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April 4, 1997


'When you start making films for commerce alone, you start getting into problems'

Let us come back to your entry into the world of cinema. How did you come to the film world from advertising?

With Mani Rathnam Fortunately for me, people started watching advertising more carefully of late. People became aware of advertising on television. So, film directors look t advertisements to find our camera talent. That was how I was noticed by Mani Ratnam and I became a cameraman for his film Bombay.

As simple as that?

Yes, he saw my work and called me.

I have heard that you were offered the role of the hero in Roja and also in Bombay.

Yes, yes. I am fed up and bored of answering that question. I am sick and tired of it.

You were not interested in acting at all?

I was not and I still am not. It is bloody bore. You will lose your privacy. It is not what I wanted to do. I want to make movies. I like to run in the morning. I still like to travel by train. I like to meet people. You lose everything if you become an actor. If I desperately want to act, it is worth losing all that. I don't think my privacy is worth losing. I value my freedom very much.

How did Minsara Kanavu happen? It is very prestigious to get to direct a movie commemorating AVM's 50th anniversary.

Prabhu and Arvind Swamy  in Minsara Kanavu I am good friends with AVM's Guhan. They booked Prabhu Deva for the movie. And they wanted Rehman to do the music. When they approached him, he said he was not interested because he had already done three Prabhu Deva movies.

Rehman asked who the director was. In fact, they were looking for a new director and it was Rehman who suggested my name. They all decided at a meeting and later on told me that I was the director. I was shocked. Rehman said, 'You tried to get me stuck and I got you stuck.' I said, how can you do this to me? I thought about it for two months.

But was this not what you wanted to do all the time?

I was not mentally prepared. You should have a story, first of all. I didn't even have a story. I was happy shooting for Bombay. So, I wanted to shoot five more feature films, gain recognition and grow little more and make a movie. But this was a jump start. It was like how I got to shoot for Bombay. Many people have to shoot many films to shoot a film like Bombay. I came bang into Bombay.

So, you are lucky as a cinematographer and a film-maker. You got such wonderful breaks without any struggle.

I always feel I am not responsible for my success. Like the nature playing a major role in the Tu Hi, so many factors are involved in my pushing into this. It was Mani Ratnam and A R Rehman who brainwashed me saying, 'you can do it, you can do it.'

How was the experience of directing the movie, especially with so much publicity given to the movie?

Kajol in Minsara Kanavu It was tough. It was a terrible disappointment when everybody initially said that it was a flop. Now it is declared a hit and it is running to packed houses. It was very traumatic first. At the same time movie-making is addictive. It is enormously creative and satisfying. It is also very strenuous. It is like being a player and the captain for the cricket team. I enjoyed making the movie. I don't think it is a great film. But it is not a bad first film.

Were you very disappointed with the initial reaction?

Yes, very much. It was troubling. I am not above all such emotions. I am human. I still remember one thing. I was the school cricket team captain, and when I won my first match, I wrote about it to my father. My father wrote back saying,, I must congratulate you, my son. I know how important it is to you., etc. He also told me, remember, you don't win all the matches. Remember you write to me with the same intensity about your lost game also.

Experience and wisdom teach you to accept failure too. But this is my first film. Nobody knows what the audience wants. Mani Ratnam has given so many great hits, and now has Iruvar. Is it a bad film? I don't think so. I think it is a good film.

The second half is not at all good.

You are saying this because the film is a flop.

I saw the film on the second day, and I said the same thing. It is my opinion.

Okay, what do you think about the Bombay second half? (I tried in vain to say I didn't like the second half at all. But he did not let me by raising his voice.) I will tear your observation to bits. The second half of Bombay is very boring. I shot the film. It went on like a documentary. Everybody told me in the first week, it is a bore. When things won't become successful, people say that. It is not so easy to deduce.

I will tell you why Iruvar did not click. As a person who is in the film media, I will give you my idea. I may be right or wrong, I don't know. (In the earlier movies) you had the Kashmir and Bombay problems and you could successfully solve the problems. When you present a problem to people, they get passionate. Another thing is, there was no triangle in the film. There are two people and a woman and they are not fighting over the woman.

That is the first weakness in the film. The most important thing which no press critic has found out is, people in India like to see love stories. Roja was not the story of Farooq Abdullah or the Kashmir problem, but the story of a young girl who was trying to get back her husband. It was Satyavan and Savitri re-enacted. In Bombay also, you have a love story and a problem. In Iruvar it is different. You don't love MGR or Karunanidhi or Jayalalitha. So, when they die, you don't cry.

But when MGR died, there was mass hysteria.

I said, they didn't cry in the film. Why didn't they cry?

Because it did not touch their hearts, that's all.

No, no. It's not that. The film was too detached. Mani did not cry when MGR died, that shows in the film. He has taken a film in an impassioned, detached kind of manner. That's why I said, you cannot make any kind of film in India. You have to make a film which should make people cry and laugh about. That's the only mistake. I think it ( Iruvar) is marvelously written. Some of the scenes in the film are much better than all his other films.

The sequence in which Jayalalitha (Aishwarya Rai) jumps out of the jeep and the seduction scene are the most beautifully written man-woman scenes in an Indian film. You see two people writing and talking and she gently trying to seduce him! And for a new actress to act in that quality is just great. But the film didn't move you anywhere.

It was not so in the first half. The scene in which Anandan loses his first role as an actor and later on begs to complete his first film was very, very moving.

The film should not have been about MGR and Karunanidhi. He should have made a film on just two friends. But this was like a documentary. What I want to say is, when a film flops, you try to find out 10 faults. But if it is a hit, nobody will say anything.

I saw the movie on the second day and reviewed the movie for Rediff On The NeT and even I said the same thing. You cannot say that we try to find faults only because it is a flop. I found the screenplay in the second half lacking in many things with lots of loose ends.

That's because he was obsessed with reality. He felt controversy would help in selling a film. All this happened because of the belief. When you start making films for commerce alone, you start getting into problems. In my case, I had gone to the other extreme where I wanted a film which is young and fresh. Mani told me, 'Don't bring in nuns, it will not run in B&C centres.' It is true. I believe taking no creative risks is the greatest risk.

If there is some recognition for the film today, it is because it is young and fresh and different. But there are so many defects in the film. If I have to direct the movie again, I wouldn't take the responsibility of writing the story and screenplay.

Do you admire any film personalities who are good screenplay and dialogue writers?

I admire Satyajit Ray and Guru Dutt.

What about (Jnanpith award winner and winner of the maximum number of national awards for screenplays) M T Vasudevan Nair's screenplays?

They are okay. M T is not a screenplay person. He is just a part of the literary tradition where people commit suicide in the end. It is a big bore. I don't get totally charged. That's how I see it today. He is a very intelligent man and a great writer, but I have not seen a single film of his which took me by storm.

What is more important to you, the enjoyment that you get while making a movie or the appreciation and recognition that you get later on?

It is both. You should enjoy making a film. If you enjoy making the film, the enjoyment will be transmitted onto screen also. InMinsara Kanavu, you can sense our enjoyment and people enjoyed that. People liked the electricity that was there in the film.

Photographs: Sanjay Ghosh