Up-close and personal with Gautham Vasudev Menon

I spend time with my family. You have directed almost all top actors including Kamal Haasan, Ajith, Vikram, Simbu and Suriya. Even Enai Noki Paayum Thota (ENPT) for instance – some liked, some didn’t. And, Naragasooran will also release eventually. Suriya says I should never do a sequel to Kaakha Kaakha. Is there anything you wish you could change in cinema? You write how an actor should perform on the paper, but with Kamal (Haasan) sir, it is 10 times more than that. I want to step out of my comfort zone and explore different stuff. Imagine me telling Dhanush, “Neenga enna maadhiriye pesanum!” (Laughs) I understand what you are saying, but it is never intentional. Writing Jessie was easier because I am Jessie. Their mind is tuned to watching them either on Tamil Rockers or Amazon. He said, “Super, romba nalla irukku. He’s a single-take actor. As a writer, I realised I have to rise above my earlier films and situations. That happens because we have known each other for several years. It is a sure way of getting you into trouble. (Smiles) But I transform into a monster on the sets. What does brand GVM mean to you? Then, Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu happened. Still, he gives his 100%. Your world of films reminds me of Mani Ratnam’s. I have written Tamil dialogues for his 99 Songs, and I am looking forward to seeing the film. I can still argue, it was in pretty much sync with the visuals, but I don’t want to. I don’t think demarcations exist anymore. He is very sweet and treats everyone equally. But most of my films are liked and appreciated in a much better way later. Many had problems with voiceovers, which was a creative choice I took. Generally, I don’t think much about the numbers. Once, he asked for a full narration. We think we cater to a particular section of the audience, but not really. You say, “There is no location for today”, I can even shoot in a coffee shop. When I was assisting Rajiv, I remember telling my girlfriend (now my wife), “Let me make my first film. Also, I want to see what an actor can bring to the table. He did everything – right from setting up Minnale to bringing Harris Jayaraj and Thamarai on board. I never thought I would work with Kamal (Haasan) sir, and Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu would be my third film. That’s all right. I grew up with two sisters. The issue was neither Karthick Naren nor me, but the investors. I am not a planner. Creative-wise, I am happy the way I put projects together and how I write. I don’t want to be put on a similar pedestal, because that’s blasphemy! I write stunt sequences in detail and act them out. Normally, I don’t talk much. I showed ENPT to Ishari Ganesh. I met Baba Sehgal for a song recording. My kids went to his school. Since you were mentioning about Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu, do you revisit your films? This is what I am. (Smiles) I pitched Dhruva Natchathiram to Rajini sir. We are victims of the business of cinema. At times, things don’t go the way you want, and it hurts. After I explained the story of Jessie and Karthik, Rahman suggested that we have a Malayalam song. A song or even a script, for that matter, I come up with is based on what I feel at that moment. I make it a point that I write at least for a couple of hours. We learn. (Pauses) I am not saying this to be modest, but I had no idea all of this would happen. I am nowhere close to him. (Smiles) As for Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu, Raghavan is at the stage of life where he has a daughter. Now, if I step back and wondering why I wrote those lines, I don’t have an answer. On the occasion of his 47th birthday, Gautham Vasudev Menon discusses his journey into cinema. The whole day they were discussing something, and they didn’t move anywhere. I don’t depend on anybody for my survival. Say, even Mani (Ratnam) sir was inside, he would ask ten minutes and come out. Strangely, nobody had problems with any of these. On the other hand, you made your web series debut, Queen, which received an overwhelming response. Of course, there was an Indian angle to it. (Smiles)
You have been extremely vocal about a lot of things. I lunch with my team. I wish Dhanush showed some love towards the film, but nevermind. There is no transparency regarding the box office collection. Joshua Imai Pol Kaakha is the toned-down version of a similar idea. I don’t think critics have trashed my films, and I was never made to question my work. A closer look at your filmography will reveal that most of your plots have influenced and inspired movies of later years. Many filmmakers have a dream project but I don’t. Is that why every time you collaborate with a music director, the magic happens? Excerpts from a conversation:
Let’s rewind to the past. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines
