“Uttama Villain with K Balachander sir is a good parting gift”

“I know writing is such a tough job, I am thankful that Kamal sir wrote the script for Uttama Villain making my work very easy”

“Andrea is very natural, she can’t fake it”

“The sooner you understand and accept that people’s views differ, the better it is”

“The titles given like story, screenplay and direction are very conditional. They are not a compulsory need but just a habit”

“When the idea of a film maker appeals to the audience, it becomes a superhit movie, but when it doesn’t appeal, it just doesn’t”

Interviewed by - Anita Raghuraman
Designed by -
PRO - Kaushik LM

To create magic, a masterpiece and a true phenomenon, more than great talent and exorbitant budget, it takes modesty, simplicity and honesty. With extreme patience, answering questions in an interview that lasted for more than forty minutes, Ramesh Aravind has stolen my heart, explaining the process of translating a story into visuals in Uttama Villain. An artist in every true sense, with passion running in his blood and the sincerity to showcase the work of art, Ramesh Aravind is not just a true performer-actor but also an endearing director. While he has written and directed many films in Kannada and has also acted in various Tamil films, Uttama Villain marks his debut entry as a director in the Tamil film industry.

What is your approach towards direction? Do you plan everything that goes on screen or are some elements left to the set up and the situation?

There is a saying that goes like this, ‘Keep the windows of a set open, God knows what will come flying inside’. Now this also doesn’t mean that we have scattered brains. We go to the set fully prepared with a script but you never know what happens during the shooting. This is how Kamal sir has worked and so has K Balachander sir. KB sir was phenomenal and he improvises on the set like nobody else. This approach has completely worked in his films and we know how great his films were.

Here in Uttama Villain, we had a pool of talent on the sets and the script writer himself was the actor in the lead role. Everyone comes up with their own inputs to make it look better. So we always had an open discussion regarding every little improvisation. The communication was so smooth and transparent that we spoke about every part and then went on to shoot.

Filmmaking has evolved. Or was it the same way during the 90s era, where a lot depended on the shooting situation to decide a scene?

Yes, this reminds me of films taken in the 1990s era, where I have gone on shoots with just 3 or 4 pages of the script. And this experience has led me into thinking what a fiasco it is to go unprepared. It is important to keep all the actors and the crew on the same page. So I am completely up for preparing the script but I keep my windows open too. If any extremely creative idea comes in then it is most welcome.

Like the interviewer in the film says, Kamal's movies are all about good moments. Be it the KB intro scene or dad and son scene or the car scene with Andrea, how did you create them? What happened behind those scenes?

See, the main reason behind those moments to happen was the rapport between the cast and the crew on the set. Kamal is always up for showing realism in his films. He is so particular that the actors shouldn’t merely act and that there has to be reality in it. We had all the experienced cast on one side and the newcomers on the other side. While KB sir and others knew how to depict that realism, the youngsters were so enthusiastic about learning that art. Kamal has fine tuned their characters at par excellence that each and every scene went on floors effortlessly. When we read the script we knew that these moments are going to be aced by him. The character sketching was so in-depth and clear that everyone caught on to their roles and understood them so beautifully. The sole reason for those highlight moments was the characterisation and complete understanding of the same.

Now even after ten years people will definitely ask us about Chokku Chettiar. That’s how clearly each character is defined in the film and that’s what has helped the moments to stand out.

Somewhere did you even think if the old century portions were needed? Some people were so moved by the scenes that showed the life of a film star that they felt the folklore portions weren't even needed...

Yes, we did talk about it. So this is what happened. We knew that the story was about this star wanting to make his last film with his Guru. And the criteria was to choose a script that makes people laugh and it has to be a comedy film. Kamal had already read about so many aspects to showcase comedy. The idea that clicked for everyone was to showcase folklore. When Kamal asked me to read an English novel that had such instances, I loved it. It was funny and it made sense.

