Venkat Prabhu Exclusive Interview
In a span of 7 years, Venkat Prabhu has travelled from directing a bunch of his familiar boys to helming big budget ventures with the likes of Ajith, Suriya and Karthi. Even when he works with the big shots, he maintains his uniqueness and distinct touches. You know what to expect from his films but he manages to surprise too. As the audience is on a guessing game now with regards to the genre of Massu, Kaushik meets Venkat to uncover a few secrets about the film and also engage in a conversation on his life and career.
You have come a long way from Chennai 28 to Mankatha to Massu now. Did you ever imagine that you would come this far?
I have gone with the flow, I should say. Chennai 28 was an experiment and I was skeptical whether it would work out. If not for its success, I would have gone back to acting as the hero’s friend (laughs). But it did, and since then there has been no looking back. I would like to thank producer Charan for believing in the film and reaching it well.
Back then I never thought I would make star films. I still think that films with newcomers and my guys, are my forte. But Thala changed all that (laughs).
Now, such films with newcomers and fresh actors, like Soodhu Kavvum and Jigarthanda, are being spoken about.
So you are like a trendsetter for this indie wave?
Yes, my guys used to come whenever I called, without even listening to the story.
Generally are you into planning your career graph?
I don’t plan like all other directors do (like 2016 will be with this particular star). I just go with the flow and whoever calls me for a film, I just take it up. Some of my folks scold me that I have to be more well-planned but am not that brainy (laughs)
The Venkat Prabhu genre is distinct and much-loved. Who are the biggest contributors and influences in your style?
I would say my team primarily - my assistants, associates and my technical team - Yuvan, Sakthi Saravanan, Praveen, Silva master etc. They listen to my ideas first and contribute to whatever goes into my films. We don’t approach it like a proper film, even if it is with a big star. So my team which has travelled all along with me have to be the biggest contributing factors to the ‘Venkat Prabhu Genre’. And I have been lucky when producers and artistes also welcomed my ideas and gave them the go-ahead. All this has played a part in my style.
Other than that, I am a big fan of Stephen Chow’s films. Films like Kung Fu Hustle fascinate me. But we can’t do such films with stars here, and I have to go back to my boys for such films.
Did Anjaan’s result play a part in the way Massu shaped up?
Suriya sir tried something new in Anjaan which he hadn’t done before. We didn’t discuss much about it, but the film wasn’t as bad as made out to be. Expectations killed it. Suriya must have decided to go ahead with Lingusamy sir based on a belief, but it didn’t work out for him. Not just due to Anjaan, he has always been someone who looks for believability and realism in films. But with a title like Massu, the film would certainly have some crowd-pleasing elements without being over-the-top or illogical.
And in Massu, I wanted to break that cliche that Venkat Prabhu films would always have an item dance and scenes glorifying smoking and drinking. Massu doesn’t have smoking scenes, has very less drinking scenes, has no violence and is a kids-friendly film. (Eventually the film has got a U from the censors, though in this chat Venkat had talked about being ready for a U/A too because of the film’s genre)
But these typical Venkat Prabhu elements worked well for Mankatha right?
It worked out great for the film. Vinayak epitomized all bad things - womanizing, cheating on a girlfriend, betrayal and of course smoking and drinking. As the baddie, all these things were very apt for Ajith sir.
Have you faced complaints about these elements ?
My little daughter’s friend complained to me that she was not allowed to see Goa since it was A-rated. I felt really bad and wanted to do a film for kids. That has now happened with Massu. More than just guys, Suriya sir has a big base with the family crowd and I had to make sure to cater to that segment. But there is a small drinking scene in Massu too. Can’t think of a movie without such a scene (laughs)
Now did the horror-comedy success trend influence your choice to base Massu on a similar genre?
