Interviewer & Text: Daya Kingston | Camera: Hemananth.B & P. Ganesh Babu
As director Vikram K Kumar’s horror thriller Yaavarum Nalam gets ready to hit the silver screens and the nail biting suspense gets stronger, we caught up with the director. Having learnt the craft from one of India’s finest directors – Priyadarshan, the expectations from Vikram are quite high. Vikram has won a National Award for his short film ‘Silent Scream’ and also introduced actress Shriya in his debut film Ishtam in Telugu. This was followed by the Tamil film Alai starring Simbhu.

The bi-lingual Yaavarum Nalam (Tamil) or 13B (Hindi) revolves around the happenings in a house that bears the number 13B, a number that horrifies the superstitious. Interestingly every 13th the team is reported to have faced problems while shooting. Certainly spooky indeed! The camera is handled by ace cinematographer P.C. Sreeram and was shot primarily in a spectacular multi-storied apartment set created for the film, so we are in for a visual treat too. This is a bi-lingual and is titled 13B in Hindi. The cast consists of Madhavan, Neetu Chandra besides Saranya and Poonam Dhillon who play the mothers in Tamil and Hindi respectively.


BW:
Your first Tamil film Alai was a romantic one but now you are doing a horror thriller Yaavarum Nalam. How did you find the transition?

Vikram K Kumar: I did not make a deliberate effort to write a horror thriller. I was working on various ideas and came across this one. The script took six months to write and when it was completed, it shaped into this genre. I just wanted to tell a good story and when I translated this idea on screen, it turned out to be in the horror genre. The film has come out very well. This was the best story I had at that point in time.

"Television

is my

protagonist"


What was the inspiration behind Yaavarum Nalam?

The main protagonist here is the TV. The TV is the hero of my film and the story is based on my observations in the last two years. Whenever I visited my hometown in Kerala and met my mother, I found the people at home enjoying serials. I could not disturb them while they were watching a serial. In fact, I would get my food only after the serials were over. Their world revolved around TV programs. In a film script, you relate to the character only for three hours. However, in a serial the association with the character is on a daily basis and they become part of the family

as you relate to their joys and sorrows. And another thing, if you look at the TV as a product, every home appliance has a basic duty like say for an A/C it’s cooling, but for a TV its main focus is to play with our emotions, to make us laugh, cry, think, believe etc. I can sit before it and see the bottom of the Pacific and the top of the Himalayas. It’s the most amazing machine. When the TV first came in, every street had just one TV and everyone would come to one house as a community to watch it. Then every house had its own TV and people watched it in their own homes. It brought the family together and later it split the family as each had his or her own agenda. The same thing which brought them together split them into separate rooms. They stopped interacting with each other. There are a lot of things you can say about the TV but I did not want to be preachy. This is a fictional entertainer, a scary film but does not look at whether the TV is good or bad. I guarantee you that it will be engrossing and with unexpected twists and turns.

What is the storyline like?

It’s about a family- Maddy, his mother, brother with kids, basically an upcoming middle class family whose dream is to buy a flat of their own and they take a loan and move into their apartment 13B. Coincidentally, the same day the first episode of a serial called Yaavarum Nalam is aired. The serial has similar characters like this family and they too move into a new house like them.

What kind of role does Maddy play?

Maddy plays a very normal person like any one of us. He does not have superhuman strength and has his vulnerabilities. He is a very loving son, a doting husband, a fantastic brother, a loving uncle and he’s a member of the family, not the hero of the film. He is the breadwinner and an engineer who is hard working. He wants his life to be better tomorrow and even better after that. He wants to give his family a better life.


Your heroine Neetu Chandra is from Bollywood, did she have a problem with the dialogues?

She worked very hard. Initially, when she came for the screen test, she was very clear that she did not know the language. So we had to work towards it. Every evening my assistants would sit with her and go through the lines and then she would call me over the phone and tell me the dialogues over the phone. She worked very hard and did really well.

"Neetu Chandra

works hard"


What kind of character does she play? Will it be a bubbly one?

She is bubbly but not like a college girl. She is married for 2 years but she is the second youngest in the family. She is bubbly but has maturity. She is the younger daughter-in-law and she has played the character well.

Actress Poonam Dhillon is making a comeback? What is her role like?

This is Poonam’s comeback in Hindi and she plays the important character of the mother, important primarily because there is no father. The father dies at a young age and the mother brings up the children. Hence the sons owe a lot to their mother. I needed a strong lady who could convincingly portray that she had brought up the kids on her own. I needed the character to have a dignity.

"Mumbai mothers

are glamorous"

Saranya essayed the mother’s role in Tamil and Poonam in Hindi. What kind of difference did each of them bring in to the character?

They both have performed very well and brought their persona into the character. Poonam’s role is a bit more glamorous because in Mumbai mothers are glamorous. They dress very well, care for themselves and go to the gym. I needed that kind of a person. Saranya is like a mom here, loving and tender.


How easy or tough was it making a bi-lingual?

It was very very tough. I did not know it was this tough when I got into it. Shooting was not a big problem; we would finish one shot in Hindi, then Tamil. The cast was also different except some common characters like Maddy, so it was not a problem. Shooting was a breeze but the logistics were a problem, bringing the artistes from Bombay and scheduling their dates. Though the logistics were a nightmare, we did not have such problems related to creatively. Post-production was difficult because it was time consuming.

Was it a scene-by-scene reproduction?