On one side there is a man who is about to die and on the other side there is a man who has no death. He is immortal. Now choosing Theyyam as its folklore was a choice. Amidst a platter of so many forms of art, this was chosen in particular for no other reason but a simple choice. We have stuck to that choice throughout the film and it has helped to create that thematic unity.

Therefore, Uttama Villain is about two contrasting characters. But why Hiranyan’s story to end the film? It could be a story of any king in a kingdom.

Well, that’s the conscious choice of the story writer again. But to justify your question, initially he starts off as a theater artist and plays the role of Arjun. Our point was to showcase an immortal character and we had also decided to use folklore. While looking upon ancient stories that had such characters we saw that Prahaladan was one who always escaped death. We have heard stories about how he could never die. And on the other hand Hiranyan had also asked for a boon to escape death and become immortal - precisely he had taken ‘Sagavaram’. We know he can’t die in the morning, noon or night; he can’t die inside or outside the house and so on and so forth. Here we can’t possible use any other character. The point was to show people who could defy death. So these two characters depict strong immortality and hence we thought it has to be Hiranyan’s play in the end.

Direction is an art of storytelling more than captaining a ship. With Kamal's story, how did you translate it into a work of art?

Absolutely, it is a complete translation of the script into an audio visual format. With all that said and done, I have to give it to the artists. They made the characters so real that the story could be carried ahead at ease. The entire cast knew what is to be done and they made the script alive.

So Manoranjan is the person who is a superstar and Uttama is like playing to the gallery kind of an approach. When Kamal is acting, his story he is very clear. He knows what exactly needs to be on the frame. Now when I have my screenplay writer and the story writer with me, it became all the more easier.

But how close could you get to the script not written by you?

Now this trend is universal. Everyone in the world takes a movie like that. In Hollywood there are so many departments individually. Direction itself can be split into multiple departments while script writing and screenplay writing can be two different things. Someone like Balachander is lucky to excel in both. On the other hand Kamal’s writing is brilliant. The titles given like story, screenplay and direction are very conditional. They are not a compulsory need but just a habit. I know writing is such a tough job, I am thankful that Kamal sir wrote the script for Uttama Villain making my work very easy.

As a matter of fact even I have written scripts in Kannada and they have been directed by different directors. One film titled Amruthadhare was my story directed by Nagathihalli Chandrashekhar where Amitabh Bachchan acted and it won an award for Best Story. So, such collaborative work is healthy and I would completely support that.

Let's face it, it is difficult to understand what goes into Kamal's head. Is he really hard to be convinced as an actor like he is in the movie?

Well he is so perfect that there is no way we would ask for retakes or any extra takes but he would be completely fine with doing that. This reminds me of an incident that happened during the shooting of a scene. The shot of Pooja Kumar’s entry, it is a perspective shot where there was jimmy jib with so many people in the set, many dialogues and there were too many things happening at the same time. We spent half a day just for her entry and Kamal sir did not say a word for the number of retakes we took that time. While we were wondering what was wrong, post lunch we realised that it is a mistake from the direction team. We had kept the door on the different side moving away from its original place. When we told Kamal sir about this he was astoundingly calm and he was up for another take. So he is an absolute bliss to work with as he understands every aspect of filmmaking in its core form. And our communication levels were very high. We kept every other discussion open to each other and made it simple for everyone.

Be it the scene that shows fish jumping and the interval block coming, or the dark shadow he sees when he falls down after his last shot, the symbolism showed in these scenes are impeccable. And these will be evident in a Kamal film. How?

When I first heard that shot where fish were fighting for their last breath, I was like ‘Wow’. I was very excited to fit it in the film somehow. And all this comes as a part of the script. It can’t be told in any better form. It is a very KB sir’s way of showing things. And obviously traces of KB sir will be highly visible in Kamal. It will be surprising only if it is not. They are not just showcasing the art but it is poetry in its purest form.

Too many scientific and mythological references in the film. Did you ever think the meanings could be conceived differently?

