Interviewer : Jyothsna Bhavanishankar & Inian | Coordination : Venkatesh | Camera : Rijeesh | Text : Jyothsna Bhavanishankar
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Director Vetrimaran is just one film old but the entire industry is eagerly awaiting his next release Aadukalam. His proficiency is such that he has signed two projects already with the most happening Cloud Nine even before the release of his second enterprise. Much excited about his career, this erudite director goes down the memory lane with Senior Editor Jyothsna Bhavanishankar and Inian.

The start

Cinematographer cum director Balu Mahendra was a visiting faculty for Viscom in Loyola College, Chennai and he had come to conduct a seminar there. Although I was not from Viscom, I attended the same and decided that if I have to take the plunge into the film industry, it has to be only under him. And I waited for the right opportunity. HOD of Viscom, Professor Rajamanikkam put me on to Balu Mahendra. It took off from there.

Did you join Balu Mahendra immediately?

No, initially he did not take me. He kept evading which went on for some time. Then once when I went around 11.30 to his office, he chided me for coming late and that’s when I realized I was on board. From that day, it started rolling but no work happened till 1999. Balu Mahendra was planning for many projects and nothing was happening at that time.

How did you feel about having no work?

It is normal for assistant directors to feel low when there is no work but I did not feel that way. It was a big learning ground for me as Balu Mahendra used to share his experiences with me, lyricist Naa Muthukumar and Cheenu Ramaswamy (Koodal Nagar, Thenmerku Paruvakatru) from morning to evening. He had removed the mental block from us that we are dealing with such an acclaimed personality by sharing with us his profound experiences in cinematography, editing, direction and script writing.

Kadai Neram in television and selection of stories

In 1999, Kadai Neram for Sun TV happened which was my first project as an assistant director that was very strenuous. He planned for 52 short stories for 52 episodes. He had selected 100 short stories and after canning 4- 5 episodes, he started redefining his idea of short stories that could be made into films. Once he started accommodating and adapting himself to the medium of television, he rejected those stories which were selected by him.

There was a team of 4-5 assistant directors and our job was to read around 50-60 short stories in a week, shortlist a few and present the synopsis to Balu Mahendra. From this compilation, he would select a few and this would happen on Sundays and from Monday shoot would commence which would go on till Thursday barring Wednesday as that was the day of telecast of Kadai Neram. Edit and post production work will happen from Thursday and again we would sit on Sundays for the next lot of story finalization.

All of us fell sick except Balu


The consequence

As a result of this schedule, all of us fell sick except Balu Mahendra who stood strong through out. In this process we learnt a lot. The learning period of technical basics of left and right of camera is very exciting and people who have worked in Kadai Neram will never have confusion on this aspect of camera. We worked for 200 days and it is equal to 3 or 4 films. This experience helped us much.

Identifying the content

We also understood the way content should be translated from one medium to the other. To give an example, one day Balu Mahendra narrated a story to be filmed which none of us liked but could not reveal our displeasure due to obvious reasons. The next day when he came up with the one-liner, we were all amazed. I am sure even the writer himself would not have recognized his story. The content could be inadequate as a short story but would be a great material for a short film or even a feature film. We learnt to identify the right material for the screen.

Post Kadai Neram

After Kadai Neram, I worked with Kadir in Kaadhal Virus for 2 years. Before this project was complete, I again started working with Balu Mahendra for Julie Ganapathy. Then Adu Oru Kanaa Kaalam happened.

Project with Dhanush

I got to know Dhanush through Adu Oru Kanaa Kaalam. When Kaadal Kondein was under production, Balu Mahendra wanted to cast Dhanush in Adu Oru Kana Kaalam. The project got rolled and we were all assisting him in the script department. It is difficult to win the trust and faith of Balu Mahendra but once you win his confidence, he will never doubt your judgment or decision making capabilities. As regards AOKK, he made me interact with the artists especially Dhanush. Meanwhile just two days prior to the shooting, Balu Mahendra narrated the story to Dhanush and Priya Mani basically to make the artists feel comfortable and not because Dhanush or Priya Mani wanted to hear it. Both of them liked the script.

