January 21, 2002


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'We would measure Kamal's hair every day!'

People just can't have enough of Pammal K Sambandham.

Director Mouli A week after its release, director Mouli is smiling wide. The Tamil film has been declared as the only hit among the Pongal releases. More important, this is Mouli's first film after 15 years.

As an engineering student, Mouli was more interested in theatre and cinema. His theatre group, Mouli and Friends performed frequently on various stages. While working with Ponds as an industrial engineer, Mouli continued his stage performances. He ran into prominent film personalities including Kamal Haasan.

He became a full time member of the film industry when his directorial debut dragged on for several months. It came to a point when the only option was to resign from a well-paying, secure job and jump into a world of uncertainty. He took the leap. And has not regretted his decision.

Shobha Warrier spoke to the director to find out more.

How come the long gap between your Tamil films?

In 1985, I was compelled to shift to Telugu films because three of my Telugu films became silver jubilee hits. My first Telugu film was Pattinam Vechina Pathivrathalu [Chiranjeevi and Radhika], the next was Pattinam Pilla [Suhasini] and the third was Rowdy Police [Balachander and Radhika].

I didn't know a word of Telugu then; I had not even seen Andhra Pradesh beyond Tirupathi. But I, a Tamilian in Chennai, was making Telugu films.

How did the first Telugu film happen since you did not know the language?

In the early 1980s, Telugu producers would acquire the story rights of a hit Tamil film to remake it in Telugu. That's how a couple of my films were remade. They wanted the rights of one of my films called Vaa Intha Pakkam. Someone suggested it would be better to dub the film to maintain the freshness of the subject and artistes.

The dubbed version completed 100 days in about eight centres.

Kamal Haasan and Simran in Pammal K Sambandham The Telugu producers pulled me to the industry. I was jittery -- I didn't know the language. How could a director make a film without knowing the language? But the producers refused to listen to me. It was quite funny directing films with a writer on the sets who knew both Tamil and Telugu. I had no idea what my characters were speaking!

What homework did you do to understand the culture and lifestyle of the people for whom you were making films?

Frankly, I couldn't do anything for the first film. Maybe what I did was different from what they had seen earlier because the Telugu audience accepted my first film. I expected it to run for 50 days -- it ran for 100 days. Luck, I would say.

I made my second and third films without setting my foot on the soil of Andhra Pradesh. They too did well. Can you believe those films were dubbed in Tamil? After those three films, I thought if I am doing Telugu films, let me do it well. So I decided to learn the language. Soon, I was writing my own script in Telugu.

From 1985 to 2000, I made only Telugu films. I have made over 30 films in the last 15 years.

Did you move to Hyderabad?

No. Earlier, we shot films there and came to Chennai for post-production work. From 1990, the Andhra Pradesh government insisted that everybody do the post-production there. So I would be there 25 days a month. Time was when I would come home with my soiled clothes, collect fresh ones and go back to Hyderabad.

How did Pammal K Sambandham happen?

I was in touch with everyone in Chennai. Many would tell me to make Tamil films again. And I started getting tired of staying away from my family. I wasn't around to see my children grow up and I blamed myself for it. One way out was to act in an occasional Tamil film whenever there was a gap between two Telugu films. I am an artiste first and scriptwriter and filmmaker next.

A still from Pammal K Sambandham I knew Kamal Haasan from my theatre days and while I was acting with him in Apoorva Sahodaragal, and recently in Kaadala, Kaadala, he kept telling me it was high time I returned to Tamil films.

But I wanted a suitably big comeback. Then Kamalji asked me to do a film for his banner, Rajkamal. When I was sure the film would happen, I stopped accepting Telugu films. We discussed the story when Kamal was working for Thenali and Aalavandhan [which was made as Abhay in Hindi].

Did you decide up front that it would be a comedy?

Yes, Kamalji wanted a full-time comedy because Aalavandhan was a very serious film. He is a rare artiste who can do comedy and serious roles with ease. I feel [veteran comedian] Nagesh in the hero form is Kamal.

Is Pammal K Sambantham based a real character?

No. The only similarity our PKS has with the great Pammal Sambandham Mudaliar, the father of social dramas, is that he is also from the Mudaliar community.

But our PKS is not a theater man at all. He is a stuntman in films.

If you look at it, most stuntmasters have names like Jaguar Thankam, Rambo Rajkumar, etc. So we wanted a similar name for our hero. His name is Kalyana Sambandham but he is one person who hates kalyanam (marriage).

We gave him the nickname Pammal. Since he abhors marriage, he doesn't even like spelling the middle part of his name Kalyanam. So he became Pammal K Sambandham.

When did you begin shooting for the film?

We waited till Aalavandhan got over. We started shooting in August last year; we shot most of the film in the following three months.

We decided Kamal would have short hair in PKS. In Aalavandhan, he was clean-shaven. So what happened was, in-between shooting for PKS, he would go for some patchwork of Aalavandhan and come back with a shaven head. We would then have to wait for his hair to grow. Every day, we had to measure how much his hair had grown. It was fun.

How did it feel to direct a film in your mother-tongue after such a long gap?

It was like a homecoming. And directing a great artiste like Kamalji is also an experience. He believes in hard work. We would rehearse till everyone was familiar with the lines and expressions and had perfected our timing. In a comedy, timing is very important.

The versatile Kamal Haasan PKS is your comeback film but it is known as a Kamal Haasan film and not a Mouli film.

Yes, I know. But when you work on films with a hero of greater public appeal, it is always known as the hero's film. Others' names follow. If people could find any difference between his earlier films and PKS, that will be because of me. I hope they do see a difference.

What do you think about the film federation's decision to ban television, in view of the fact that the industry is said to be going through a rough patch? Isn't television the best medium to promote films?

You cannot ban another medium or stop it because another one exists. It is just not possible. We should coexist. We should try to lure people to theatres, show them the difference between watching a film on small screen and big screen. We should first stop VCD piracy. VCDs flood the market on the second or the third day of the release of a film.

The problem is, our films are not running. If a film is not good, it fails on the second day. Thirty years ago, even bad films would run for five weeks. I feel we have to be careful about planning our script.

Do you think people will accept if you offer something different?

Can't say. See, for every Lagaan, there are several different films that are rejected. Aalavandhan was different -- it did not click. The problem is if we move away from the run-of-the-mill film and make a different film, there might be small mistakes in the mixture. Such small mistakes might affect the film.

Hey! Ram was a great effort. They said there were a lot of English dialogues in the film. But don't English films run here? Now tell me, who will have the guts to make a totally different film? Our Censor Board certainly does not allow us to take up serious issues like you have in English films.

Are small budget films an answer to this problem?

That is one solution. That is what the Telugu industry is doing. It is flourishing because of small films made with a budget of Rs 75 lakh to Rs 10 million. Twenty years ago, they wanted everything big. Today, the scene is totally different; many new artistes, writers, music directors and filmmakers are entering the field.

Photographs: Sanjay Ghosh

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