For all the latest Entertainment News, download Indian Express App. Today, the audience is clear that they don’t want to watch certain films on the screen. Meanwhile, Joshua Imai Pol Kaakha will be out. I inspire music composers to a large extent. I don’t rant, yell or whine. I can’t walk into AR Rahman’s studio and ask for a love song. When I meet my music directors, I give them 25 lines of song descriptions, saying this is how the situation is, this is how the characters are, and this is what goes on their mind. But I am unhappy about the business aspects of cinema. 📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. I enjoyed collaborating with Prasad Murugesan. What’s the story behind it? I had no choice because that was the producer’s call. I wanted to see if I could see something like Asuran, breaking away from my template of films. He always gives you more. © IE Online Media Services Pvt Ltd


Gautham Vasudev Menon But the same evening, he called, saying the project was not happening. In an interview, you had said those who know you refer to you as Jessie, the character from VTV. Say, I have 60 to 70% of the script complete, I go ahead and shoot. Does it bother you? I simply go with the flow. Directing Queen was a liberating experience. Netflix has approached me for an anthology. It will be too much for Varun to handle. Many directors don’t believe in this process, but I like to do it this way. Most of your films cater to the upper-class audience. I know Ishari Ganesh as an educationist and a film buff. Though Simbu prefers that I prompt him the lines while he is acting, it is evident some magic happens. But he didn’t like it. Ishari Ganesh did ask if I could launch Varun as a hero six years ago, but I was waiting for the right time, and that’s how Joshua Imai Pol Kaakha happened. We will have Harris Jayaraj on board.” Thanu sir had confirmed I was directing Superstar. But, sometimes, your decisions fail. I was writing from their point of view and brought the cop character in later. (Laughs) But women who know me say, “Don’t even attempt to write female characters!” (Laughs) But I enjoy the process. There’s no disconnect at all. Because he has composed several love songs, and to be able to make him understand the kind of song I want, I need to brief him in detail. See, in Kaakha Kaakha, Suriya’s voice narrates the film. I gave him one, but he wasn’t convinced. With me, it is always the first tune. Weekdays, I wake up early. Gautham Vasudev Menon says directing Queen was a liberating experience. I don’t like to watch my films as I feel I could have made them in a much better way. Is that why you never made a film with Rajinikanth or Vijay? Mysskin is a dear friend. They sport a similar hair-do. No. Exciting times are ahead, I guess. The filmmaker observes people around him and creates beautiful stories on screen—be it Kaakha Kaakha, Vaaranam Aayiram or Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa (VTV). My mother makes good food, and we let her cook only on Sundays. How do you pick yourself up after a failed film? I have seen him showing Prabhudheva how to dance, and that’s the kind of command he has over the medium, which is terrific. They live abroad and go on a road trip. When a project fails, it’s better to take the blame on me. He’s super chilled out. They are never conventional villains. Thank you! The first thing I wrote was, “Ulagathila evlo ponnunga irundhum, naan yen Jessie-a love pannen!” (Laughs) I knew Jessie and Karthik will never be together. Gautham Vasudev Menon is full of stories, and this is what anybody would say if they met him. Maybe, she is 15, and there could be wife Maya. So, I thought what if they were like-minded serial killers, and also homosexuals. When I sat on the edit table of ENPT, I had a gut feeling that it wasn’t going to be good. We move on. I felt he would be an apt choice for Achcham. We have set up a writers’ room in my office. They wear kada. As a filmmaker, he should do his bit, too. I was in the balcony, sitting in my Hyderabad apartment, observing two boys. We are looking to shoot season two of Queen soon. Instead, Rajini sir chose Kabali, and worked with Pa Ranjith. What makes his films extra special are the real, genuine, relatable and, above all, flawed characters. At that point, I was writing about two serial killers. I know it will shape well because I am confident about what I write. But when I am stuck, I don’t push myself. You make no bones about being called “elitist”. Ishari Ganesh helped you with the ENPT release. I met Mysskin recently, and he said he was not a fan of creating content for OTT platforms. Also, I grew up watching films of Mani (Ratnam) sir, K Balchander sir and Balumahendra sir. Absolutely. Like the specifics. Maybe, this is how it was destined. The situation is better now. In VTV, it was Simbu’s voice. Say, someone comes from Mumbai, and they want to collaborate on a web series. Written by S Subhakeerthana
| Chennai |

Updated: February 25, 2020 3:22:00 pm

