Venkat Prabhu
Interviewer : Jyothsna Bhavanishankar | Coordination : Venkatesh | Camera : Balaji | Text : Jyothsna Bhavanishankar
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Known for his irreverent style in film making with his forte in ensemble cast, Venkat Prabhu represents the gen-next director in Tamil film industry. Having bagged the prestigious assignment of directing Ajith’s 50th film, the young director spoke to Senior Editor Jyothsna Bhavanishankar on Ajith, Mankatha and assorted subjects on a rainy evening in Chennai.

Ajith does not treat me like a


For the first time, you are doing a film with a big star cast. How do you feel?

I am happy and at the same time, a little anxious too. My responsibilities are huge in Mankatha as I have to satisfy Ajith sir’s fans and also the general audience. This is what we are targeting at and working towards it. At the same time, it is also an enjoyable experience as I know Ajith sir from the days of Ji. We share a good rapport. Ajith is my friend, well wisher and does not treat me like a director but like a friend. He never gave me a feeling that I am directing a big star. He made it so cool and is very cool with my boys too. He has put everybody at ease which is the best part of him. During shoots, he never goes into the caravan and always sits outside, chatting with everyone. Overall, it is a nice feeling.

When there are many directors waiting for Ajith, how did you manage to rope him in?

Ever since Ajith watched Chennai-28, he showed interest in working with me. We tried in two films but it did not take place. I don’t know how it happened but it just happened in an unexpected manner. I think it is pre-ordained that I do Ajith’s 50th film. I feel proud and happy about it.

It is pre-ordained that I do

Ajith’s 50th film

Did you write the script with Ajith in mind?

I had a script ready but it was not intended for Ajith. He just heard the one line of this and opined that it would be good if he did it. I call Ajith as Anna and asked him, “Anna, do u really mean it, are you serious?” Later I spoke to producers Durai and Vivek and it was a pleasant jerk for all of us because we had planned for an ensemble cast and were skeptical about introducing such a big star into the script. We had discussions and brought about changes in the script which are necessary when a star comes in. That’s why the project got delayed because there are many artists and it is difficult to bring everybody together and shoot. Yes… the script was a little altered for Ajith sir although he told me not to change it for his sake. I am also a big fan of Ajith and would expect certain elements from a fan’s point of view and would incorporate all those in Mankatha. To sum it all, we had a script; Ajith came along; we made a few changes for Ajith sir and we are ready now.

Will there be Venkat Prabhu style in Mankatha too?

You will have to watch and tell whether I have retained my style or not. There may not be huge changes but there would indeed be a few variations. Generally, I am also very keen to bring about differences right from the genre to film making in every film of mine. Fortunately, it has come out that way now. Although humor is the common thread that connects Chennai -28, Saroja and Goa, their premise and the manner of narration are different. Boys have fun in all my films which will be there in Mankatha too. You can certainly perceive the difference in Mankatha; that’s what we feel. Hope you also feel the same way.

First there was Nagarjuna and then it is Arjun. Who is actually there now?

Yes, initially we had told the story explaining about the ensemble cast to Nagarjuna and he had also agreed. Later when the shoot got delayed, there were some date issues and he had wondered if we could shoot his portion alone from March. But there were some combination sequences also which would get affected and we are working for a summer release on Ajith sir’s birthday. Rains have also played spoilsport and we have no control on such matters. Hence we needed to look for an alternate and the next best choice was Arjun. I know Arjun for a very long time right from my school days and when I explained to him about the date issues of Nagarjuna, he was kind enough to agree and that’s how he came on board. We would start shooting his portions from this month end. So it is only due to date problems that Nagarjuna could not do Mankatha and nothing else.

Neetu Chandra has said that she has missed Mankatha. Is Trisha her replacement?

No, the initial line of Mankatha was different and Neetu Chandra’s role in it was perfect. When I altered the script for Ajith sir, it was necessary to modify certain components which brought about the change in the character of the heroine with a different personality. By then, Neetu had also started doing Ameer’s film and I asked her if she could do a different role in Mankatha. But date issues came into play and it was not possible. More over, when I wanted a heroine with a certain personality, I felt Trisha was suitable and approached her. She also consented. Hence the character that Neetu Chandra was supposed to play and what Trisha is currently playing are totally different.

My forte is ensemble cast

You have a unique style of film making. Is it a conscious attempt?

No No, it is not like that. My forte is ensemble cast. Films like Italian job, Oceans Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen are my kind and I almost follow that style. Goa and Saroja were multi-starrers. I have not yet come out of this although I wish to do single hero subjects. Let’s see.