It is difficult to win the trust and

faith of Balu Mahendra

Getting to know Dhanush

After this, I was sent for all interactions associated with artists like dates, costumes etc. This paved way for a good understanding and rapport between Dhanush and me. It was during that time, I had worked on a script for Dhanush.

Script for Dhanush

When we were shooting in Ooty for Adu Oru Kanaa Kaalam, after the pack up, I went to Dhanush’s room and told him the script I had kept ready. After listening to it, he said, “Although I discuss every script with my brother and decide, I am saying yes to this right away and we’ll start working once we reach Chennai”.

The production relay

Salem Chandrashekhar, producer of Ghajini, heard the story but felt there was no comedy element. Then Dhanush put me on to Kavithalaya who liked it but for some reasons like Dhanush’s dates, they moved on to a different project. Then A M Rathnam came in the picture. It was very motivating for us as Surya films generally don’t work with debutants (at least in Tamil). Meanwhile Beema came to Rathnam sir and he obviously had to choose it due to established artists and director. Then again Salem Chandrashekhar came into the picture and agreed to do the film which was Desiya Nedunchaalai. Rathnam sir was to do Polladhavan. But Salem Chandrashekhar asked me to narrate the script to Harris Jayaraj and agreed to do the project if Harris consents.

Harris Jayaraj and Kasthuri Raja

It was a story of a Chennai boy falling in love with a Bangalore girl and Harris instantly liked it as it was very much similar to his real life and was able to identify with it. But somehow this project never took off. In such a scenario, Kasthuri Raja, (father of Dhanush) agreed to fund and we shot for 2 days for Desiya Nedunchaalai. It was during the release of Thiruvilayadal Aarambam. Then he moved to a different project and again this was shelved.

Hansraj Saxena connection

Meanwhile Dhanush, through Hansraj Saxena of Sun Pictures, met Kadiresan. I also met Kadiresan and narrated the stories but he did not like Desiya Nedunchaalai but liked Polladhavan and he agreed to do it.

I wanted G V Prakashkumar


Production was not taxing as we had ample time for preparation. There were no pressures from production side either. V A Durai, the producer of Pithamagan was the production designer for Polladhavan and was very supportive. I wanted G V Prakashkumar and Durai was instrumental in convincing the producer to bring him in. I had complete freedom in the project which was primarily due to the trust that Dhanush had on me.

The bike

Honda sponsored the bike and asked us to use their bike and there were many such interesting patrons. But when we went to Pulsar, they refused to do it because they were not able to meet their demands as such and an involvement with a film project would only augment their demands but they were not able to supply that many vehicles. The producers wanted a brand that would pay for the mileage and I was keen that it should only be Pulsar as this is the most happening bike among the youth. Dhanush was also keen and as a result the production lost around 40 lakhs but finally they let us go ahead with Pulsar. I think Pulsar helped many people to identify with the film. Later texts were circulated that Polladhavan was the world’s biggest advertisement for Pulsar.

Polladhavan was the world’s

biggest advertisement for Pulsar

Cinematographer Velraj

All my artists in Polladhavan were very cooperative with Velraj and GV topping the list. Velraj was working in Hindi and in Parattai Engira Azhagu Sundaram. That’s when Dhanush got to know him and felt he would be suitable for me. I saw his work, met him and realized that there would be comfort zones between us. Generally cinematographers feel that they are only responsible for rendering a vision to director’s thoughts and would be egoistic. But Velraj never has any of those hang ups which is a rarity and he would never overstep anytime.

Music director G V Prakash

GV is some 12-13 years younger than me but it was very comfortable working with him. Without a musical knowledge if I say something, he would understand my needs and deliver.


Hari who is an assistant of Madhu Ambat had worked in A Venkatesh’s film called Petrol which was never released. Kishore was the villain in it and Hari suggested him but I was not impressed. Then he persuaded me to see the Telugu film Happy which I liked. Later I went to Bangalore, met Kishore and finalized him.

