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.
has given me six fantastic songs"
BW:On the intimate companionship
between the lead characters in all your films
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
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…
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.
success- commercially and personally?
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
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
a few sequences in VA
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
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.
a message in films
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.
VA and Daavatharam were the two most discussed
films of 2008…
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.
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
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
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
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.
brilliant partnership with Harris Jeyaraj…
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
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
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.
Harris was like
husband and wife
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.
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.
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.
& Lighting: Hemananth.B & P. Ganesh Babu