Don’t you think there is a danger of getting slotted if you continue with ensemble cast?

I think I can bring in variety in ensemble too. With ensemble, it was street cricket in Chennai-28, a kidnapping story in Saroja, a rom-com in Goa. I am doing a more mature and responsible theme in Mankatha which will still have the entertainment value in tact. The manner of narration is more significant. As I had said earlier, I would like to do single hero subjects too. However more than that, I want to do films for children in 3 D format.

I want to do films for children

I want to do a film for my

daughter, her friends and all the


Goa’s A certification was the saddest part for me because I was not able to take my daughter to the film. My daughter’s friend, a 3rd grader, reproached me saying, “how dare you take such movie” as she was not allowed into the theatre. But I don’t think Goa was such an adult rated film. They said it had a mature content; but films with more mature content had received U certificate. I pleaded with the censor officials for a U/A. They said there is a lot of drinking, bikini clad babes and adult content which children should not watch. I argued saying that TV already shows such stuff but they did not agree. Hence I want to do a film for my daughter, her friends and all the kids. When my target audience is kids, it is only natural that they come with their parents and in the process you have a full house. I have such desires, let’s see how things go.

Why there is no Sampath in Mankatha?

There is no suitable role for Sampath in Mankatha but I tried to cast him in a different one and it did not work out well. Sampath is just not there in this film of mine and he had shouted at me enough for this. If I had to have a role for him, it was like a repeat of his character in Saroja which I did not want. My earlier 3 films had a different role for Sampath and I don’t want to waste Sampath’s talent by giving him an ordinary role in Mankatha. That’s the reason.

There is no suitable role for


Mankatha will go under the

black comedy genre

What will be Premji’s signature statement in Mankatha?

Nothing like that! I have slightly changed his looks in Mankatha; there are many interesting things and you need to watch the film to understand it. Mankatha will go under the black comedy genre. There is a lot of comedy and action in Mankatha and it is a commercial entertainer. I cannot say I have conceived an artistic plot or anything like that. It is a fun film and I am sure it will be a big treat for Ajith sir’s fans. The usual elements of Premji are abundant in this film. In the recent times, Ajith sir’s comedy has not been utilized fully and in Mankatha I have taken care to bring that aspect out because by nature Ajith is a humorous person. There will be many hilarious moments and Mankatha will be a fun game for all.

Will you act again?

Absolutely no way! There is a character in Mankatha and Ajith suggested I do it. I am not sure if I can straddle the twin horses of action and direction. I did not want to risk and have used another artist for this. I am not keen to act. Samudirakani told a story for me but when things are going smooth, why rock the boat? As of now, I am happy in direction and have the complete job satisfaction.

What do you think of current trend in Tamil film industry?

It is good. There will always be rough and smooth phases. I see a lot of changes and variety in the industry. Prabhu Solomon rocked with Myna. The market is getting bigger and Endhiran proved that a regional film can be marketed big with many overseas prints. Hindi films always enjoy a wider global audience than Tamil films and in such a scenario Endhiran has certainly taken Tamil films to the next higher level. This trend is certain to usher in good films. When we enjoy Iranian films, people in Iran also will watch Tamil films and the ways to such trend are slowly getting unraveled. In my opinion, we have good projects in hand but it should reach global audience. And Tamil film industry is definitely proceeding in that direction in terms of film making, distribution and the pattern is very similar to Hollywood. Over there, independent film makers produce the film and release it through Warner Brothers, Buena vista. In a similar vein, Cloud Nine, Red Giant and Sun Movies operate here. Hence, make films that you like it and distribute through major players and get a wider audience. If we have more distribution companies, then we will have lot of good films and the trend will be healthier.

Directors, who prove themselves well in their very first film, fade out fast. Why is that so?

When a director makes his first film, he has lot of time in hand. The time period comes down for subsequent film. I don’t know if that’s the reason; it was just an extempore answer. Every director gives his best in every film. There is no doubt on that. Some films reach the audience while some don’t. Personally I liked Goa but it did do well like Chennai-28. A thought of us is getting made into a film and some are accepted and some don’t. That’s the difference. Every director works hard; we can say we are having fun making films but we definitely toil hard but we enjoy it. I don’t get tensed or angry in a big way. I feel bad when people tell we boys succeed working playfully but we do work sincerely.

Tags : Venkat Prabhu, Ajith, Mankatha, Sampath, Saroja
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