by Sreedhar Pillai
Bharat Bala is an ad filmmaker better known across India for his association with AR Rahman’s Vande Mataram album and music video released on the 50th anniversary of India's independence.
It was the largest selling Indian non-film album and has been instrumental in instilling a sense of national pride and unity among the people of India. Who can forget the title song Maa Tujhe Salaam?
Bharat Bala and AR Rahman came together again three years later to create another historic album Jana Gana Mana (2000) and its impressive video. Bala went on to direct the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games as well.
Now the best friends are together again after 13 years with Bala’s first feature film in Tamil, Maryan, starring Dhanush who is a national award winning Tamil actor (son-in-law of superstar Rajinikanth) and Parvathi Menon. Bala had earlier done an art-house Hindi movie Hari Om, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival.
In an exclusive interview with Firstpost, Bharat Bala opens up.
So, you are back with Rahman for your first feature film in Tamil, Maryan...
AR Rahman and I go a long way back to the days when he used to make jingles for the advertising agency I worked for. We have done two albums together and it was only natural that we team up again when I launched my first feature film Maryan in Tamil.
What’s Maryan about?
Maryan, translated into English means - The Man Who Never Dies. It revolves around the story of human survival and the will to live, about a guy who is miles away from his beloved. It is a true story based on a newspaper article of a real-life crisis, when three oil workers from India working in Sudan were kidnapped and taken hostage by mercenaries.
Did it require a lot of research?
I read about a 2008 incident involving three immigrant ONGC workers from India being kidnapped in Darfur in Sudan. Sudan is one of the largest oil producing countries in Africa, but is in the midst of a raging civil war. They were captured by a mercenary group of child soldiers, but somehow they managed to escape. The basic premise of the film is based on this incident and how they survived for three weeks without food and water in a desert.
Did you meet the survivors of this ordeal?
Yes, I met them and talked to them. My conversation with them became part of the script - their will to survive and desire to meet their loved ones.
Why did you select Dhanush for the lead?
I was very impressed with his national award winning performance in Aadukalam. I was one of the jury members who selected him for his raw and powerful performance. Later we met up and I told him a one-line story. He was hooked and asked me to develop it further. Once Dhanush was on board everything fell into place, as we sat together and worked on the script.
How did the script fall into place?
The entire film was shot in the reverse with the climax scenes being canned first and hence the last scene shot was the beginning of the film. This was done to maintain continuity in Dhanush's appearance.
Maryan takes place in Sudan and in a coastal village near Kanyakumari in southern Tamil Nadu - two contrasting terrains. The desert locations in Africa were shot in Liberia and Namibia. The romance and village scenes were shot in and around Kanyakumari.
Tell us about Parvathy Menon and rest of the cast...
Parvathi Menon, who has done critically acclaimed films like Poo plays the key role of Panimalar who is as important as Dhanush’s Maryan. I did an audition with her and within 10 minutes realised that she was going to be my Panimalar, the love interest of Maryan. Her character has many layers. character. I have also roped in national award winning actors such as Salim Kumar and Appukutty in important supporting roles.
What about your African child soldiers and the French cinematographer Marc Koninckx?
I was inspired by the 2008 French-Liberian film Johnny Mad Dog, which starred a real life group of LURD child soldiers. Subsequently I met them and chose to retain them as well as the cinematographer of that film, Marc Koninckx. Marc could hardly speak English but his camera work is pure wizardry.
Maryan's music by AR Rahman is making waves...
Rahman has come out with some great music. There are seven songs in the film and lyrics were part of the screenplay. Each song is taking the character forward. Poet Kutti Revathi who wrote the screenplay has penned two of the songs while the rest are by Vaali, Kabilan and Rahman.
There is an emotional song "Nenjae Ezhu" crooned by Rahman himself and written by Revathi. It's about love, separation, struggle, survival and finally resurrection. For the first time Rahman roped in another popular music director to sing for him - Yuvan Shankar Raja (music director Ilayaraja’s son). The song is written by Dhanush. The tracks from Maryan are already topping the charts.
What are the commercial elements in Maryan?
Dhanush is a big commercial star in Tamil cinema and AR Rahman is one of the biggest brands in the country. What more can I ask for? The film is being marketed by Tamil cinema's leading producer and distributor Aascar Ravichandran.
When is the film releasing?
As of now Rahman is doing the re-recording of the film which will be censored in the next few days. Ravichandran is planning a very big release after the IPL finals. Probably we will release on May 31 or June 7.