Home > Interviews


Interview Team : Abishek Raaja; Venkat; Jeevakaran; Maris

Art director Muthuraj talks about his strokes for 'I' and much more. The ideal man who can talk about the movie and the team. How did he manage a crew of over 200 people in the art department and what sort of a research went into the making of the songs? He also shares his love for cinema and respect for Vikram, Shankar and PC Sreeram.


You look like a baddie in a Sundar C film? Will you take up acting sometime? 

Opportunities came my way (laughs) but I didn't go for it. Let's stick to what we are good at.


Over 40 films and 150 commercials - is it because you are extremely good with what you do or is it because you love your work? 

I think I don't belong to the first category, but the latter is true. I just love working. I am ready to be immersed into my sets all day long. I don't mind getting exposed to the dust from the work I do. I want to mark areas, erect sets, give touch ups and get briefed by the directors. 

All I want to do is art direction 


You are the first recognized assistant of Sabu Cyril. How did that happen? 

Firstly, I have to be ever grateful to my drawing master Padmarajan sir. If not for him, I never would have had the inclination for this art form. It was he, who recognized the talent in me and converted me into a professional. It was his personal advice that took me to the Government Arts College. When I used to show him the final drawing, he used to ask me for the corrections I would do by myself before the submission. I have never seen him angry or raise his voice. The way he taught me is what I'm today. Even now, I love the process involved, more than the final output. 
Sabu sir used to visit my college and have a look at our work. He somehow liked mine and took me as an assistant. When I was imagining film based art work to be sophisticated and organized, the actual world was completely different. An art director has to be a painter, sculptor, carpenter and an efficient manager extracting work from his team. We have to be extremely patient and also have the spatial knowledge to predict and forecast. 
Sabu sir is my second guru. I learnt what it takes to be an art director and how it can be an insult if somebody appreciated your work. Miniature designing became my favorite because of him. From him, I learnt the intricacies and the specifications. He used to experiment with all the technical advancements and tweak them to our needs and comforts. His strain for perfection and eye for detail can surprise you. He will so meticulously work for all those tiny, little things and I have even felt weird at times. The work he spent time on sometimes might not even be visible on frame, but when you watch the movie, you will know why he is Sabu Cyril. All my insights on art direction are what I experienced with him
I would sight an example. When Mohanlal had to play an obese character, others might have thought of stuffing him, Sabu sir chose to fill him up with plastic bags and water packets. So even when the character laughs, there will be a shake throughout his body and it looked so real. All these minute details fascinated me. His ability to go in depth and crack the reality is what I love about him and his work. I am still trying to do half of what he has already done.

Sabu's eye for detail can freak you out 


I and you? 

After Nanban, when Shankar sir told me about 'I', excitement is what I felt. 'I' is not a movie; it is an ambitious vision; it is a bold attempt. For an art director, you can't ask for a better script to exploit your lifelong learning. From the slum areas of Chennai to China's grandeur, 'I' has everything for an art director. The number of genres involved in this movie can make an art director run for his knowledge. From hi-tech ad agencies to mythology to action portions to what not.. Shankar is always clear about what he wants and what he doesn't want also. For songs, there will be special discussions and pre-production work. There is not a single frame in the film without the art work. With all the get-ups and the set-work, only very few portions in China were shot outdoor. Most of the film was either shot inside studios or in a created set. We couldn't afford to expose Vikram to the real locations considering his condition, make-up and we were trying to retain the secrecy of his role until promotions started. 
Even a passing shot of a vehicle or crowd was done under controlled environments. If the character is walking across a temple, even that is a set. One thing Shankar was sure about was, what we are doing is totally new and cannot be done for a while. While working, I could witness the tireless efforts of Vikram, Shankar and PC sir. I knew that all the sleepless nights and continuous work are for an international product that is going to bring about a charm and much respect. 'I' is an incredible movie. I am as restless as the audience to see the final product.
The art department was the largest of all. Set works started much before the shoot went on floors. We were a team of over 200 people. All credits go to my assistants and every individual member of the art team. In other movies, I might go mark the points to make the sets, be there to supervise and give final touch ups. But for 'I', I lived at the sets. Every time before Shankar said ‘Action’, days of our work would have gone into it. Post 'I', people might call me for any type of film and not just restrict me to a specific genre. 


