Interviewer & Text: Daya Kingston | Camera: Hemananth.B & P. Ganesh Babu
Director K. Bhagyaraj with his original brand of naughty humor has managed to hold Tamil audiences in his sway for over three decades. The multi-talented director, writer and hero brings an earthy flavor to his work and plays with the web of human emotions to create films that have made a big impact. The director is still going strong and is currently working on Pudiya Varpugal which features his son . We catch up with him on his latest film, the experience of directing his children, his take on films inspired by Hollywood, glamour and much more...


BW:
Tell us something about your latest film Pudhiya Varpugal?

Bhagyaraj: Pudhiya Vaarpugal was the film where I made my debut as a hero and I thought the title was apt but many people thought that I was remaking that film. However, that was suitable for me, a village set-up but my son Shantanu is young and needed a youth-centric script and that’s how I have made the script. However, since the misconception that it’s a remake exists, we are planning to change the title soon. The film will have elements like youth, humor, love, a bit of sentiment and masala. My films are usually full of humor with a serious touch in just one place. For my son, I have some places where his performance will have a touch of my acting. However, my son had felt that people would not approve of him doing that but I pointed out that he was only copying me, his father and not anyone else. The subject is suitable for today and the first half takes place in the city and the second in the village but this is not a village subject though it does have a village backdrop. I am introducing a new villain, you have everything mixed and not just love.

Lots of films these days are reusing old titles. Isn’t this a lack of originality

In my case, it has caused a lot of confusion. In the case of Billa, for instance the new one is a remake of the old so it was suitable. I think when one remakes an old film, there’s nothing wrong is using the same title.

What do you feel about your son Shanthanoo’s performance?

He is a young but a good performer. When I watched his debut film, I had hope, he dances well, performs well. He only had the opportunity to act as a student in Sakkarakatti and could only show romance but here in my film there are different moods and his output is better and he has acted well in the different situations.

Humor has always been a strong point in your films? What is your take on it?

You can’t separate humor from me, but I can’t do the same for my son’s films or there won’t be any difference. In this film, there will be touches of humor.

You were one of the first director-turned actors. Today there are many, what do you think of this trend. What was the reason for you to turn director?

I was not among the first. There were S.Balachander who was director and hero and B.R.Bandulu who directed and played cameos in his films. The situation was such that I became the hero for my first film and for the second too. Those days there were certain qualifications for becoming a hero, a certain kind of features and very handsome looks but I broke that myth and proved that someone with ordinary looks like the boy-next-door could make it. It does not take typical hero looks to succeed but someone who can act with realism and I proved this in my films and others after me got the same confidence. My assistants like Parthiban, Pandiarajan proved it. Maybe I gave them the courage. There’s nothing wrong in playing the hero if the role suits one.

"I will act

if I get a rare role

like Sivaji in

Mudhal Mariyathai"


You have stopped acting these days. If you get a role like Sivaji in Mudhal Mariyathai will you take it up?

The characters I had done when I was younger were different, now when my son is playing romantic hero I can’t act in the same roles. I will act if I get a rare role like Sivaji in Mudhal Mariyathai, it is fine. Currently, I am acting but in roles that suit my age. Also for my son I plan to make some films of my kind.

Do you enjoy being a director or actor better?

I can’t say I don’t like acting. However, I prefer directing. If a role in my film suits me well, I act. I don’t have a fire to act, direction is more comfortable.

They say that directors make heroes. However in today’s star-driven industry the trend has changed. The result is a lot of star films flopped last year. What do you think?


Directors don’t create heroes, after heroes are made, they act well, establish themselves and have an image. Then directors tell them a story and bring out their talent. Then as they grow bigger many of them don’t work with new directors as they want their own security and don’t want to take a risk. However, some would give an opportunity to newcomers if they liked the script and felt they worked as an assistant to someone. They should give this opportunity. I tell my son, if you get 2 or 3 films, choose at least one with a new director which will help him establish his talent and shine.

Will only big budget films like Dasavatharam work?

