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Interview Team : Jyothsna

When people thought that he can only make astounding impression with his set designs, art director Vijaimurugan appeared in front of the camera as the villainous Mayilu in Golisoda and floored people. Responsible for art direction in films like Aravaan, Golisoda, Jigarthanda, Kadhai Thiraikadhai Vasanam Iyakkam, Velai Illa Pattadhari, the talented but simple and down-to-earth technician takes Senior Editor Jyothsna Bhavanishankar on his journey in the industry, the making of Aravaan, the Manda Kenaru of Paandi Naatu number in Jigarthanda and many more.  


What made you choose art direction?


My uncle was my senior in College of Arts and he was my main influence. It was he who veered my path into film art direction and introduced me to Art Director Mohana Mahendran under whom I worked for many years. 


Which is your first film as art director?


Prabhu Deva’s Charlie Chaplin. I was a little skeptical about being in art direction then as I was not much experienced. But people motivated and encouraged me. 


Parthiban’s Kudaikkul Mazhai


After Charlie Chaplin, I have worked in around 40-45 films. I have not kept count. But Parthiban’s Kudaikkul Mazhai can be called a milestone film in my career as it got me noticed and brought name and fame. And so did the recent Aravaan. In all senses Kudaikkul Mazhai was the base for Aravaan.  

Kudaikkul Mazhai was the base for Aravaan


Meeting Vasantha Balan for Aravaan


I am not much proficient in talking and when I was to meet Vasantha Balan for discussion on Arvaan’s art direction, I kind of prepared myself about what to talk. But when I met him, HE did the talking for more than two hours about my work in various films.


Finally when he came to Aravaan, I wondered on what basis he called me because the work that was required out of me had no reference anywhere, not even pictures, the setting was many many years ago and I had not done such films before. Hence I suggested that he go for someone else. He was happy with such a response and said that he had consulted with many art directors who promised the sky to him but I was honest enough to admit my situation.


All the same, he was very confident about me. Therefore, I told him that let’s not get into any agreement and that I would work for 20 days in the project. If things go as planned, we can take it up from there based on the rapport levels. Eventually, I worked on the project for one year on reference work alone and Vasantha Balan also helped me in this. 

Vasantha Balan was very confident about me 


How was it to bag a period film at such a young age?


It is generally very difficult for an art director to bag a period film. And that too at a young age as generally when it comes to such films, experienced art directors are the preferred options. In that sense I am glad that I bagged Arvaan early on in my career. Now that I have done this film early, I have more years and I might get such films later on. At least I would be some kind of reference individual on such genres. 

I am glad that I bagged Arvaan early on in my career


Homework for Aravaan


I read the book Kaaval Kottam and on location hunt, used to meet very old people (around 90-95 years of age) who would give some kind of idea about their grandparents times. That kind of gave an idea about 200 years period time. I used to note all those information. Hailing from a village also had its advantages as I am familiar with the ways of life, traditions and customs.   


I travelled to villages in five states- Tamil Nadu, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka by car, bus, bike and sometimes bullock cart. I went to villages which knew nothing about technology, ration card and had women who wear their sarees without blouses. I got many reference points from such villages. 


No artificiality in Aravaan


I decided nothing should be artificial in Aravaan. When I was erecting a set, sometimes I never used to let my assistants also inside because they may clean the place to sit which would render a ‘made up’ look. My strict condition was they should not clean the place or cut the vegetation. 

My strict condition was they should not clean the place or cut the vegetation 


Working in Aravaan and the pressures


The project had a big producer in the name of Siva and an award winning director in the form of Vasantha Balan. Therefore I was anxious that I should not bring bad name to it. In case something goes wrong, people would brand me as misfit for such films and it would be a blotch in my career.  I knew this is the film that would decide my career which would be called pre-Aravaan and post-Aravaan.


I knew I would be under tremendous pressure and was prepared for it. If other films complete in six months, Aravaan took two and a half years as there were processes involved. If a schedule had 45 days, I took 45 days before that to erect my sets.


If you actually look at some of the period films in Tamil, all that they required was to construct expensive palaces that would just cost money and manpower. But Aravaan dealt about marginalized people who lived some 300 years ago and their lifestyles, which needed more of brain power along with brawn power.  It was a different experience in that breath. 

I was prepared for the pressures


Accolades for Aravaan


I got many awards for Aravaan and wherever the film went, it was through me and I was very happy about it. All those hardships we faced disappeared totally when we heard good things about the film and my work. 


Having worked in a film like Aravaan, do you find other films an easy ride?


No, not at all! Each film offers its own set of challenges and opportunities. I did Golisoda which is shot in a market place with a bunch of children. People who saw the film opined that it was live. I underwent half the pain of Aravaan for Golisoda.


All the boys were students and hence parents used to send them to shooting only during weekends. Shooting in the market was expensive and during weekends, the place was naturally crowded and if there was no permission, our cameras would be snatched away. There was so much of effort that went into to Golisoda which may not be visible on the surface. Aravaan required a different effort while Golisoda demanded a different kind. 

Aravaan required a different effort while Golisoda demanded a different kind 


Pandi Naatu number in Jigarthanda


Karthik Subbaraj and I wanted to do the Pandi Naattu number in a different way. Generally a baddie like Assault Sethu would either stay in his house or a bar or be in a katta panchayath. But we wanted the scene to be different and were considering a huge well – Manda Kenaru- for this purpose. But such wells would not have steps and hence we had to find different means to prepare for the scene.


That’s when I suggested Karthik that we can construct a ‘theppam’ kind of structure in the well which I had done in Naiyandi where we all had parked our cameras inside the adjustable theppam in the well and shot Dhanush crossing the well on the top from inside the well. When I suggested this idea for the song, Karthik was quite excited. We worked on it and downed the set into the well and the results were there for everyone to see!




Stay tuned for the second part of the interview where Vijaimurugan talks about the differences between directors of various times, what made him turn into an actor, his next acting project with Balaji Sakthivel, the recognition that art direction is getting today and other interesting features.



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