Gautham Vasudev Menon turns 47 today. I am introducing singer Karthik as the music director with this film, and he has given some soul-stirring music. (Smiles) No, it’s not me being sentimental, but this is how it is. Do you write regularly? Suriya, to an extent, imitates my body language. Before shooting, I make shot divisions in my head. He felt, “English padam maadhiri irukku!” I completely understand him because as an actor, you need to be comfortable with what you are trying. Also, I had to shoot the climax portions of Achcham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada without Simbu and Baba Sehgal. I have no regrets. At the same time, I keep my budgets in control. We will get married then because I don’t have money now!” She said, “There is no need for that.” Trust me, we got married! I don’t work on Sundays unless there is a crisis scenario. Again, Vinaithaandi Varuvaayaa was written for Mahesh Babu. Suriya is extremely friendly and nice, but Simbu is the best of the lot. To an extent, I am confident that I am good at it. For a change, I didn’t have the restrictions, and I loved it. Vetrimaaran, Sudha Kongara and Vignesh Shivn are done with their films, and I have my half-an-hour slot. I am sure. I don’t set out to make targets. Is that why you are doing a film with his nephew, Varun? His films Naayagan and Bombay are studying examples. Did you think you would become successful when you were assisting Rajiv Menon? Here is something I have observed. Sometimes your heroes are Gautham Vasudev Menon. They are eloquent and poetic. Is there one? Vijay and I have had discussions. Dhruva Natchathiram will be released by June maximum. I learnt from Rajiv Menon on the sets of Minsara Kanavu. But somewhere, this bothered the audience only in ENPT, and I don’t know why. They are my characters, after all. Honestly, I don’t give a damn, although, I am a tad careful about what I say to the press. I don’t mind visiting the interior parts of rural Tamil Nadu for a project. Your choice of antagonists intrigues me. No. I may not remember the ‘moments’, but I can start from where I left even now. Is Joshua Imai Pol Kaakha the same script that you had pitched to Vijay? It is not easy to write in Tamil cinema as, largely, you cater to the heroes. I never thought I would be where I am today. I am open to doing sequels, but it should not look like I am capitalising on the success of films. Pachaikili Muthucharam was first narrated to Kamal (Haasan), sir. Take me through your day. Gautham Vasudev Menon says Simbu is his favourite actor. I am blessed! The same applies to films, as well. Otherwise, brand GVM means nothing to me. Even if I sleep at 4.30 am, I can’t sleep beyond 7.30 am. It is not the same with Kamal (Haasan) sir. Directing Kamal (Haasan) sir was an extremely rewarding experience. I believe it is about meeting the right people at the right time. The support system is incredible at home. Are you referring to the credits? Maybe, is that why ENPT and Achcham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada bombed at the box office? None of the scripts that I write has been planned. The film was set in England. The same happened in Yennai Arindhaal, besides some parts of Achcham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada. It is a complete love story, about two musicians who are in their 30s. But I make a conscious effort to make actors look different from their earlier films. Also, Ajith is a thorough professional. Since Vaaranam Aayiram was a tribute to my father, I wanted to put out my full name in all its glory. For Dhruva Natchathiram, Vikram sir has been paid fully. Take The Irishman or Marriage story, for instance, voiceover narration is a style that a lot of filmmakers have. Further, he insisted, “Shankar maadhiri, Gautham-nu vechchuko!” (Laughs) It worked, and I am glad it did. The protagonist falls in love with an American girl, and I wanted to see Vijay in a swashbuckling James Bond-kind of action film. But the debate over Dhanush’s voice-overs in ENPT continues. That’s how Aromale was born in Los Angeles. Tell us about the status of your upcoming projects. The brand, of course, helps. ENPT went through a lot of changes, and it wasn’t the same film that I had originally envisioned. Every single detail is on the paper, including the physical moments they experience. If that is his opinion, so be it. If top filmmakers like Martin Scorsese are into it, I shouldn’t have problems with it. But I am revisiting some of my earlier films because people are asking me to. The same applies to songs, as well. Your films mostly have a delayed release. We just finished composing a song for Joshua Imai Pol Kaakha. I can run the camera even while rehearsals. He liked the content and released it. I am always looking to collaborate with writers because I am a reluctant writer. But I can’t be someone I am not. Until Pachaikili Muthucharam, you were just ‘Gautham’, and not Gautham Vasudev Menon. Also, I am writing something interesting now, the story of Kamal and Kadambari, that I am pitching it to Suriya. The past six years have been tough for everyone, and I am no exception. Both are different. There is a reason I didn’t want to push. (Smiles) When someone calls GVM, it doesn’t register because I am used to hearing people say, ‘Gautham’, ‘Vasu’ or ‘Gauthu’. Who was the best of all? (Smiles) I understand, these days, the audience doesn’t want to be spoon-fed. I have done my best. No. He falls among that rare breed of directors, whose films are trend-setters, and in fact, a genre, in itself.