Chennai 28 and Venkat Prabhu came out of nowhere and stormed the box office. No, that isn’t quite true: they didn’t storm it as much as slowly seduced the audience away from the other blockbusters until all of Chennai was talking about this movie about boisterous youngsters and cricket. Prabhu’s Saroja is now eagerly awaited. The debutant director took time off from the shoot to talk to us about how Chennai 28 really happened, and what he has in mind for Saroja.


“Don’t expect another Chennai 28 from Saroja”

Venkat Prabhu: First of all guys, thanks for including me in your list of top ten directors of the year. I was flattered that as a debut director I was featured in Behindwoods.

What prompted you to direct?

I never had a clear ambition of what I wanted to do in cinema. I only knew that I wanted to make a mark and tried my hand at many things. Acting was one of them and I was continuously associated as an actor with Charan’s productions like Unnai Charanadindhen and Mazhai. I have even tried running a movie magazine in English which too did not work out. It was during one of these low periods that I suggested a one line thread to Charan. I wanted only to hint at the story, but Charan was of the opinion that I have to direct it. As we worked out the details we understood that the budget could not be met by us. So, the project had to be shelved and what happened next was Chennai 28.

How have you and Charan known each other?

We have known each other right from our early days. That our fathers worked together very often gave us opportunities to meet each other, sometimes on foreign tours. However it was in the late 90s that our friendship really took off. The reason being that one of us had gone to the UK and the other to the US for education which meant that around 8-9 years went off without much contact. It is after coming back home that we restarted our friendship.

Tell us something about Chennai 28’s origins.

It certainly has a bit of an autobiographical element. My friends and I belonging to RA Puram played for a team called Evergreen and I picked up a lot of what goes into the movie from my experience there. There was a boy Dileep, who also used to play for Evergreen, who contributed a lot of small ideas for the movie. SPB Charan and a friend called Saravana, now in Singapore expressed faith in my abilities in spite of having no formal experience of direction and convinced me to take up the reigns of the movie.

How did you zero in on Vijayalakshmi as your heroine?

I have known Vijayalakshmi for some time now. Myself, Charan, Aravind Akash and Vijayalakshmi have worked together for a film by Agathiyan that unfortunately never got released. It was on the sets of this movie that I met Vijayalakshmi and while auditioning for characters for Chennai 28, her face flashed across my mind. She fit the bill perfectly as the girl next door.


After 28’s victory function,

I got some threats for taking

too much freedom with Rajinikanth Sir.

Chennai 28 impressed Rajnikanth.

We had arranged a special show of the movie for him and after seeing the movie he was full of praise for us, as he always is with any budding film maker. He said that maintaining the jolly mood throughout the film was a really difficult job as was showing a sport so extensively. His gesture at the victory function was magnanimous. I don’t have the stature to rub shoulders, literally, with a man of his caliber. But he took my arm and put it over his shoulders, something which made me feel very uncomfortable at first, but he was so friendly and appreciative of my work. Even at the event, a photographer had given me a rather stern look, but Rajini Sir saw to it that it didn’t happen any more. After the event too I got some threats for taking too much freedom with the Superstar and I told him this, he asked me not to worry. Recently, he launched the Telugu audio of Saroja and I got an opportunity to interact with him again, it was a great experience.

What did Kamal have to say about the movie?

Kamal Sir is a man of few words; he doesn’t let us know what is going on in his mind. He enjoyed the movie, but he told us to move on towards our next film and next victory and let our parents savor this one. That was very motivating. He also said that he and Rajini Sir will come again to attend the victory celebrations of our next movie. Another thing that I feel very proud of is that I and Kamal Sir share the same birthday, November 7 and have wished each other often.

Chennai 28 with big stars….

No, stars would have been given away the climax, the hero usually wins in the end. The presence of a hero would have shifted the focus of the audience away from the actual proceedings, it would have become the hero’s film, now it’s a collective effort.

Chennai 28s Telugu version was not a success, why?

What released in Telugu was not Chennai 28. The producer who bought the rights made so many changes that the essence of the movie was lost. In fact, the climax match with the Bad Boyz 11 was completely removed, song situations were changed and it looked like a different movie, far below par. Even the release time was inappropriate. But for Saroja we ensured that things are better. It was after starting the filming that the idea of a Telugu version cropped up. So, after a few adjustments with the cast, we shot both Tamil and Telugu simultaneously.

Don’t expect another Chennai 28 from Saroja.


Tell us about Saroja.

Saroja is completely different from Chennai 28. Our first film was based on a story that would happen in your neighborhood, this one is a bit of a thriller. The only similarity that the two movies have is the word ‘Saroja’ and the fact that part of the cast has been repeated. Saroja will be a bit more serious than Chennai 28 but the elements of comedy will be intact, you are sure to fully enjoy your time in the theater, it will be worth your money, but don’t expect another Chennai 28. Saroja will show our metamorphosis as film makers after Chennai 28.

How did you convince the producer about Saroja?

I did not convince producer Shiva, it was Chennai 28 which did it. Immediately after watching the movie he agreed to produce my next film and the advance was paid. It was only later that he heard the story of Saroja and even then I had to tell him only one line and he was happy. He trusted us a lot, did not want to dictate the amount of money being spent and is now happy with the final product. The only thing to see is whether the audience will be happy.

