Speaking with director Vishnuvardhan can be a really engaging experience. He is a man who wears his heart on his sleeve and speaks his mind. He doesn’t mince words, and you have to be watchful always. Ahead of the release of Yatchan, we catch up with this flamboyant man at editor Sreekar Prasad’s place.

The interview begins with the mandatory question on Yatchan’s birth and Vishnu is all too ready ...

“It all began before Arrambam. Yatchan was actually a short story which came in Vikatan, written by writer duo Subha. Before publishing the story, they narrated the idea to me and also asked my permission for allowing them to use my character in the story. I gave them the go ahead, and also asked them to actually do it as a film, since the idea was so good. They were game for it, provided I directed, as I myself come in the story.

Yatchan is close to my roots and after Arrambam’s release, the idea struck me again. We took the core, and developed a new story, screenplay and that’s how the film began. Subha were surprised when I took up this film, after a biggie like Arrambam but for me, scale doesn’t matter. The idea has to be good and relatable.”

The film seems to be like Pattiyal. Was it deliberate or it so happened?

“When we deliberately try to do something, it just doesn’t work. It will turn out fake. My natural self is more inclined towards the Arindhum Ariyamalum and Pattiyal kind, and I relate more to such ideas. I actually give my style and energy to all my characters, including Ajith. Both the local and suave personalities.”

How has the relationship with Subha benefited you as a creator?

“They are very good storytellers and I love listening to them. I use them as a mirror to bounce off my ideas and sharpen them. Interactions with them will enhance what I have in mind. They both are close to 60 years old and have been friends for about 40 years. I am surprised looking at them.”

The importance of writers and screenwriters

“There is a very bad idea in the Tamil film industry that directors should write their stories. It just doesn’t work like that. Screenwriting is a separate skillset altogether while direction is more audio-visual driven. Not all directors can be screenwriters and not all screenwriters can be directors.

I keep saying that we need more writers. It’s very healthy to adapt films from stories, novels & short stories. In the beginning of Yatchan, we clearly mention that it is derived from a Vikatan short story. We have so much literature and I am always on the lookout for a good story to make a film out of.

Directors should be like the co-writers, as their involvement will always be there in the presentation of the script, to adapt the source material and then infuse their style and sensibilities. A screenwriter’s version can’t be made into a film just like that. In that sense, I am the co-writer along with the original screenwriters.”

How is the going with DoP Om Prakash, after your regular outings with Nirav Shah before him?

“I generally gel well with cameramen due to my own visual background. Nirav got really busy and I couldn’t wait for him. I am really happy that he got occupied with work. The going has been good with Omi as his aesthetic sense is good.

There were about 6 cameramen who worked in Billa, and about 4 in Arrambam. But I could maintain that consistency in the visual output. The 2nd unit in Arrambam was actually handled by me. I have never had problems with the visuals in my films.”

The difference in the working styles of Nirav and Om?

“The difference is vast when you travel from one cameraman to another. Om is little more mad (the madness is inside). He is very contemporary and up to date with technology. He is also very good in adapting to directors and their styles. Nirav is more classic in his styling and does a great job in lighting. His visual output is superb.”

You seem to work with a closed group of people regularly, like Ajith, Arya, Yuvan, Sreekar Prasad ...

“For me, comfort zones and trust are very important while working. I keep going back to the same set of people. Even if it is with the biggest superstars, if I can’t gel with them then I will lose my charm. I am not here to tick off lists and work with the biggest names back to back. I am here to do my kind of cinema and for my love of cinema. I don’t want to be in the numbers game and run in some race. I will run on my terms.

We work like family and that vibe has to be there. I can’t keep boundaries between myself and my team, and go about in a fake manner. Then it just collapses.

With Sreekar Prasad, he is the best storyteller and I keep going back to him. Editing is also like storytelling, and he is unbeatable in that aspect, till date. And all of them are open to interactions and speak honestly and very openly. You can similarly be open and direct to them. It is easier to work with such people as work gets done better. You can’t work with people who aren’t independent and who speak on behalf of many other people who may have influenced them.
Speaking about relationships, lyricist Pa Vijay had the title rights of Yatchan but he was more than happy to give it to me when I briefed him about what I was going to do. He has written all the songs in the film, except the Champion song by Psycho Unit, which comes in the RR.”

Directing your own brother Krishna finally?

“It was actually a torture with him. I used to be told by my mother repeatedly to make a film with Krishna. But I was clear that I would fit him in my film only if it was apt. And nobody can make anybody a star. He or she has to put in the hard miles, face hardships and come up. Then only, they will understand the value. Krishna similarly is trying to find his way and luckily, in Yatchan I saw him as one of the two characters. Both Arya, who is like another brother, and Krishna were my first choices.

Krishna initially found it tough to get used to my way of working and the mood in my sets, after his previous experiences. He felt nervous. Here we don’t have any star traps and special treatment. But in about a week, he got used to it. Arya on the other hand knows exactly what it is. I have taken extra care for Krishna’s dubbing, and without makeup he looks really good in my film.”