No this is wrong idea. Such films will run, they have their own style and making but it does not mean only such films will make it. Take Slumdog Millionaire which got awards, the film is not grand, it speaks about the struggle of a boy in the slums to rise up. They have taken it well, like if it’s a railway station, the reality

"After heroes

are made,

they act well,

establish themselves

and have an image"

of it is depicted. There is realism especially when they show the riots. Many such films with no big sets have made it like Subramniapuram which was never had rich sets but still made it. The latest Vennila Kabaddi Kuzhu has been well-made I heard and such films are appearing regularly. There are those who work with extravagant budgets, those who are into action or sentiment, it’s each person’s taste. There are people like me who want to mix comedy in their films. There is nothing wrong, it’s only each person’s choice.

You have been in the industry for 3 decades. What is the major change you see?

When I started Tamil cinema was something everyone watched but today the technicians have gained recognition the world over. This is a very healthy trend that we should be proud of. Tamil cinema has advanced a lot. Today, if you look at Hindi films, there are technicians like cameramen and editors. AR Rahman has worked for an English film. Today’ s cinema has lot of technical advances too in terms of new cameras and this makes me very happy. Earlier, we used to watch English films with a lot of awe but today we can be confident that we can make films of equal quality.

"We should always

remain a student.

Once you think

you are the master,

you stop growing

and retire"

Many directors deliver hits during a particular period but after that they are unable to gauge the pulse of the audience. How do you stay updated?

It depends on our observations and experiences. It’s difficult to answer. When I came from the village to Chennai , in the beginning I never had stories like Idhu Namma Aazhu. Later, I developed. We need to keep learning, observe a lot and experience good films. If you just learn a thing or two and stop with that, then success will be elusive, you should have the desire to keep learning.

Some directors are one film wonders. Why?

We should always remain a student. Once you think you are the master, you stop growing and retire. If we have the mindset that we have to learn its good.


Most of Bharathiraja’s students have made a mark in the industry. Do you think there is a reason for this?

You can’t say anything specific. Those days it was tough to get a chance as an assistant. To become a director, you had to work in about 10 films and have about 7 years experience. So the number was less, and getting the opportunity was tough. Today it’s easier to get a break. After my third film, I was on my own. I worked for 16 Vayathinilay as assistant director, Kizhakkey Pogum Rail as assistant dialogue writer and assistant director and in Sigappu Rojakkal, I acted in a small role and assisted. With Pudiya Varpugal, I became the hero and director. I tell everyone who comes to work with me that after the 3rd film, they have to learn everything and after 4 films, it won’t be good for me and for you too. Straightway, all my assistants have to do all the jobs. All those who do work hard will come up. I came up fast and expect them to do the same. Many have proved themselves also.

Whom do you like amongst the young directors?

Each of them has their own strength, Murugadoss has gone to Bollywood, Mysskin has his own style, Cheran has a family kind of style. Vennila Kabaddi Kuzhu I heard is good, then I liked Subramaniapuram Sasi and Poo Sasi, lots of them.

"I tell everyone

who comes to

work with me

that after the 3rd film,

they have to learn

everything and

after 4 films,

it won’t be

good for me

and for you too"


What do you think of using Hollywood CDs as inspiration?

I never used CDs as my inspiration neither do I ask my assistants to draw inspiration from them. I mostly watch action films and many people tell my wife that the kind of films that your husband watches and the ones he makes are a complete contrast. When I watch films, I am an ordinary cine-goer and fan but when I make one, I think differently. If you watch a CD and make a film, you can make one or two but after that you can’t manage. Even if you adapt a good film, its likely to go wrong. Or if 2 or 3 people have chosen to remake the same film, then whoever releases the film first will be considered the maker and the rest considered copiers. You need original stuff to stay in the industry for long, its okay for inspiration but not a shot by shot copy.

Some heroes ask the director to include certain scenes to suit their image. What do you think of this?

If one chooses an artiste with a particular image, then this will have to be included in the script as the audience will expect that. If the artiste is a new face, one can do what one wants with the script. If its an established hero, you have to think of the image, say for Bhagyaraj its comedy and if its not there the audience will be disappointed and similarly for every hero. The story has to be made for the hero. Or if we have an existing script certain changes should be made to suit the needs of the hero’s image, abroad they have Casting Directors, who will find the right artistes suitable for each film.