Does Saroja have a similarity to an English movie?

Definitely not. I have seen Babel prior to making Saroja and the concept of stitching different stories geographically so far apart interested me a lot. I took that concept and put original stories and made the movie in a flavor that will connect to the audience here. You will understand that when you see the movie, it is completely original.

You took a long time to decide Saroja’s female lead.

We first approached Shruthi Kamal Haasan for the role, but at that time she was more interested in music and turned down the offer. Then Varalakshmi too declined, the reason for which I am not too sure of. Maybe it was because she was not very comfortable with the kind of film where there is neither a hero nor a heroine with the whole cast having collective importance. I think she was expecting a more conventional hero-heroine subject to start off her career.

Your experience working with Yuvan Shankar Raja.

Yuvan is like a younger brother to me, it’s a very personal relationship and we are very frank with each other. Our combination has worked well, Chennai 28 was a hit and even Saroja has come out well. Saroja’s music is different from Chennai 28. Chennai 28 was music for the masses and had a lot of local flavor. This time round it is a bit more thoughtful, and likely to be appreciated by serious music lovers as well as by the masses. Chennai 28 was taken at a time when Yuvan was busy and so he couldn’t be a part of the re-recording that was done by Premgi. But Yuvan is one of the pillars of Saroja, he has done an extraordinary job which you will see soon. I know a bit about music, so things haven’t been that tough, I have been able to communicate easily. Even Yuvan has an innate idea about how a movie and its mood should be, so you need not constantly be behind him to get what you want. Same with Premgi who did the recording for Chennai 28. My knowledge of music has helped me give some inputs at places and it has worked. Then its up to the audience to decide.

Will you act in movies that you direct?

Acting has happened, but now my focus is on direction. Sasi was forced into the role for Subramaniapuram because of the absence of an actor. But, as of now I want to make people act as a director, I am happy being behind the scenes.

There was news about an association with Ajith.

Ajith Sir is a good friend and well wisher of mine. I admire him a lot and even he, too, likes my work. I have not yet narrated any plot to him, but I have a few ideas ready. I want to do a slightly different film with him and that will happen once the right time comes.


I have a few ideas ready for Ajith

On your association with Ocher Studios.

Yes, Ocher Studios has collaborated with Warner Brothers and are making a movie which I will be directing. Not much has progressed really, just a one line plot which they liked a lot. Only after all the work of Saroja has been completed will I move on to develop the story. But definitely, an opportunity to work under banners like Warner is great and this is surely my next movie.

Whose pet are you at home?

Not something that you should ask a 32 year old. It is just like in any other home. Both father and mother love you and scold you, off and on. That’s how it is.

Films recently that have impacted you?

In Tamil, it is Paruthiveeran and Subramaniapuram. These are films that left me thinking whether I will be able to make movies like these. But I am more into breezy entertainers, films purely for enjoyment. In English there are movies like Babel that have left an impression, but I have also enjoyed superhero films like Batman, Ironman and Hancock.

Between a star and newcomer – who will you opt for?

I think I will go for newcomers. If there is a commercial story that suits stars, then I may go in for the one whose dates are available or for the one who likes the story more. If there is absolutely nothing that helps me make a choice, then I will go for a new face.

Remaking Alaigal Oyvathilai -whom would you cast?

For Alaigal Oyvathillai, my choice would be Siddharth and Trisha, in my opinion they are best suited to match the characters, a little bit of adjustment would be enough.

I prefer newcomers to

stars. Chennai 28 would

not have worked with big stars


And in the remake of Moondru Mudichu?

Moondru Mudichu, I a not sure who to cast, I don’t know if actors nowadays would like to do such roles even. I think you should ask Balachander Sir for an opinion. You could even ask Bharathiraja Sir’s take on Alaigal Oyvathillai.

Will you do rural-themed movies?

My seniors have done films in the rural flavor because they have come from that background, they were born and brought up in rural Tamil Nadu. But me and my other colleagues like Yuvan were raised in the city. So, it is hard for me to get that kind of originality that I got for Chennai 28. But there is that village within us, given to us by heredity, proved by Yuvan with his music for Paruthiveeran. But, if I have to make a film on a rural subject, it will definitely take some doing to understand how people there live. I want to make such a film and it will happen though not immediately.

Your take on the spate of remakes of old classics?

You can’t help it; it’s a trend whose time has come. In a way, it is good, letting people see films that they otherwise wouldn’t even know about. Remakes have been in for a long time, only it has been from one language to another, now we are doing to it from our own classics. It is a trend that we can see even in Hollywood, like the Italian Job. As technology grows, there will be better ways of showing the same stories.

Your opinion of the perennial duet song?

That is what Indian cinema is famous for, the songs, the colors and all that. Then, how each song will be is a director’s prerogative, some like it in very colorful settings while others prefer to have it in a more realistic manner. The key here is that the script must not be hampered, the song must not be a speed breaker. Otherwise, songs have become so integral to Indian cinema that I think it is hard to do away with them.

Director - K.v. Anand Actress Tamanna Cinematographer - Ravi varman Actress Divya Director Perarusu