I could have constructed a series of houses with the energy and time spent for the sets of 'I'


Explain the love between you and PC Sreeram

There were days when I used to go watch Idhayathai Thirudadhe every morning. When PC sir's name came on screen, I used to get on the chair and shout my lungs out. I'm the biggest fan of his work. He is the only camera man who can light up for not just the artists on screen, but also the setting, the background, the dialogues and even the emotions involved. He is a magician. My very ordinary sets have gone to a whole new level after his Midas touch. His understanding about the craft is amazing. I never imagined I would get a chance to work with him. When Shankar sir told him, I'm the art-director, he couldn't believe. With all my villainous looks, he always had the doubts. Over time, we became friends.
From the sketches I work, he would grab an understanding and light up. When the shot is ready, I will be surprised to see the resemblance in my sketch with what is seen in the monitor. He would come to me and ask, 'Muthu? Frame looks like your sketch'. As usual, I will be stunned and blank.

I am PC's biggest fan 

The maximum, the art team and you, had to go for 'I'? 

I was more into the conceptualization. My assistants are everything. For close to three years, they have given their lives. Be it the sleep or timely food or some rest, everything was compromised. With the same team, I could have built a series of houses with the time and energy spent. Carpenters, painters, sculptors, moulders and people to exclusively move things around were hand-picked and recruited. There is a transition in Vikram's looks. We had to work based on his changing physique. There were times when we had to do really big sets in 10 days and move onto another. 

Art department for 'I' was as big as a whole crew 


Shankar and his songs are inseparables. Anything on that? 

Every song in 'I' has a template and a pattern. Even the song shot in the picturesque locations of China had some art work. If we needed some flowers for the foreground, we had to run kilometers away, bring the same type of flower and have it arranged. Mersalaayitten has got the local Chennai connect. Maximum time was spent on ageing the sets and getting them close to reality. With lots of graphics involved, the art department had to work hand in hand with Weta. Most of them came from Hollywood. They were shocked to see the way we work. Some massive sets just had a stick supporting them. They couldn't believe the work we did with so much of constraints and limitations. 
The Aila Aila song has a series of advertisements in it. We have shown eloquent settings existing in this world. We have pulled off a lemon like pool. The swimming pool will resemble like the slice of a pool. For all the Shankar songs you've ever seen, the work in 'I' is something that even he's not done till date. 
The beast song is almost a film on its own terms. The make-up, the special props for the dancers, the throne on which Vikram sits and the special creatures we've created for the song are all a result of yearlong research. The song started off with the beauty and the beast concept, but later we added so much of progressive inputs. The sketches were constantly re-worked to get a final draft. Huge sculptures were handmade for the song. It's a literal statue like creation. Not just a 2D board!      
You can make another big-budgeted film from just the songs we've shot for 'I'. Rahman's magical tunes have been matched with some breath-taking visuals and performances.


Songs in I are equivalent to a movie's effort 

Anything about Vikram? 

He is not a human being. He is a gift from God.  Will any other artist go to this extent to justify a role? Dedication and Vikram are synonymous. He has almost pledged his life for 'I'. Nobody can reprise or even attempt what he has done for I. It was soul-stirring to see the pain he had to go through. If we sympathized, he would feel odd about it. I have personally seen all that he went through. He is the epitome of willpower and commitment. From a beastly body builder to a hunchback, Vikram looks convincingly real. His body obeys him. For more than 4 years, I have been trying to reduce my weight but in vain. He completely changes himself into somebody. The character transformation he went through is probably the first of its kind you'll witness. 
From over 90 kgs, he went to the 40s in just a month. How can somebody do that? For the hunchback role, he had to reduce so much of weight in order to deal with the heavy make-up. We had a small AC box for him to sit inside. During the shoots, before the shot got ready, we used to take him around, in the box, which had a wheel attached to it. 
When he came out of the box while the shot was ready and if somebody was working on the sets, the very sound of a hammer on a nail would send unbearable pain to his body. He was so feeble and weak. A mere look at him can terrify us. There were times when we had to repeatedly call him; the complete starving had dampened his senses. Who will do all this? Can somebody go to this extent? Vikram is a phenomenal artist. Your accolades and even the awards can't suffice the effort he's taken to give life to Shankar's dream.  


Vikram is not a human being 


We thought you would go on a break post 'I'

Yes, with Shankar's assistant this time! Working with Chimbudevan is like working with another art-director. Puli is a fantasy film. We are not following any creative pattern as such. It is also quite big in terms of the sets. We have created our own world to suit the script. Songs and talkie portions are the highlights. 

You are going to see a Magadheera like Vijay 


Rapid fire !!! 

1. You might have worked really hard for it, but we are not going to notice it in 'I'? 
    All the set work other than work for the songs.
2. A frame without your work?   
    Censor certificate
3. Did you drool over Amy? 
    She has the anatomy of a perfect model. 
4. Vijay?
    What happens to Vijay after the director says action?




This page hosts exclusive interviews with actors, actresses, film technicians and related celebrities. The interviews are generally personal views of the guest about their projects and film related matters. People looking for information about actors, actresses, directors, music directors, cameramen and other technicians will find this page useful.