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Interview Team : Jyothsna

Director Rajesh M Selva could be the envy of many as it is not an everyday occurrence to direct the one and only Kamal Haasan for a debut film. Having got the coveted mission and having completed it with lots of good words, Rajesh takes time off to talk to Senior Editor Jyothsna Bhavanishankar about the one important man in his life Kamal Haasan and his debut film Thoongavanam.


How did you enter the film industry?

Right from my childhood days, I had an interest in films, but my family circumstances did not let me take up the position of assistant director at the start of my career. I studied Visual Designs and Visual Communications and hold a Masters in it. I am basically a designer and during my initial days, I had created many corporate designs. Later on I started poster designs for films as I felt it could be my access card to enter films.
Unakkena Venum Sollu director Sri Krishna is a good friend of mine and he was working for Raaj Kamal Films in 2008. He told me that there were some openings to work with Kamal sir in Marmayogi and asked me to approach him. I met Kamal sir, and joined Raaj Kamal. 
Although I had joined Raaj Kamal, I was not working full time for them. It was more of an on and off kind of a thing where I balanced it with my other schedules. Kamal sir used to call me whenever there was work and I used to work as assistant director (AD). That’s how it was. I joined here as 3rd AD and in my last film, I was the 1st AD; that was my growth. I was the script supervisor and AD in Viswaroopam.


Your chance is over now”

After Viswaroopam 2, I sought Kamal sir’s blessings and asked if I was ready to go out on my own as I was getting offers and I was pitching my stories to other producers. He was very encouraging and told me not to miss any opportunities that came my way. In reality, very few people would be willing to let go of people who they are comfortable working with. But Kamal sir is not like that.  
In the interim, I had kept in touch with him and always sought his advice for the offers that I was getting. It was during Uttama Villain times. I was kind of getting involved in the wrong projects, some did not take off, and some were getting shelved. When he knew about this, he got angry and said, “Now your chance is over. You come to me and we will do a film”. This happened more than a year back. 
Family and friends always used to feel anxious about my career. But such thoughts never crossed me at all. I am saying this from the bottom of my heart. I have never felt dissatisfied working for Raaj Kamal or for Kamal sir.
Every day, he will come up with something impossible and at the end of the day we would have completed it. Morning when we  start, we would wonder whether it is going to happen, but in the evening when we see that as a finished product, our day will be made. It is a routine with Raaj Kamal and Kamal sir. So when sir said, we will do a movie, I only thought Raaj Kamal will be producing, I will be directing and sir will be guiding me in the script.

Now your chance is over. You come to me and we will do a film


Kamal’s idea and his training

I was involved with Uttama Villain as an AD and also in the production side for more than six months. When you play a game, there would be different levels from beginner to expert. I don’t know if sir had planned it that way for me. He used to give me assortment of work and I never questioned that. May be that was his idea to train me in all the departments of film making. 
He was keen that I be launched in a project with the perfect recipe for success. As regards me, I was not concerned about these things and just kept working for him. When this movie (Thoongavanam) came up, it was to be directed by Kamal sir or that’s what all of us thought. I went about doing the key, the schedules and the usual work related to a movie. 
One day he called and said, “You are directing this film, go start the work”. I never in my wildest dreams thought that I would be directing Kamal sir in my first film.  To direct Kamal sir or to do a film for Raaj Kamal was not on the top of my bucket list as I thought it was too early for me. I was thinking of doing films outside and coming back to Raaj Kamal.  

To direct Kamal sir or to do a film for Raaj Kamal was not on the top of my bucket list 


How was it when Kamal told you that you will be directing him?

To be very honest, it did not sink in at all (laughs). We were in the dining hall in the first floor when he said that. There was so much of commotion on that day and he called for me. I thought there is some mistake somewhere and I am getting fired. When I went in, he closed the door, asked everybody to leave the room; Gautami ma’am was there. He said, “We have decided Rajesh” and I thought that was it, I was getting fired and it is final (laughs). 
But he continued, “We have decided that you will be directing this film. It is just not my decision, I had spoken to people and they all echoed my thoughts and were confident about you”. 
He had a complete plan ready for me. I just said yes and came down. Only towards the evening, the essence of what he said slowly sank in. 

I thought I was getting fired


When it is a Kamal’s film, it is a given that he would hog the limelight completely. Were you wary about it?

Actually, it is a myth but we keep getting bombarded with such questions only from people who don’t know what is happening. It is not the truth. 
Once K S Ravikumar had said in an interview – Whoever directs Kamal sir, be it Mani Ratnam or any other legend, at the end of the day, it is only Kamal sir’s film. Nobody is going to see Thoongavanam as Rajesh film or Ghibran film or Sanu film. We all have given our 100% for the film but people are only going to refer to it as Kamal sir’s film. He has much much more responsibility then us. 
When we accept ideas from a junior for the betterment of a product, why can’t we take the ideas from someone as legendary and experienced as Kamal sir. But he did not do that also in this film. Cinema is a democratic process but there should be only one leader who calls the shots and that’s what Kamal sir reiterates. Even if it goes right or wrong, as a director, I will take the onus of my decision. I cannot take everyone’s idea and muddle up things. He was very particular about it. From the cast, crew selection to the poster designs, we just went to him for his approval only.
Kamal is like a safety net for us. We are just hanging in there, doing somersault and all the tricks knowing very well that when we fall down, he will be there to protect us.

