Gautham Vasudev Menon – the south’s Yash Chopra
In an exclusive interview to Firstpost on the eve of the release of his ambitious bilingual Neethaane En Ponvasantham, Gautham Menon talks about love, romance and movies.
By Sreedhar Pillai
Gautham Vasudev Menon is a new age director of Tamil cinema, who caters to the elite multiplex audiences with his brand of love stories. Right from his first film, the Madhavan-Reema Sen starrer Minnale (2001), to his critically acclaimed Suriya film Vaaranam Aayiram (2008), and his masterpiece Vinnaithandi Varuvaaya (2010), it’s love and romance that worked for him at the box-office.
Even his hugely successful police stories Suriya’s Khakka Khakka (2003) (later remade as Force in Hindi) and Kamal Haasan’s Vettayadu Vilayadu (2006) had large doses of romance. However, the Hindi remakes of two of his most successful love stories in Tamil, Minnale (Rehna Hai Tere Dil Main) and Vinnaithandi Varuvaaya (Ek Deewana Tha) turned out to be turkeys at the Bollywood box-office.
Gautham Menon is now rightfully called the “king of romance” by the southern industry. He is the south’s gen next equivalent of Yash Chopra thanks to his sharp technical skills and urbane candy floss romance.
Today, Gautham Menon’s new love story, Neethaane En Ponvasantham (NEP) with hot and happening Jiiva and Samantha, is releasing along with its Telugu version (Yeto Vellipoyindi Manasu). A Hindi version is in the pipeline.
In an exclusive interview to Firstpost on the eve of the release of his ambitious bilingual NEP, Gautham Menon talks about love, romance and movies.
Q. You have emerged as south India’s new king of romance, especially after the success of Vinnaithandi Varuvaaya in Tamil and Ye Maaya Chesave in Telugu. Please comment.
I always loved good love stories from my childhood. I believe love stories are universal and will always have an audience. I was largely influenced by Mani Ratnam, who is the real king of romance. I consider his films such as Mounaragam, Roja, Bombay and Alaipayuthe the best ever love stories in Tamil. He has inspired me to make love stories.
Q. The industry feels you make love stories that strike a chord with urban multiplex audiences and there is too many English dialogues in your films
I come from an urban background and there is nothing wrong in catering to my strengths. I like making good love stories which can be watched by audiences of all ages.
Q. Even in your action thrillers like Suriya’s Khakka Khakka and Kamal Haasan’s Vettayadu Vilayadu, there was lot of romance.
In all my films, there will always be a romantic thread which takes the story forward. I’m basically a romantic at heart. Like anybody else, I have fallen in love many times during my school and college days. In real life I had a love marriage.
Q. You have said earlier that Vinnaithandi Varuvaaya is based on your life and romance.
Is that true?
Yes, to a large extent it had a lot of similarities with my life story. Of course, as a director I get inspired from a lot of happenings around me, which get woven into many of my films. I’m always on the lookout for mature love stories, which will appeal to my audience in metros and towns. I try to make simple love stories which people can identify with, like their own love stories.
Q Tell us something about your new love story, NEP It is a beautiful story between Varun and Nithya played by Jiiva (Nani in Telugu version) and Samantha respectively.
It is a film of moments collected from the journey and relationship of Nitya and Varun. They meet when they are eight years old and it is their journey — break-ups and make-ups till they are 25.
Q The buzz is that you have reworked Vinnaithandi Varuvaaya, as there are lot of similarities after seeing the trailer of NEP.
Neethane Enn Ponvasantham spans three periods in the life of the lovers from 8 to 25 from school, college to present. Vinnaithandi Varuvaaya was about an assistant director’s love for a girl he meets. I’m sure some people may find similarities, but I don’t care because love happens in everybody’s life and it could be anybody's story.
Q. You have very strong women characters in your film. They are able to strike a chord with the viewers and carry the film forward.
You are absolutely correct, I believe 10 minutes into a film, you should forget the actors and concentrate on the characters. My heroine is always fiercely independent and mentally strong. They are based on the women I meet in real life. NEP’s Nithya played by Samantha is a very strong female character and she is the pivot around which the film revolves and it’s her view point.
Q. You are known for arresting dances and good music in your films. You have worked with all the three top music directors in Tamil starting early in your career with Harris Jayaraj, then AR Rahman and now, Ilayaraja.
For me, songs and dance are an integral part of telling a story. When I write a story, the songs are woven into the script and flows with the narrative. I don’t have a separate story board for the songs. Every song is discussed with my lyric writer, music director, cameraman, art director and choreographer as I’m particular that songs don’t stick out like an intrusion into the flow of the film.
Q. Tell us something about the songs in NEP
I’m working for the first time with maestro Ilayaraja sir. We vibed well and he understood perfectly the songs that I wanted. For my hero or heroine, love always strikes like a thunderbolt. In NEP, while going in a car for an outing, the lead pair express their feelings and seal it with a liplock and it’s raining outside — the mood is set for the ‘Saayndhu Saayndhu’ song. There are no cut aways to fantasy lands or foreign locations, the song is just expressing their love. I have even choreographed the dance moments for the first time in the film.
Q What next?
(Smiles) It will be an all-out action entertainer with Suriya with my trademark whiff of romance thrown in!
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