Gautham Vasudev Menon’s Vaaranam Aayaram is a memorable, moving ode to his father. For the director, this has been his most personal film. A film that allowed him to discover himself: both, as a filmmaker and as a person. Our contributing editor, Pradeep Sebastian, found Gautham Menon amidst the verdantly rich and lush foliage of Chennai’s own Amethyst coffee shop, working on his next film with his assistant directors. Menon is known for his candid, insightful takes on Kollywood and in this two part interview he is no less than brilliant, revealing and engaging, as he talks
about the Harris Jayaraj split, his new partnership with A.R Rahman, Suriya’s dazzling versatility and surprising shyness, and his own dream project – an ambitious period thriller.

"Rahman has given me six fantastic songs"

BW:On the intimate companionship between the lead characters in all your films

Gautham Vasudev Menon: It is not an attempt to be different. It comes very naturally. I write the screenplay as I would like to see a film in the theatre. A youngster who is on the verge of life, how he would see things; the visuals gradually unfold before me. So when it comes to the part about falling in love, I guess it too comes naturally like in Kaakka Kaakka or in Vettaiyadu Vilayadu. But I draw inspiration from real life and from the lives of people I know. Mostly, ninety percent of any thing that has been done in my films is from real life- what I have seen or what I have heard. I don’t break my head on these things because I hear these lines all round me. There is no particular effort to be different. It is spontaneous and natural.

The forms love takes in your films

I think the way people look at love is very different. The usual ‘I love you’ concept itself can be said in different ways. In fact I don’t see people using these words. Women have liked the way I deal with love. They have come to me and said that. That’s what we want. We want the women to come to the theatre. It is a big thing here when women come to the theatre to watch a film. When a film is released on Friday, I get calls on Monday or Tuesday saying that ‘theatre fulla ladies irukkanga sir’ which I feel is a healthy sign. Women come to the theatre only when the film is good or when there is no violence or because their point of view is represented.

All the more tragic when all your heroines die…

I will not do that again. In Vaaranam Aayiram, Sameera is Suriya’s first love. Generally one’s first love never materializes. One never gets to marry their first love but they don’t forget them either. But I wanted to take this to the next level i.e. death, which I have not seen lately in Tamil cinema. It is not clichéd. Somebody dies and you cry and we cannot call that clichéd. And I thought Surya would do this part very well. He worked out and looked every bit that part. Here is someone who encouraged me to do whatever I wanted to. Though the intensity of companionship increases the tragic feel, I am not going to kill my leading ladies any more.

Vaaranam Aayiram’s success- commercially and personally?

Commercially I am happy because we made the film for 15 crores. We sold Tamil Nadu alone for 13.10 crores i.e. without Chennai city. The distributors have gotten back their money and they have broken even. In some places there is over flow. In Tamil Nadu alone, the projected figures are 2.50 crores. Including overseas, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra we made another 6 crores. Producers and distributors of the film have made 22 crores. We made the films for 15 crores and have made a clean profit of seven crores.

Personally, right from the word go I knew this film would take some time to settle down. I am not into thinking that this film is not for the masses. I don’t like to call someone from Usilampatti as a mass audience. If I was in Usilampatti and someone calls me mass, I would be offended. I would like to watch a film which I can relate to. When I saw Paruthi Veeran I was not able to relate to the character but still I was transported to that world by the director. Like wise, I thought my audience would be transported to the world of Krishnan. When the film was released, my fans and Suriya’s fans and the youngsters who would be there in theatres on the first day expected an action film like Kaakka Kaakka but were taken aback a little by the film’s emotional content. The first day talk was ‘we did not expect this’.

About trimming a few sequences in VA

After VA was released, the distributors called me and said the film is lengthy and can be reduced in the second half. But I knew that my audience will come a little later from Monday onwards. Since I was distributing it, they asked me to trim down, otherwise the theatre guys would have chopped it off. So we sent editors everywhere and since then it has been good. Personally, it has been a mixed reaction for me. Initially I was worried but then things were fine. I am very, very happy about the reactions from people.


Response to VA from public

Generally the response to any film would be good, bad or ok but in this case the reaction has been expansive. People sms me and Suriya saying that they have lost their Dad and miss him so badly’ or sms their father to say, ‘Dad, I saw this film and wish I had seen it with you’. ‘In the past, if I had done some mistakes, please forgive me’ kind of messages as well. VA struck people at different levels. I am happy about that.

On having a message in films

I don’t like to make films to give out messages. But somehow in VA, without making an effort, inadvertently, some message has been conveyed. Of course there is a message on smoking and how it affects everyone. I have personally seen this in my dad’s case. Some people said that there could have been some kind of conflict between son and dad. But I never had any conflict with my dad at any point, and I wanted to do a film just like that. When I am traveling on work to some place and I receive the news about my dad’s death, I would like to think of the nicer moments we shared- not the bad ones.

"Vaaranam Aayiram

struck people

at different

levels"


VA and Daavatharam were the two most discussed films of 2008…

I am glad to hear that. People may have discussed Dasavatharam for the ten different get ups that Kamal sir donned. Vaaranam Aayiram could have been a point of discussion perhaps owing to Suriya.