It is a creative choice. One thing we need to understand in films is that, what works for me will not work for someone else. Everyone is entitled to have their own opinion. The sooner you understand and accept that people’s views differ, the better it is. In filmmaking there is no one way to say things. Here it is just the Uttama Villain way of saying it.

There was a time when I watched Balachander’s Sindhu Bhairavi, Bhagyaraj’s Chinna Veedu and Bharathiraja’s Mudhal Mariyadhai as these films released almost at the same time. All these films touched upon one concept - ‘the other woman’. Husband, wife and the other woman. This was the simple idea behind all these three films. But look at the way it is told in the three movies. They were so differently taken though it ran around the same idea.

Here, I am not saying my idea is the perfect way of portrayal, but it is just another idea. This is my way to say it and I am not saying that it is the only way to say it. There is absolutely no guarantee at all.  So why go behind proving if it is right or wrong? It has worked for the majority of the people; may be it has not for some. When the idea of a film maker appeals to the audience, it becomes a superhit movie, but when it doesn’t appeal to people, it just doesn’t. That’s about it.

When you first heard the concept of Sagavaram, where you familiar or did you do your research and understand the concept?

When he first told me about this concept, I told him that it is the Ponal Pogattum Poda of this era. As a writer, when he told me the lines Saagaa Varam Pol Sogam Undo, Theera Kadhaiyai Kaetppar Undo, I said that this is going to be resounding just like Ponal Pogattum Poda. I have the habit of reacting very outrightly when I hear something extremely good. And just like it was expected, the song was beautifully choreographed by Shobi and Lalitha.

While showing parallel stories, the effort involved in editing is immense. How did that magic happen in the edit table?

When you call it magic then I feel awesome about the whole process. But whatever the magic is, it was all mentioned in the script. The script had everything but of course we did add some bits and pieces of it in the end. But we are from the school of KB sir, these kind of edit patterns are done and he has already mastered it.  Here I have to credit Vijay Shankar who can also be called as the ‘Yogi’ editor.

In & Out of Uttama Villain...

- One thing you learnt from the film - I am a much better technician now

- One thing that changed your perception - Accepting opposing views and to let go of small things

- One discovery about yourself after the film - That I can actually sit down without any makeup, sit in the director’s chair and direct a film

- One thing you missed till now that was satiated here - Handling a big budget film with a huge star cast

- One advice you give to the new-age directors - Come on, it is my debut film..

From the horse’s mouth..

> KB sir - This film with him is a good parting gift. His x-ray vision in finding talent is unbelievable.

> K Viswanath sir - He is so sharp as he is titled Kala Tapaswi

> Kamal (tell us something that we don't know) - Nothing that nobody knows. He is just the very master of cinema.

> Chandra Haasan - If everyone had a brother like him, the world will be a happier place.

> Nasser - Immense talent and open to inputs from everyone. Goodness blended with great talent.

> Jayaram - Endearing and a lovable actor

> MS Bhaskar - His range of acting is impeccable. You give him anything and he will do it.

> Gautami - Quality embed. She is multi-talented and versatile.

> Thirrupathi Brothers - They gave us the creative space till Raajkamal delivered the first copy. Wish them success in all their efforts.

> Urvashi- Abundant talent

> Andrea - Very natural and no faking

> Pooja Kumar - A perfect professional

> Parvathy Menon - Extremely committed actor. The way she approaches scenes with book references are brilliant. Very bankable.

> Parvathy Nair - Lively and amicable

> Ashwin - Budding Filmmaker. He has a good eye for movies and am sure he is going to make it big.

> Shamdat (Cinematographer) - The painter with light

> Ghibran - Wonderboy of music

> Ilayaraja (Art director) - Raja Kaiya Vecha, Athu Wrong'ga Ponathilla...

Closing thoughts - Uttama Villain would have not been possible without the whole team - Kamal enabled this film to happen.