You have to see the film and write about what genre it falls under. We didn’t pre-plan the film because of the horror comedy success wave. Suriya sir himself used to ask me if our film was falling under a similar shade as other recent hits. I used to convince him that it wasn’t. The film belongs to a proper commercial genre which would be universally liked by all. First time, I am seriously delving into a touching story with heavy emotions. The film definitely won’t be like Kanchana 2 or Yaamirukka Bayamey. But it will have enjoyable, edge of the seat moments.
The songs like Piravi and Naan Aval Illai hint at a deep emotional quotient ?
Naan Aval Illai talks about falling in love for the 2nd time while Piravi is a soul stirring song which comes at a good moment. I wouldn’t say these emotions haven’t been handled before in other films, but you can say, these are forgotten emotions.
We also had a nice folk song, tuned by Yuvan and arranged by Thaman. But when we saw the film, the song didn’t gel well and would have surely turned out as a smoking break or a loo break. I don’t want that to happen here. Some films run just for certain songs, but here I am trusting my story. Lets see.
6th straight time with Yuvan! Where does Massu stand, compared to all your outings?
More than the songs, Yuvan’s BGM score would be highly spoken about. He has tried out new things with the orchestration and like how Mankatha theme is now synonymous with Thala for any of his birthdays, the Massu theme would be for Suriya. We have 2 themes in the album and many more in the film. We two don’t want to repeat what we have done before and there is no question of comparisons.
Yuvan keeps telling me that we should work on a pure love story. But somehow it doesn’t happen. I would love to work with a love story written by another director like Gautham Menon or Selvaraghavan and treat it in my way while directing. I keep asking them whenever we meet, but it doesn’t happen.
A childish question but still out of excitement. Mankatha theme or Massu theme?
You tell me (laughs). Both are in a different genre. While Mankatha theme was a gangster hiphop kinda theme, Massu theme is more grungy, heavy metal type. If you ask me currently, it would be Massu.
So are you a Kutti Shankar now? After all the CG and VFX work in Massu, what’s your understanding and perspective now?
We actually approached the CG part with a bit of fear. Audiences here are now exposed to Hollywood films like Transformers and can easily dismiss what we have done. We don’t have that budget or scale here, and neither do Hindi movies despite their universal market. I wonder how Shankar sir’s films from the beginning and a film like Dasavatharam could pull off such complex CG. We have tried to give some thrill to the audience with our CG, and I think it has come out well. It would be as authentic and close to real as possible.
My understanding of CG is improving and sometime in the future, I would love to do a CG film for kids, like Jumanji. I have certain ideas. But a lot of pre-planning is required and a good budget too, which most of the directors here don’t get.
What’s your personal connect and equation with Suriya and Karthi? What are the similarities and differences in them as actors?
Both of them are thorough professionals and very director-friendly. As an actor, Karthi is more casual, spontaneous and relaxed while Suriya is into preparation and literally ‘performs’. Suriya is generally a quiet person and thinks a lot for a role and how to go about it, whereas Karthi just turns up and does the job. For a portion in Massu, Suriya has really rocked and you would say WOW.
Personally, we all went to the same school. We weren’t friends as such and didn’t hang-out and all. Now, we have gotten closer after working together, and I particularly gel better with Suriya due to our similar ages, though he looks like my younger brother (laughs). Karthi is 2 years our junior.
Coming to the superstars, Suriya and Ajith, who was easier to bring to your mould?
I was close to Ajith sir even before Mankatha. He has always been like an elder brother and a well-wisher. He is like that with all his known people. He recommended me for films and we even acted together in Ji. During Mankatha’s shoots, he used to always hang around even when his shots weren’t canned. He used to even change his costumes outside his caravan and never went in.
Suriya sir was more professional and formal in the initial stages of Massu and used to go inside his caravan as soon as his shots got over. But with time, he also started hanging around and used to sit and chat with us. We brought him to our wavelength. I think he will miss us for sure (laughs).
All the style and screen presence aside, is Ajith an underrated actor ? Are his skills being under-utilized?
