Achcham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada (AYM) will be associated with the weekend India went cashless.
“In fact this demonetisation has given us an extra two week run. There are no other releases for awhile. Yes people in smaller towns won’t be able to prioritise spending on a film and in view of the larger good, but it is okay if my film does well only in A and B centres,” says an unperturbed Gautham Vasudev Menon.
He is aware of the polarised reviews of his film; he’s been to theatres to witness feedback.
“We released AYM against all sorts of hurdles and it is thanks to Rahman’s music and our combination with Simbu, we have seen a 10 crore collection so far,” he says. Gautham’s silent demeanour always contains a storm of words. Excerpts from an interview:
Does it bother you? This diverse range of reviews and negative butchering of your films even before a majority have even seen it?
It doesn’t bother me as much as it bothers the people around me. I seriously can’t fathom why people love to hate me (laughs). I understand the last ten minutes of AYM is debatable and given all my constraints only I know why the scene unfolds that way in the film. I accept complete responsibility for my films — you’re free to like or dislike it but don’t clip my feathers even before I take-off.
I’m here as much for the love of cinema as anyone else. If I’m labelled elitist because I prefer to make Yennai Arindhaal with Ajith as against a Vedalam, then I’d rather be branded thus than be known as a filmmaker who has bad taste or zero sensibility.
It’s been 15 years and 16 films so far, what goes through your mind when you see the first copy?
I shoot only what I write, so what’s out there is what I want show you,. I watch trial-screenings with my team and we debate almost all aspects which critics are likely to pin-point but ultimately the film is my vision. The silver lining to our efforts is the high we get when we finally see our collective work get applauded in theatres. Sometimes we get it right from the start and at other times we do struggle but then, that’s the joy in this journey
You’re even judged as a ‘lazy filmmaker’ for using voice-overs to explain a scene.
(smiles) How is it ‘lazy filmmaking’ when I write my scripts with voice-overs? It is not an after-thought or an edit-table decision. No one asked this question when Morgan Freeman’s voice begins Shawshank Redemption? Voice-overs are not a must-have but given a choice I’d like to write my leads with a parallel track running right through.
I can send you my scripts as proof (laughs) the song montages and even my stunt sequences are detailed-out. I even practice the fight-punches at home so the action is realistic. The fist-fights and mangled gun-shots in AYM were all written and filmed. Nothing is off the cuff.
So do you really work with just 80% of the script?
Not always. Only when I am pushed to work with actors, in this case Simbu. With him, I don't know if I will be able to shoot a particular scene because I don't know if he'll show up or not! The climax portion in the Telugu version of AYM - Sahasam Swasaga Saagipo has detailed scenes — of how Nagachaitanya brings Manjima to the old man’s family who they meet in the 'Raasaali' song, how he trains himself in the 700-odd days that Inspector Kamath searches for him, and how he deposes his statement to the Commissioner, just so he can take on Kamath in the climax.
I couldn’t shoot those scenes with Simbu for Tamil, but I want to know why is it so important to cut away when two people are talking (like Baba Sehgal and Simbu do in Tamil)? The Godfather has two people talk for most of the film, but the danger lurking and the menacing nature of the enemy is all portrayed via conversation. My tamil climax may feel rushed but it’s not wrong film-making.
A big relief must be the unanimous appreciation on the placement of the 'Thallipogathey' song.
Yes. Thankfully it's a universal appeal on that one. Rahman composed the tune after I narrated the situation exactly as you see it on-screen. (spoiler alert) It is a juxtaposed moment between reality and the hero’s fantasy. He wants to tell her “Don’t go away from me” and then the lorry hits their bike and she is already gone.
Rahman gave us a tune which went like this (he sings the tune without lyrics) and I had to break it down to set-beats and put in dummy words and sing it like a song (sings) for Thamarai. When she came up with the final lyrics, Rahman loved it in a single reading.
Rahman’s BGM is equally great but the screenplay format has all songs in the first half and all fights in the second half. Isn’t it experimental? Were you advised against it?
Ask the audience in Chrompet Vetri, Rakki and Devi theatres in Chennai whether they feel this divide? Yes I was given all sorts of advice but this format was a calculated call taken way ahead of shoot. I’ve literally woven a tale around Simbu’s availability. This mish-mash of genres doesn’t happen to you in your life? Don’t we all feel different emotions on any given day? Is your mood in the morning the same as it is when you go to bed?
Rahman saw the film with me and loved this format because we were following the hero’s character (whose name in the film is the epitome of the word Mass). He gave me interludes for songs and did the background score with a lot of interest after seeing the scenes. To us, AYM is a gripping love story.
Is your legacy of being this ‘star-filmmaker’ getting in the way of making the kind of films you want to make?
I hope not! But I’d rather live with the burden of this legacy (laughs) than just be vaguely popular. Because I would’ve then created a world where a certain kind of people inhabit; where there is love, family, emotions and fine living. This world will also have my name on it.