producers found the subject of your last Malayalam film, Kannezhuthi Pottum Thottu, very bold, but it was one of the biggest successes of that year.

It was a success. But it took me five years to get a producer. They said women would not like the film but they were the ones who enjoyed it. Finally, some of my friends pitched in money and we produced it together. You won't believe it when I say the whole industry said the film wouldn't run. Its release got postponed until, finally, it was released on the day the World Cup started. The distributor released it with no hope at all!

Rajeev Kumar This year your new film, Jalamarmaram, won the state award for the second best feature film. I have heard it was an offbeat film. How did you manage get a producer?

I myself produced it. I made the film in eight lakhs!

What about your Hindi film? You have an elephant in one of the major roles, besides artistes like Arvind Swamy and Manisha Koirala. Is it a fairy tale?

You could call it that. This young man grows up listening to his grandmother's fairy tales. While listening to her, he imagines himself as the hero in all of them. Actually, he is a very down-to-earth character belonging to another era. He enjoys playing with children and behaving as if life is a fairy tale. And, like in the stories he had heard from his grandma, he meets his Rani in the city. As per the fairy tale, he has to win her. This little elephant represents an idol in the haveli around which many myths revolve. It helps him win his Rani.

Are you confident the film will do well?

I have given the film a child's perspective, so there is nothing ambiguous about it.

Are you targeting kids alone?

No, it is for the entire family. There are very few films for the family to watch these days. I feel the slot for the family audience is open as far as Hindi films are concerned.

Your first directorial venture, Chanakyan, was an off beat-film with Kamal Haasan as the main character. The film was thematically very different from the usual films. (The other artists were Jayaram and Urmila Matondkar). How did Chanakyan happen?

I was basically a mimicry artist. I have won several prizes at the university level. Some of us had formed a group to present mimicry programmes at various places. We used to play pranks on people by changing our voices. If we wanted tickets for a film, we would call the theatre and ask for tickets in some film actor's voice. We did it for pure fun. That's why I had this dream of making a film with mimicry as the background.

Arvind Swamy and Manisha Koirala in Raja Ko Rani Se Pyar Ho Gaya Finally, when I got my chance to make a film for Navodaya, I thought of my dream. As the director, I was very excited about the theme and the climax because I thought it was very unconventional. (In order to take revenge on the chief minister who had destroyed his life, Kamal Haasan takes the help of Jayaram, a mimicry artist. Jayaram imitates the chief minister's voice at several places and the chief minister finds himself in trouble.)

I found I wouldn't be able to get Mohanlal or Mammootty to do the role as they had a kind of image to safeguard. And if they did the film, people would look at it as a routine movie. Still, we went and narrated the subject to Mammootty. He agreed to do the role if we made certain changes to the story. I did not want to make the changes so the idea fizzled out. I don't think it affected our relationship. Later on, I did another film with Mammootty.

Then Navodaya fixed up an appointment with Kamal Haasan for me. I went there, met him and narrated the script. He agreed to do the film. Remember, I didn't know him at all. I told him, "This is my first film and the producer has confidence in me. Similarly, you should have confidence in me. I cannot make any changes in the script as this is my first film and this is the way I want to make it." He was very positive in his approach.

The advantage I had by making the film with Kamal was that nobody expected anything from him as he experimented with bold themes. Every twist in the story stunned the audience. That was why the film became a big commercial success. The film surprised the audience.

After Chanakyan you compromised on many aspects. You yourself said you got polluted as a film-maker. Do you regret the compromises?

Of course, I felt very bad. But the mistake was mine. Chanakyan was a success and was well appreciated. But the reality was something else. Not a single producer came forward with an offer because Chanakyan did not fall in the usual commercial category. They considered its success an accident.

I was worried. Then, I was asked to do a period film with Kamal. Kamal was very excited about the project but, after researching and working on the script for more than a year, it did not work out. Another project also fizzled out... This continued for some more time. As the years passed, panic gripped me. That was when I decided to compromise on certain aspects. I started doing films which I, as a director, had no conviction in.

Arvind Swamy and Manisha Koirala in Raja Ko Rani Se Pyar Ho Gaya Actually, it is not right on my part to say that I did films without conviction. It was my mistake. I shouldn't have done a film without conviction. I was doing an injustice to the producers too. The truth is, I realised this only later when I started looking back. I chose the path taken by many for survival and fell into a trap.

What does film-making mean to you? A career? Or a passion?

It is a passion with me. Of course, I do need money to live. But money is not a major criterion for me. Till now, I just accepted what I was offered. It is another matter that I have financial problems. But I am here because film-making is a passion with me.

I feel there are tremendous possibilities in this medium. Actually, my attitude and approach to films changed after I did Jalamarmaram. I found I could do a lot through films. The issue I had taken up in Jalamarmaram was the pollution of the river Mavoor because of the Mavoor Rayons Factory and how the fish and other aquatic animals were killed in the process. I have told the story through the eyes of a boy and his fantasy about mermaids.

Was it the socially responsible person in you who made the film?

That is why I say film is a medium which has many possibilities. I plan to take the film to all the villages in Kerala, show it to them and tell them we cannot afford to destroy our environment. The state award gives me courage to go ahead. Jayaraj's Karunam won the best film award and mine is the second best film. Both of us shot our films in 16mm and both are low budget films but we are sincere in our respective outlooks.

Was making Jalamarmaram a revelatory experience, especially after you had made so many commercial films?

Yes, it was. Jalamarmaram made me understand my environment and myself better. I felt equally excited and happy when I made Raja Ko Rani Se Pyar Ho Gaya. And 'Good Night' Mohan never interfered, so I made the film the way I wanted to.

Rajeev Kumar's photographs: Sanjay Ghosh

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