Kamal is like a safety net for us


At the shooting spot

First three days, Sanu (DoP) and I got really scared. I have seen Kamal sir in all the years. After ‘cut’ he will check the monitor. But in Thoongavanam, he never did that and went to his chair and started reading his kindle after he was done with a shot. He was so detached which was not anything like him. But all the same, he was happy, talking to people. We were so perplexed. 
On the 4th day, we could not hold it any more, we went and showed him the edited footages of the three day work. He looked at it and said everything was fine. That’s when we realized that he wanted us to be independent and do our work. 
Once an actor wanted to know about his character and I checked with sir on this. He texted me back saying, “It is not my duty to describe the character, my work is done after I completed the screenplay and gave it to you. In Thoongavanam I would like to be an actor and a producer only. You can convey this to the actor”. I still have that text. These things were a little scary and at the same time, I felt happy too because he was having a lot of trust on me.  

In Thoongavanam I would like to be an actor and a producer only


The initial days of directing the legend

I was not nervous as regards film making. I have all along been doing that only. Only difference was sir used to call the shots and used to lead us. We used to keep everything else related to the shot ready. Sir used to come, make changes, will improvise and then go. 
At the shooting spot, the usual practice of Kamal sir is to come, give all the instructions and go to the caravan for his make-up to get ready. This time, he got down from the car, went straight to the caravan. Within ten minutes, the make-up man came running saying that sir wants to know if he can get ready. I got tensed because he never came to the set. Anyways, I said ok and asked sir to get ready. Twenty minutes later, he came again saying that sir is ready and is wondering if he can come now. I said ok and he came, took my instructions, did his job and this went on for three days continuously. We all got freaked out. 
In fact I forgot and I even acted out a scene to show him!!! Sanu pointed this out to me and asked, ‘Do you realize what you just now did?” It never even occurred to me and then, it dawned on me that I showed HOW TO ACT to the legend who teaches everyone acting!!!! But he was cool, must have realized that I am going with the flow!!! Even when we asked for ‘one more’ he used to oblige and had no hang ups.

I showed HOW TO ACT to the legend


What about re-takes for Kamal?

He is very professional, if it is required, he would do it. No issues at all! But I have to be clear and justify. Just for the sake of asking, if you do, he will kill you! He is very sharp. Even before you ask for retake, he would know that the shot requires retake. And as regards Thoongavanam, he has written the screenplay and so he knows things perfectly. Leave aside the re-takes for him, there are many young artists in the film who had required retakes. In those scenes, sir had to simply react, that’s all. But he patiently stood for so many retakes for their sake without complaining. Others would have opted for easy way out, but sir is not like that. It is about the craft for him, the project for him.

Just for the sake of asking, if you do, he will kill you!


How did you manage an ensemble experienced cast? 

From the beginning, sir’s films have always been big budgeted with big star cast and I am used to handling them and was not awe-struck by them. Actually it is very easy and not like how we think. If you are very clear about your craft and scheduling, there is nothing that you should worry about. They are all well experienced, have worked in many films under many directors and cinematographers. When something goes wrong for them, they would definitely get upset. Here there is no room for such things. 
Prakash Raj was very cooperative, he delivers 200% performance, finishes his scenes fast. These established artists complete their work in 10-15 minutes which you had planned for 2 hours. It was a delight to shoot Kamal sir-Prakash Raj sir scenes. We enjoyed them, used to complete the shoot in five minutes and chat for an hour.

I am not awe-struck by stars



Trisha is a good friend of mine and I always used to tell her that when I will be directing, I would ask her to be the lead in my film. When the talks about casting came I felt Trisha can be considered. Sir also approved and asked me to approach her. 
She is very professional and comfortable to work with. She has done excellently in Thoongavanam which incidentally is her 50th film. I was happy that I had directed her in her landmark film. She was also doubly excited because her 50th film is with Kamal sir. She has done an extraordinary character in the film which she has never done before. Her action blocks would be interesting.

I was happy that I directed Trisha in her landmark film


Action sequences

This film in itself is not unreal. It is not a heroic film. At the same time, it will have all the elements that Kamal sir’s fans would require. Fights will be extremely human and not super-heroic or larger than life. You will feel the pain for every blow. If somebody gives you a big blow, it would take some time for you to get up and return his blow. We have taken care of these things. One does not have to teach Kamal sir how to react to blows. He is brilliant. 

Kamal sir knows to take blows


“What Kamal has done to me, I would not have done to my AD”

Whoever has worked in the movie feels that this movie will be a hit because it is a straight, very clean, entertainer with no complications. A story such as this, if you ask me, I would never give to my AD for direction. I would say NO or if there is a pressure, I would feel bad about handing over this story to someone or I will make sure my hand is there in it. But what Kamal sir has given me is something HUGE. That shows his magnificence and large heartedness. Nobody will do such a thing.


In your very first film, you have directed the legend. In your subsequent films, you need to go further than this. What are your game plans for this?

I don’t have any plans. If sir wants me as an AD in his next film, I will do it. My close friends and family members used to ask me how I am going to go up in life if I am just working for Raaj Kamal only. I would like to tell them one thing. Irrespective of the box office collections or the criticisms or the various feedbacks, Kamal sir has only been doing films that he likes. Raaj Kamal does only quality films that it believes in. It gives me 100% satisfaction just to be a part of this organization. I am taken care of quite well here and the excitement for a director when he is involved in good work, I have that in abundance here. What more one needs? I am contented and that’s why to take on the mantle of Thoongavanam did not incite great levels of excitement in me. Of course, I am happy with the fact that sir has recognized my work.

If sir wants me as an AD in his next film, I will be one


It is said that you will be directing Mouli sir’s story next. Is it true?

At any given point of time, Raaj Kamal will be involved with three to four stories which would be in different stages of production. We have already started the pre-production work for our next project, this project is ready for release, sir is writing a script; there is so much of work happening in the office. Sir will be announcing his next soon.


Wish you all the best Rajesh!


Jyothsna Bhavanishankar






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