He is a good performer no doubt. For that role, he did complete justice. Playing a baddie isn’t easy but Ajith sir did it casually. That doesn’t make his performance any lesser. Ajith sir has that psychotic, evil look in his eyes and while bringing out such shades, he is top-notch. When he realizes that the money is lost, the way he transforms is just mindblowing. You wouldn’t have imagined that this character would go to such extremes. You can easily extract performances from Ajith sir.
The much-awaited union with Ilayathalapathy Vijay?
I would love to. Wherever I go, Vijay fans ask me about a film with their Thalapathy. I even have a line but I have to develop it into a story and narrate it soon to him.
Do you have to make compromises to your core style, to suit the bigger stars?
Fans of Ajith sir or Suriya sir have to enjoy the film and I will make sure that it happens. I would go beyond my limits. Of course, I can’t do things that I do with Jai, Vaibhav and Premgi with Ajith sir or Suriya sir. Their fans have to be satisfied and it is really tough to satisfy expectations of fans as each would be having different parameters and norms.
Like how it is with your boys, now do you feel at ease with the stars too?
It is going fine now, but fulfilling fans’ expectations is the real deal. They can never be fully pleased. There are people who don’t like Mankatha too.
Coming to your long running love affair with cricket, tell us about the sport’s part and influences in your life.
I have been a big fan of cricket since long and now thanks to me, my daughter is also into the sport big time. She is a CSK fan.
I used to play street cricket as a kid, and during my education in London, I used to play for my university and also for many clubs. I was a decent player - a middle order batsman in the mould of Jadeja and an off-spinner. My friends used to say that I was good enough to play for the Indian team too (laughs). During the mid 90s, the Indian team was having a torrid tour of England and that time, my friends were poking me to go and play for the team and save some pride for the country (laughs).
Was the ‘Sixer’ tagline due to your cricket success sentiment with films like Chennai 28, Saroja and Mankatha?
(Laughs) I wasn’t aware. Now only I realize it, after you say so. It so happened that my first film was based on cricket - a sport which I really love. The sixer tagline also just so happened. We thought of options like ‘A Venkat Prabhu Title’ and ‘A Venkat Prabhu Class’ but finally this being the 6th film, ‘Sixer’ was decided as the one.
There is a sequel buzz always with your films like Chennai 28 and Mankatha. How does it feel? Burdened by the demand?
I feel happy that there is such a sequel demand for these two films. I have also thought of 2 or 3 ideas but the opportunities to take them up haven’t happened. I will feel the pressure and burden of expectations only if I go ahead with a sequel.
Something like this idea. Maybe the guys have to come back for a rivalry match after 8 long years. They will all be married, with kids, in a totally unfit state with a paunch and all. It’s tough for them to get back that shape, as all of them have become big (laughs).
The most feasible sequel among your films?
Mankatha 2. I have a line but don’t know when and how it will turn out. Will think about all the pressure and stuff, when it happens.
Will you ever make a film without the trio of Yuvan, Praveen and Premgi. Are comfort zones important for you ?
Why? You don’t like me with them. Yes, comfort zones are important. I never thought I would make a film without Sakthi sir but it has happened. It is good to actually work with another person, on good terms.
I want to work with my Periappa (Ilayaraja) in a proper village subject with my boys. Then of course Rahman sir, Anirudh, Thaman, Imman. Each of them is doing fine in his space.
Yuvan is my brother. I don’t want any complications in our family (smiles). I am happy with him.
A question on public demand now. Will you feel tense while narrating a story to your Periappa?
Of course, I will be tense (allu vitrum) particularly for narrating cheeky love scenes and stuff. I will have starting trouble but will manage.
Am not sure myself. I will be doing my next for Escape Artists Madan sir. I have narrated a line and it will be a surprising thing. It will again be a ‘film’ in my style and not an artistic endeavor.
Why not make a full-length spoof?
There have been spoof elements in all my films but I didn’t take the efforts to make a full-fledged movie on it. Amudhan took the lead. I have no idea in that regard, for now.
Keep the spirits up always, VP. Stay the same !!!