During the last elections you were very active?

Its not me who did a lot, the DMK did a lot and I was one of them. Many of them were leaving the party and at this time I entered so lots of people were watching me. I felt the DMK would win and maybe it was luck that’s all.

What do you do in politics now?

I go for important meetings when invited or make speeches on schemes. Being in cinema and running a magazine, I think this is essential.

"If people imitate me

and those watching

laugh, it means

that I am in the

hearts of the

people"


How do you react to those who make fun of you? How are you able to take it so cool?

In Tamil, there is a proverb that says only the tree with ripe fruits gets stones thrown at it. If people imitate me and those watching laugh, it means that I am in the hearts of the people. And when people think that the audience will watch such shows it means that I am popular, only if I am ignored it means that I am not in the industry. In weddings they carry out mimicry performances of my acts and I take this as a healthy thing.

In Naan Sigappu Manithan your character was compared to Rajini. How did he react?

Rajini himself knew it. In fact, I had first refused to do the role because it was a Hindi remake. The character I was to be doing was powerful and when I essayed it, this would be in my style with my dialogue touches and become even more powerful. Rajini and his fans would feel that I would dominate and tried to

avoid it. However Rajini and his circle felt that if any other artiste acted there would be comparisons to Rajini and say that he performed better. However, the producer told me that since you are a writer-director people will not make that comparison and conveyed that both Rajini and his wife felt that way and insisted I act. So I thought when I acted it would be taken sportingly and that’s how it was taken.


Do you feel a film can manage without glamour?

Tell me what is there in this world without glamour. Fashion shows have it, there is a channel dedicated to it, Miss Universe and so on has it. Glamour is something that engages you at an age and after that it takes a different turn. Everyone has to cross teenage and face infatuation. We all experience it at an age, then later avoid it. I think there’s nothing wrong.

So you don’t feel you are corrupting society?

No, not at all. When there is sex education and all, what is glamour. Sex is something natural. For children to not misunderstand it, we have sex education. Glamour is not a sin.

"Tell me

what is there

in this world

without glamour"

"My films are

not like that,

they revolve around

human relationships,

a husband-wife

relationship

problem"


In your films, heroines are well-sketched characters but in many of today’s films they are reduced to glamour girls with a few song numbers. What do you think?

You can’t blame the heroines, it depends on the person who writes the script and characters. When you are making a film entirely for the hero involving action, chase etc., the heroine is just needed for glamour. My films are not like that, they revolve around human relationships, a husband-wife relationship problem and so on and my characterization of the heroine is very important and sometimes they even dominate. However when it’s an action film, we can’t expect the same and there’s nothing wrong.

How was it different directing your daughter compared to directing others?

While directing my daughter, there was a restriction. While directing other heroines, I never felt anything about the glamour

bit. However, when it came to her , I thought that would be tough. However, luckily the script I selected did not call for glamour and did not require a lot of closeness between the hero and heroine.

Will she act again?

She is now in London doing a course in fashion designing and when she returns she might take up some films.

Shanthanu being your son, a director’s son, people think its very easy for him to make it big as you will push him.

No, not at all. I don’t push him, even if I do that, this will not last long. I will guide him to take up good scripts and films for the first few films. After that he has to decide. I will not carry him on my shoulders.

Both plus and minuses are there in the film industry. Will he cope?

Yes, let him know both sides. Nothing wrong. He’s young and has to learn a lot.


Can you give us an outline of Pudiya Varpugal?

It’s a love story, I don’t talk much about my films before they are out as people will lose interest, Two characters who meet in the city for the first time and both are new, how they cope is the story.

In Mundanai Mudichu, the Murungakkai dialogue was much spoken about.. Was it a deliberate attempt and will your new film have any such.

That was a dialogue that was apt to the situation where the husband and wife were separated and they had no sexual relations. The heroine wanted to win him over and the story demanded it. It was not a forced one for commercial considerations.

"Two characters

who meet in the city

for the first time

and both are new,

how they cope

is the story"

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