The exlusive Shankar in an exclusive interview with Sudhir Srinivasan
The buzz around I is growing by the minute. This has been the case with each of the 11 films you’ve directed so far. How do you manage to create such hype?
I think it’s a result of my desire to deliver with each film I make. I feel I have to outdo my last film, and this causes the expectation you are talking about. Apart from viewing my film as a director, I also try to look at it as a viewer.
And you’re confident that you represent the average viewer?
Why not? I have varied tastes. I love Hindustani music as much as I do gaana. I watch King Kong with the same interest as I do a Kurosawa film.
In trying to cater to the average viewer, do you sometimes feel the pressure to shoehorn elements that you think the audience may want—make the story grander, or shoot a song in an exotic location?
I don’t work with predetermined elements. I do what the story demands. Believe it or not, I have written a script that doesn’t have a single song in it. I will make that film some day.
Is the lack of songs why it hasn’t been made yet?
No, no. It may not have songs, but it has other elements that more than make up for this.
You said at the audio release of I that the film is a romantic thriller and that it’s the first time you’re dealing with this genre. Wasn’t Kadhalan something similar?
When I said it’s a romantic thriller, I was simply trying not to reveal more. The film is quite different from the youthful love story that Kadhalan was. I cannot say anything more.
You also seem to have broken away from your style of alternating between message-oriented and fun films (Gentleman, Kadhalan, Indian, Jeans, Mudhalvan, Boys, Anniyan…).
It would have happened 10 years ago had I made Robot (Enthiran) then. Nanban was also an example of my intention to break this trend. It is quite unlike any film I had made until then. So, that should tell you how eager I am to make films that aren’t usually associated with me.
You also said at the audio release that you wanted unusual music for I, unlike anything Rahman has composed. Have you been worried that this experimentation, most evident in the operatic influences seen in ‘Aila Aila’, may not be received well by the B and C centres?
I think everybody wants something new. When you see Aila’s visuals, you’ll love it even more. As part of the story is about models, we created a compilation of six-seven advertisements that play to this song. There’s also an undercurrent of romance in it. The song is just perfect for the situation. I agree it’s an experiment, but why shouldn’t it be one that works?
Where do you look for your stories?
Everywhere! News items, photographs, television programmes… When I see an unusual person, I immediately start wondering what their backstory could be. This technique helps me come up with interesting stories.
You like to make these grand films, don’t you? We hear I cost around Rs. 150 crore.
For some reason, people like to exaggerate how much I spend on a film. Trust me when I tell you that the budget of I is less than Rs. 100 crore. I try hard to salvage every rupee. When I’m on the spot, I keep my eyes open for equipment we can return and save money. Similarly, people also exaggerate how long I take to make a film. I was planned for release last Diwali. Due to some delays from the production side, we had to stall it a bit. For months, I was sitting idle.
Such stalling must be hard on actors whose shelf-life is lower than a director’s. Somebody like Vikram must have been eager to wrap up work.
Any reasonable filmmaker takes at least a year to finish a film. As for Vikram, he is willing to go all out to do what it takes for a film. When he lost weight for I, it was because he wanted to. Again, there were rumours that I was being unduly harsh on my crew. A stranger who wanted a picture with me suddenly asked, “Why are you torturing Vikram?” I really am not. It was his idea, and I agreed it would be good for the film.
There are very few actors who are willing to push themselves as hard, isn’t it?
I agree. There aren’t too many people out there willing to transform into a role completely like Vikram. Besides, not too many scripts demand such measures. If I don’t get the actor I want for a script, I alter the script accordingly. If it requires too much alteration, I move on (to another script). Filmmaking is a compromise in many ways.
Like how you made Mudhalvan without Rajinikanth?
Well, I wanted to do Mudhalvan with Kamal Haasan too! He was busy with Hey Ram (2000) when I called him about it. By the time I got around to telling him the film’s one-liner, we had already made it with Arjun.
Do you write scripts for heroes, or pick heroes for scripts?
Both ways really. There are some scripts that will work only with one hero. Sivaji, for example, couldn’t have been done with anybody else but Rajinikanth. Enthiran, on the other hand, could have been done with another actor. Filmmaking is unpredictable. Who knows what will click?
Not even you?
(Laughs) Not even me. If I could successfully predict the fate of films, I’d probably quit making movies, and make money with that skill.
Do you see yourself making a low-budget film? Perhaps a small story with everyday characters?
I spoke with the late Sujatha about it. When I asked him if I should, he simply shook his head and said, “Don’t”. He said there were many other directors to do such films but I was one of the few who had the opportunity to make large-scale films. I’m not bored with these films yet, but when that happens, I’m sure I’ll make a low-budget film. After all, the first film I wanted to make was a female-centric village love story with Revathy.
That’s interesting, considering some of your films (Indian, Mudhalvan, Anniyan) have slightly weak female roles.
See, all those films are hero-centric. I just travel with the script, and bring in women who elevate the hero, without unnaturally strengthening their roles. I have written strong female characters too, as in Kadhalan and Jeans. Amy Jackson’s character in I is pivotal. In fact, my first film, Gentleman, was born out of my agony when producers weren’t okay with my female-centric script. Here, take my anti-hero!
That free time you mentioned while making I…. did you manage to finish some other script?
I have almost finished three! I’m not sure which one I’ll start work on next though.
Enthiran’s sequel maybe?
Yes, I really want to make its sequel with Rajinikanth, but I don’t know if it will be next, or even if it will happen at all. For now, I’m waiting to hear from my producer about the release of I.
Credits : The Hindu