dynamics have changed over the past
few decades. Do you stand back and
I am part of the society just like
you are. I don’t have to stand back
as an outsider to look at society.
Unless I am a part of the set-up,
unless I am able to put myself into
the shoes of the characters, what
they think and why, I will not be
able to understand their mind. If I
stand outside and pass judgment, I
will never be able to reach out to
Unless you open yourself to their
thoughts, their views and their preferences, and try to understand
them, you will not be able to be a
part of their journey. If you are
totally removed from their story, you
will be judgmental. We need to
understand their stances and dilemmas and see beyond that.
You say you shouldn’t be judgmen-
tal. But were you not judgmental at
the end of O Kadhal Kanmani when you portrayed mar-
riage as the most beautiful thing, and advised marriage?
I am not at all judgmental. The reason behind the idea
was that was what the younger generation wants. They may
be hip, modern and Westernized outside, but there is something very Indian and traditional in them. It is not my
advice to them that they should do that. This is what
they end up doing; 80 or 90 percent of them
end up getting married.
I don’t believe in giving advice.
Despite the rebellion, I feel they are no
different from those who fell in love
and got married several decades ago.
It was against the norm then. Love
marriage was a prohibited thing in
Now it’s debatable just how good
the concept of marriage is, but this is
the only system that has survived
This generation is open to a live-in
relationship, but ends up getting married because inside each one of them there
is that traditional, cultural Indian imprinted
You placed the story in Mumbai. Do you feel
Chennai society is not ready for live-in relationships?
Do you think it is not happening in Chennai? Why do we
try to cover it up?
Then, why Mumbai?
I chose Mumbai because these are two people displaced
from home and family, in a strange place. They are by
themselves and all their decisions are theirs alone. They are
not scared of what some relatives will say.
They have anonymity?
I would say they are liberated a little more and are not
inhibited. If I place them in such a city, all the decisions are
theirs and they cannot put the blame on anybody else. They
decide to live together and they decide to get married without the pressure of the society around them.
Why not Bengaluru or Delhi or Hyderabad?
He is in the gaming industry and it is logical to place him
in Mumbai. Bangalore is still close to home and too dangerous for these guys — at any time, anybody can drop in
The options I had were Delhi, Kolkata and Hyderabad. It
will look like Mouna Ragam if it is Delhi, and if I chose
Kolkata, they would say the film looks like Yuva. I thought
I should put them where it is most likely to happen.
Do you enjoy making love stories the most?
I enjoy making all kinds of films. I love action films, war
In real life, people do not sing songs when in love, but
films, period films, adventure films. To catch a piece of life
on camera and make it come alive, add layers to it and
deliver a product that is wholesome is really exciting to me.
songs are an integral part of our films and we enjoy them. Is
it our fantasy coming alive on screen that makes us happy?
In this film (O Kadhal Kanmani), the couple do not sing
any songs; the songs are integrated with the film.
I am not against songs in films. We come
from an oral tradition of storytelling. I have
grown up listening to epics in oral rendi-
tion and oral rendition always had
When you have two-and-a-half
hours of story-telling, there is this
beautiful abstract break which takes
you to the mood of the story. It is a
tradition that was passed on to the-
atre, and then cinema came and it
also adopted this tradition, which is
very unique to India. I am not saying
it is a must, but it is something we
don’t have to be ashamed of.
In the West, when they want these
poses, they have these pointless shots like a
car going over a bridge with a helicopter follow-
ing. These poses do not make any sense as songs do.
At least songs are colorful and can say what we can’t say
A R Rahman has been composing music for your films
from the time you made Roja. Haven’t you ever felt like try-
ing out a different music director and a different kind of
I have tried different kinds of music, and Rahman does
different kinds of music very well. You ask him for anything
and he gives you more than you expect.
As long as we’re not pulling each other down, we are able
to go on and not repeat ourselves.
When we try to do something different and not settle for
something conventional, it becomes a positive collaboration.
We utilize each other to push ourselves to do something
that goes with the base of the film. Like we strive to get the
right tone for a film, we try to get the right tone for the
music as well. So far, it has been an extremely good association.
Is comfort level also a reason? Does a filmmaker look for a
comfort level while working with his team?
Comfort is a bad word. We try our best not to get into the
Though I work with Rahman again and again, it is not
because it is comfortable. In fact, we push ourselves to a
discomfort zone, which we have not tried before.
Over the years, trust increases.
I believe in him a lot more today
so that we can boldly get into
newer sounds and newer areas.
He has always been very flexible and very director-friendly
and will try anything out of the
box. He is not rigid at all. So we
have had a good journey.
Is it the same with cinematog-
It is very much so. A cinematographer is the closest associate in the process of making a
film. It’s not just lighting and
cranking the camera, he is the
closest person you collaborate
with to make sure everything
comes out right. He is my sounding board to make sure that the
performances are right. If I have
to ask somebody, he will be the
person I ask.
Just like the editor becomes
What about actors?
the closest associate before and
after the shoot, the cinematogra-
pher is the closest associate during the shoot. You want
somebody who doesn’t do just what you want; you want
somebody who adds value to it. We have to be complemen-
tary and build from a small idea to the actualization of
Actors are the most important. Performance is what matters. Nothing matters more than the actors; they have to
No one else can give life to the characters. Audiences
must believe the characters as real and the moments as
When you signed Dulquer Salman and Nithya Menen
for Kanmani, did you expect them to be so real? Did you see
them in Ustad Hotel and so picked them as the couple?
They are both very good… I have not seen Ustad Hotel. I
had not seen any film of Dulquer till I signed him. He was
here, in this room, and chatting and I got the feeling that
he listened to me, understood me and we were on the same
wavelength. That conversation fell into place and I knew
his interest level.
It was the same with Nithya.
Ram Gopal Varma created a furor when he compared
Mammootty with Dulquer...
I do not want to comment on this.
Since you have directed both, do you feel Dulquer is more
natural and realistic than his father Mammootty?
They are two completely different actors.
It is very tough for somebody to grow under the wings of
such a large persona and retain his individuality. It is a
remarkable feat and not many second generation actors can
do that. I am glad that Dulquer is not like Mammootty, but
Mammootty has been there for so many years and has
done so much. How can you start comparing the two?
Dulquer is very promising. He is a terrific talent. I am very,
very happy with the film he has done for me.
As a person, he is a fantastic guy. But he has a long way to
go as an actor. He has to do different kinds of roles. He has
got the potential, but he has to explore himself as an actor.
Do you feel relieved at the kind of appreciation you are get-
ting for O Kadhal Kanmani?
You first feel happy. Somewhere inside, you have to be
honest, you are relieved because you are not getting battered! (laughs). After that, you have to try to be as Zen as
possible and not get carried away.
Did you take a holiday afterwards?
I am on holiday now that I have started playing golf.
When will you start thinking about your next film?
Thinking is a continuous process. At any point of time, I
will have one or two ideas in mind. It doesn’t cost to think;
it only costs to make a film. n
ÂWHEN YOU CAN ACCEPT
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ACCEPT CRITICISM TOOÊ
O Kadhal Kanmani. Below, Mani Ratnam in his office.
CINEMA WITH A SOUL/NYIFF M6 THE MAGAZINE