"In 30 days

Suriya

lost 15 kilos"


On the sets with Suriya…

I think I have said this recently but I can say it again. He is the most versatile actor in the industry. I am yet to see someone more versatile than him in the current times. Age is on Suriya’s side. He is still young. He can still play 17 year old. When I narrated the story of VA to him, I was not sure if he would do the dad’s part. We went around asking Nana Patekar and Mohanlal. But Suriya said he is doing that role. I think that is the USP of the film. My problem is I don’t like shooting double action. When I see double action films, I get distracted seeing both sides of the screen. But Suriya convinced me and the end result is fantastic. People who do not know about Tamil films have come to me and asked who is the actor who did the dad’s role? Vaaranam Aayiram is a simple emotional film and not a commercial action flick. The pace was like that and it was meant to be like that. When I told the story to Suriya, he just stood up, clapped and asked ‘when do we start?’ Then I said it is not a regular film and he

said, “No, I love it”. He could have interrupted me to include a hero intro scene, or a fight sequence here or a dance number there. Nothing like that was done for the sake of a star. That way, once Suriya likes a script, he will do anything for it. In 30 days he lost 15 kilos to look like a 17 year old which is very important. Otherwise people would have laughed. For the army look, he said he will work to get that lean and trim look and get a six pack. It is a big struggle and he strived hard for it.

Tell us something about Suriya that no one knows…

Suriya is very uncomfortable with his heroines especially after he got married. There were moments when I could not take him a little further. I understood that and I never pushed him. We had shot intimate scenes with the two heroines, and we had to shoot one more with the third. And he said, “I have already done intimate scenes with two ladies and if I have to do one more, I’ve had it at home!” He has got issues like that. Perhaps that’s why the chemistry between him and Divya did not come out well, though it was on paper. They had to look at each other in the eye and touch each other etc as per script. But he was very uncomfortable. Even with Sameera, we did not do any physical scene involving the two. Whatever you saw, we shot in silhouette and put them together as two black images. It came out nice. But with Divya, it did not work out. As an actor, it is not right but he is my friend too. So I did not push him much.

"Suriya is

uncomfortable

doing

intimate scenes

with his

heroines"

"Only Suriya

could have done

Vaaranam

Aayaram"

If not for Suriya, who else for VA?

I am sorry. Apart from Suriya, I cannot think of anyone in Tamil industry for this role. I did narrate the story to Mahesh Babu, Allu Arvind. They loved the script but said they cannot do it especially the drug part. They have their image. So I don’t think anyone else could have done justice to the role the way Suriya did.

Your brilliant partnership with Harris Jeyaraj…

I give him the entire script. We talk about screenplay. He knows the mood of the songs. I don’t tell him where the song would be. But we discuss the mood, the visuals and the genre of the song and I leave it to him. Whatever comes is totally his. As regards ‘Anal Mele’, there was a

feeling in the unit that this being the last song is very slow and it could be a bit fast. When I raised this issue with Harris, he said that it is fine and I can go ahead with it. So I went by his words. Sometimes when I amnot able to sit with him, we discuss things

through phone. There is a small bit of Om Shanthi in the US. Initially I had shot the sequence but then I felt a song would be better there. So Harris suggested a faster version of Om Shanthi which again has worked out well. And I did not even go for the recording. He understands me and my expectations and what would keep me happy. I like his work in other films too like Dhaam Dhoom. I think Harris gives me his best.

About your break-up with Harris

(chuckles) It is almost like a husband and wife split. The email that was circulated to the press was sent to me also. I am very upset about it. Whatever it was, it could have been discussed with me and we could have kept it within ourselves. I am disappointed with that. Anyway such break-ups have been there in the industry. Mani Ratnam, Ilayaraja. Right now, I am working with A R Rahman.

"The breakup

with Harris was like

a husband and wife

split!"

"Rahman has

given me

six fantastic

songs"


What’s it like, working with A R Rahman?

Tremendous! He understands me and I'm getting a feel about how he works. We have discussed a couple of scripts and he is gung-ho about them. He called me recently and gave me around 7-8 tunes with a laptop and asked me to listen and pull down the songs that I like. They are good! I have always looked to work with him not because I don’t like Harris or I don’t get along with Harris. I just thought I can work with Rahman and go back to Harris and vice versa. But now it looks like it will be Rahman alone.

Compare Harris and Rahman

The whole approach, story discussion, time of meeting- everything is different. With Harris it’s like between two friends talking. With Rahman, there is some kind of reverence, awe. We are in the process of understanding each other.


How did you conceive Ennai Konjam Matri song?

We decided the song would be shot in a certain manner: there was no way that Suriya would sing. Jo is also traveling with him. It was like a metaphor. The verses are what she wants to tell him. The lines in your mind get transformed into a song and the audience knows what the character feels. It was a very conscious effort. Brinda and I worked together and decided the look of the song. Jo will sing a few lines but will look at Suriya and smile, while the song goes on. Suriya will keep driving, listening.

Will you beat Mani Ratnam and Shankar in getting the best out of Rahman?

I don’t want to outdo them, or mean to outdo them. But I want the best out of Rahman for myself. I am passionate about music. When I write I listen to music. There is always a song in my head. Any new film comes, I pick up the CD in the hope that I get to listen to a good song. So I’ll go all out to get a good song from Rahman. With some people it comes spontaneously. Uyirin Uyire was composed in 20 minutes in a studio at K K Nagar. We never went to New York or any exotic locales to arrive at the song.

"I want to

get the best

out of

Rahman"

My best wishes for a happy, prosperous Pongal to all Behindwoods visitors.

Don't go away! Read more about what Gautham has to say next Sunday in our part two of the interview, where he talks about why the Vijay and Ajit project didn't take off, his personal opinion about both the stars, what he thinks of the Hindi Ghajini, and his future dream projects.

Interviewer: Pradeep

Camera & Lighting: Hemananth.B & P. Ganesh Babu

Text: Jyothsna

Arya Pooja Dhananjeyan Vijaya T. Rajendar Vijay Antony Ophilia
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