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|July 5, 2000||
'I don't mind falling, but I like to fall forward…'
Shobha Warrier met film-maker Vasanth at K Balachander's production house, Kavithalaya, soon after the release of his new film Appu, a Kavithalaya production. He was evidently tense about its outcome, especially since his previous release, Poovellam Kettupar, had not fared well at the box office.
Appu is a remake of Mahesh Bhatt's Sadak, with Prashant playing Sanjay Dutt's role. But Vasanth didn't want to talk about Sadak! Instead, he talks about some of his other films…
When we met the last time, you had mentioned that when your film flopped, it was like dying. Your last film, Poovellam Kettupar was not a commercial hit. How did you react?
I do not know the criterion used to describe a film as a hit or a flop. People like a film or do not like a film, that's all. As far as I am concerned, it was a very decent, neat film. Maybe the timing of its release was not right, maybe the publicity was not enough, maybe... There can be many such reasons.
It was a very big hit when it was premiered. People from the film industry, the press and other dignitaries had only praise for the film. And everybody expected it to be a big hit like Kathalukku Neramillai (directed by Sridhar).
I do not know whether you are aware of it, but my film was a very big hit abroad. After the release of the film, I went to South Africa, Singapore, etc and, everywhere, it was a sensational hit. South Africa's Lotus Radio interviewed me and said they would give 10 out of 10 for the film! They also asked me what went wrong in India.
So what went wrong in India?
It is like this. We do not have to do any publicity abroad because they eagerly wait for Tamil films to reach their theatres. That was why it was a big hit there.
Perhaps the logical reason for its failure in India is that the timing of its release was wrong. Five or six films got released at the same time and, maybe, the competition was what affected my film. I don't know. But, as far as I am concerned, I am very happy with the film. I have done a neat job. If you have not seen the film, see it and tell me whether it is a good film or a bad film. Don't tell me whether it is a hit or a flop.
But whether a commercial film-maker likes it or not, films are given either a hit or flop status based on their commercial success.
Yes, it is true that when you are in this trade, you have to accept both success and failure. All of us make films with the hope that they will be successful. But the outcome of a film is not in our hands. My opinion is that if you have made a good, decent film, you can stand tall and tell everyone that you have made a good film. That is very important, according to me, more than the commercial success of the film.
Were you upset when your film didn't do well?
I had worked a lot on that film. So it was but natural that I was a little upset for some time. But then, life goes on... Failure gives me the energy to move ahead. My policy is that whether a film is a hit or a flop, you should think about it only for a short period, maybe a week or so. After that, you have to stop thinking about it. I want to work and not to sit on the results of my earlier films. If you sit on the results, you cannot move forward. Like somebody said, I don't mind falling, but I like to fall forward.
In your latest film, Appu, one of the major characters is a eunuch. Who are the actors you thought of before signing Prakash Raj for the role?
I had initially thought of many actors, but I finally felt only Prakash Raj could do the role well. He has got a lot of fire in him and we vibe very well too. As you know, we did Aasai together. After Aasai, Prakash has grown a lot as an actor. You may remember his role in Mani Rathnam's film, Iruvar, which won him a national award.
Was he ready to do the role?
He showed a lot of interest in doing the role and prepared sincerely for it. He went to a ladies beauty parlour and underwent beauty treatments like applying mehndi on his hands. His hands were so huge, we found it difficult to get him bangles as demanded by the role. He used contact lenses and also had his ears pierced so that he could wear earrings. He learnt to walk like a female and the funniest thing was, he used to walk like that from the moment he entered the sets!
Even though the film deals with the red light area and eunuchs, I was very particular that there should not be any vulgarity in the visuals or the dialogues. In fact, the Censor Board praised me for making a decent film on prostitutes and eunuchs.
Did you talk to eunuchs or visit any red light area before writing the script?
No. Some people say that only if you go through the various experiences of these people will you be able to make the story realistic. But this rule does not apply to everyone. Do I have to kill someone to write about murder? So, if you want to know more about such things to make them very realistic, you can watch old films. You can go back to the books you have read earlier. You can also think of what others have told you about their experiences. Then, of course, you can use your imagination. Which is why I did not see any reason why I should visit a red light area before making the film.
Prashant is looked at as a romantic hero, but you cast him in a macho role. Why?
Yes, his image is that of a chocolate hero and he used to appear only in maroon and yellow coloured T-shirts in his films. He is a very good-looking guy and had been portraying only lovable roles. I wanted to change this image of his in my film and give him the role of a man! That was how he became the young angry man in Appu and, throughout the film, he sported a four-day beard. I am very happy with his performance.
Early in your career, you had only newcomers acting in your films. Later on, you took seasoned actors. In Appu too, you had established artistes. Is working with newcomers different from working with established stars?
When you are working with established stars, you have to be doubly careful. You have to think of their image.
Will that work as an impediment on your role as a director?
How can it? It can only be helpful, as stars have a certain image and you can use that image to your advantage. Why do you think it will affect the director negatively? Prashant can fight well and I have used this ability effectively in my film. I can also change the script to match the image of the star.
Won't you be compromising if you make changes in the script to suit the star?
Why do you think it is a sin to make changes in the script? I can either select an actor who can match my character or I can change my script to suit the character. I think both are logical options. The advantage level, according to me, is 50-50. If you are going to take a film with Rajini sir, you have to write a script to suit his image.
Is it easy to transform stars into characters?
Why do you think it is difficult? But I will tell you one thing -- nothing is easy in life.
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