No, it was dialogue by dialogue, shot by shot reproduction.

You have worked with acclaimed cinematographer PC Sreeram? What was your experience like?

It was the most enlightening experience of my life so far. I have been in films from when I was nineteen. If you take the first ten years, I have done a short film and two feature films and I have learnt a lot. I have become a richer and more confident filmmaker all because of Mr. C Sreeram. He is my guru and I am working with him for the first time. What I have learnt with my interaction is unbelievable. He only thinks about films.

Could you talk about the lighting in the film?

I think Mr. PC Sreeram will be the right person to answer that.

PC Sreeram and Madhavan have come together again after a long time. What was it like?

They worked together in Alaipayuthey and their chemistry is tremendous. It was good fun.

You have designed elaborate sets for the film. Can you share the details with us?

I needed to erect an apartment set with certain dimensions. There were few places where we could erect a set as most of the shooting floors were booked. So, we created a temporary shooting floor on an empty site. We had ten rooms with functioning toilets, A/C and other amenities. We shot for a month and when we went to see the site later, it was completely gone.

You were assisting Director Priyadarshan? What were the projects you worked in?

When I joined Priyan Sir, he was working on a lot of Hindi films basically patch work and songs from films like Saat Rang Ke Sapne, Kabhi Naa Khabi. The first film I worked with him was a Malayalam film called Chandralekha. I worked for seven films and the last was Snehidiye with Jyothika.

What was your experience working with him? How far does his work influence yours?

The best part of working with him is that you work for many films. Most directors work for two films in three years, but with him I worked for seven films. He was continuously working, so we assistants never had to sit around and wait till he did his next film. We had no rest, we were shooting a lot. I owe a lot to him especially the grammar and technique of film making. I am sure my own identity as a filmmaker would come in soon. Priyan sir is very clear with his techniques and rules.

Has he seen your film?

Not yet. I am waiting for it.

What did he feel about your first two feature films?

He really liked my first film but the second film he did not like.


What were the compliments he gave for your first film?

Well, Priyan Sir is not that much expressive, he’s a man of few words, if he shakes your hand and smiles, you know he liked it.

You had won a national award for your film Silent Scream. Can you tell us more about this?

All my friends were doing MBA and I was in the creative field. I needed to know whether this was the right choice. There’s no

"Priyadarshan

is not

expressive"

point in realizing the field is not right after ten years. I needed to assess myself and after one year, I made this film. It was like a report card. I made the film and sent it for the National Award and when it won, I knew I had it in me.

What was the theme of the film?

It was based on suicide. When a suicide happens every one guesses whether it was love failure, financial reasons… everyone is worried about why the person took his life... However what about the act of taking his life, it’s a silent scream and the reason why he is doing it is never there. The act has no justification.

What is your take on people remaking old films and reusing old film titles?

It is scary. Remixes, old stories and titles... it’s a worrying trend. One should create something original. I am a writer-director. It’s wrong for me to pass judgment on others but I would personally never do it. I would rather spend two years writing a script and then start working, rather than just take a film and make it on screen in a few months. This would not last. I need to be in a studio with a camera and shoot even when I am eighty years old.

"One cannot make

a career

watching films"


What made you chose film-making as a career?

Primarily, I loved watching films and was a fan of cinema. I would watch any kind of film, Indian or Hollywood. While everybody was studying for something, I realized I needed to do something I loved doing. I loved watching films but one cannot make a career watching films. So I decided to try making films. My perspective was from the gallery. I am an audience first.


How did you feel watching your first film on screen?

It was a fantastic experience, almost magical, it was wonderful. We came out of the theatre but we did not tell anyone who we were and we went around asking the audience what they felt.


You introduced Shriya, tell us about her?

She is a talented heroine, a dear friend of mine and deserves every success she has. She is a wonderful actress and she has just started. She has lots of films to do and lots of characters to play.

What was your experience with Simbhu?

It was fine.

"Shirya

is my

dear friend"


What kind of films do you want to make?

All genres. I want to make a love story, action story, comedy, animation, there are so many stories I want to tell and none of them are the same genre. I don’t take two or three films of the same kind at the same time. If you take action, there should be something new. I want to try out all permutations and combinations. I like love stories, but here in every story the hero and heroines have to meet excepting the fact that only their meeting places can be different.

Who are your favorite directors?

I love good films, Radha Mohan’s Mozhi, Vishnuvardhan’s Arindhum Ariyamalum and Pattiyal. Gautham Menon’s Khaakha Khaakha and Vettaiyadu Vilayadu are fantastic. Lingusamy’s Sandakozhi and Bala’s works. Vennila Kabaddi Kuzhu was mind-blowing and by a fantastic director Suchindran. The story has come out clearly and I loved his work too.

"Budgets have

nothing to do

with good or bad

films"


Do you think small budget films can work as well as big ones?

Budgets have nothing to do with good or bad films. It is purely based on the story and how well you can carry it to the audiences. It also depends on the characters used and whether they understand and enjoy it. For a film to succeed, you don’t need big money. To make a successful film, the clarity of thought, honesty in narration and entertainment are needed.


What are your upcoming projects?

I have absolutely no clue. I have written a lot of stories, looking forward to doing them.

Why a bilingual?

This is not a culture based story. It can happen anywhere, in Chennai, New York, Japan, you name it. Madhavan was good. He could immediately deliver dialogues in Hindi and Tamil.

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