How do you see his career panning out?

“I have never interfered in his choices because as I said, people have to find their own way and experience that self-realization. Till now, his choices have been good and he is trying to find his way. I am sure he will crack it soon, on his own. We are all there to watch him and back him, but the important break will be after his own hardships. Those who have seen Yatchan have really liked his performance, as his character is such. So the signs are good.”

There are some who feel that Yuvan has fallen from his throne. Your comments?

“Yuvan stood by me when I was nothing. He will always be there in my films. For Yatchan, I was asked to look for other composers (on a good intent). But I was firm and asked people to trust me and believe my instinct. Yuvan always had it and still has it, and delivers the best for my films.

Melody has the longer shelf-life compared to all these seasonal mass numbers, and after his dad, Yuvan has that gift for melody. You can never take that away from him. I will call him the ‘King of Melody’. In Yatchan, he has fused the contemporary dubstep into a soulful melody in the song Konjam Konjalai which he has also sung.”

Tell us about your two heroines. Are they any good with Tamil?

“Swati is from a Telugu background and Deepa is from Kannada. Both of them are familiar with the language but they have that accent. We can’t use that accent in the film, even though it sounded very sweet in the pilot. Hasini dubbed for Swati and Raveena dubbed for Deepa, but it won’t look deliberate that a dubbing artiste has spoken for them, as their lip sync would be perfect.

Deepa has that mysterious quality about her, and her character also needed that aspect. It was quite a hunt before finalizing her. Swati is an ‘arathu’, again true to her on-screen character. So half the battle is won, when you cast the right people.

For the villain, we needed an unconventional, fresh face and roped in Adil Hussain of Life of Pi and English Vinglish fame. He is a fantastic actor, though I had a tough time with his Tamil. Luckily, I can converse in Hindi with such non-Tamil actors who are totally alien to the language.”

You have a sense of style even while making raw films. How did that style quotient come about?

“Your personality reflects in your film. Style and attitude are all inherent qualities and just don’t come by employing stylish clothing, accessories and good lighting. If you are influenced and try to make a film like someone else, it will look fake. It took me about 2 years to come out of the Santosh Sivan style. I don’t know how to answer this but it took me sometime to figure out what and how I would do my stuff.

Billa was actually very easy to make, technically. Pattiyal was really tough and I would say it is one of the well-crafted film of mine. It is even studied in film education courses in universities. I feel gratified.”

The film-makers you adore and look up to ?

“Akira Kurosawa - for his compositions, which are unbelievable.
Martin Scorsese - for his attitude and approach.
Guy Ritchie - for his attitude in the treatment of his films.
Ram - he is very real and genuine. I feel very happy seeing him.”

Another film with Thala, as rumored?

“All he needs to do is decide and call me. We both are very comfortable with one another but he should feel like working with me rather than me going and asking him for another film. Then you would know that the person really loves working with you, and you would also put in your best. We generally decide to work together and then only workout the story and other things. But nothing has been decided as of now.”

Regrets on missing out the much-expected Billa 2?

“It was an ethical decision to move out of that project but I always felt that I had to do the film. But Ajith sir was firm in going ahead with the film, and another team took it up.

The prequel was an original idea. When Farhan Akhtar called me before starting Don 2, he said that they were taking off from where they stopped, while I said that we were starting from where it has to start.”

How about a Billa 3 sequel now?

“As I said, he has to just call me. Then we will decide what kind of film it will be. Ajith sir naturally has that attitude and style and I can easily adapt to him. That’s why we click, like a husband - wife pair.”

Other than Ajith & Arya any wish-list of stars to collaborate with?

“There is nothing like that. I just make the kind of films that I like. I actually make films for myself, that’s why I took up Yatchan after Arrambam. I have to enjoy myself while making films. I have actually met a lot of people for work, but somehow my gut instinct told me that it wasn’t going in the right way and I just backed off. Ajith gives me the liberty to make the kind of films that I like.”

Does the result of films like Panjaa affect you?

“Results will never affect me, be it success or failure. You have to accept the responsibility and move on, as it was your decision.

Regarding Panjaa, I tried to make a Telugu film my way. Some people liked it, some people didn’t. But Pawan keeps telling me about it in a good way, whenever we meet. He is an outstanding guy, and is just like Ajith. We clicked well.

You can never do double games with Pawan, he is a fantastic human being. You have to be firm and certain. He is in a different style, like how Ajith is. It would feel like an orgasm working with people like Ajith and Pawan.”

Final words ahead of Yatchan’s release?

“The censor folks were happy and appreciated me for having come up with a clean film without smoking and drinking scenes. Smoking and drinking aren’t needed to show that attitude or style. It wasn’t needed for me in Arrambam or Yatchan. I felt happy when the censor folks told me this. They didn’t have any objections, but I went for some voluntary cuts after the censoring to sharpen the film and make it finer before release.

And the music is being appreciated by one and all. I am happy that I stuck on with Yuvan, as we work genuinely. He has it always. Now am eager for the release and the audience mandate.”

Keep making the films that you love, Sir …