Daniel Balaji

A friend of mine was supposed to play the character of Ravi but it did not happen. We wanted someone with long hair and Dhanush suggested Daniel Balaji. When I called him, he was not interested in doing any film and was waiting for Gautham’s next film. However I insisted on him listening to my script and he came but with cropped hair and I was thoroughly disappointed. This time around, I was not interested in narrating a script to him. I explained to him about the story which is about two boys, one from a middle class and the other from underworld, both wanting to prove themselves to their respective families. I also told him how the antagonist is as important as the protagonist in my film and the importance of long hair which forms part of the characterization. Balaji suggested a wig shop from which we chose the right one and went on to shoot. Nobody could identify Balaji’s long hair as wig because people are used to seeing him with long hair.

Supporting cast

The entire cast of Bhanupriya, Murali, Anju and the boy who stole the bike were very cooperative. They were all tailor made for their roles. Casting gave us a huge dimension in Polladhavan.

That was the first time I saw

Divya and I knew she was THE



We saw many girls but were not happy and hence had not finalized on heroine even after completing 2 schedules. We did a still session with Kajal Agarwal and Poonam Bajwa. In fact our posters had come with Poonam Bajwa and Dhanush. We did not have many options and someone suggested Kuthu Ramya’s name and I had only seen a song in Kuthu and did not remember her face. Nevertheless, when I called her, she was not interested in doing a Tamil film as she was very busy in Kannada but listened to the script and liked it. I asked her to join us in the next schedule which was commencing the day after at Hyderabad. She gave her dress measurements, the costumes got ready and she came to the shooting spot directly. That was the first time I saw Divya (Ramya) and I knew she was THE girl for the film.

Working with Divya Spandana

Working with Divya was ok but sometime she overreacts. Those moments were embarrassing but she does not keep anything at heart. There was an issue while we were shooting and she got offended by my words and did not come for the shoot for 3 days. Later Durai spoke and she re-joined us but behaved as though nothing has happened. If it would have been someone else, the person would not have worked at all. But Divya is a nice person and she came back without having anything in her heart.

The team

Everything worked well for the film and artists like Karunas and Santhanam contributed significantly to the script. My team and I lived in the office for three months. We worked very hard and had healthy discussions in shaping up the film.

The first look

The film was going for the delivery and everyone was tensed. The producer was very nervous and was having a drink outside the lab. I stood before him and told that people who see the film will never say it is not good. I also assured him that it is a minimum guarantee film and is sure to go for 3 weeks. However he was even happy for 2 weeks. But of course now everyone knows about Polladhavan’s result.

I also assured him that it is a

minimum guarantee film

Polladhavan is a mediocre,

masala film

Did the success of Polladhavan bring in pressure for Aadukalam?

No, I have never felt that way. I have always told that Polladhavan is a mediocre, masala film. People may feel different but this is my evaluation of the film. Of course I cannot deny the fact that it gave us a break and took all those associated with it to the next higher level. Of course, this opinion of mine about Polladhavan offends many people including my producer and Dhanush. When I said this to students in a college, one guy was offended and said that he liked the film and saw it 13 times. And he asked me to keep my opinion to myself. I know my limitations and the compromises made in Polladhavan for me to feel that way.

Is Polladhavan inspired from Bicycle Thieves?

People have asked me if Polladhavan was inspired from Bicycle Thieves. I have told everyone not to compare the two films as it is a disgrace to Bicycle Thieves if it is compared with Polladhavan.

It is a disgrace to Bicycle

Thieves if it is compared with


The actual inspiration

My friend Andrew lost his bike and had a variety of experiences tracking down his vehicle. This was the inspiration for Polladhavan. I wrote the script and made many changes to suit the visual medium. Dhanush had a few limitations on his physical attributes while playing an action hero. Hence we needed to script according to such factors. There are many flaws in Polladhavan but when compared to its contemporaries, it would have appeared fresh. As I know all these segments, I did not take its success to my head.

For the next project

In Polladhavan, we achieved a few things and hence desired to go one step ahead in the next project which means closer to reality, closer to our lifestyle and where it deals with certain human characteristics and psychological aspects. I did not have Polladhavan as my yardstick.

On Trisha’s exit from Aadukalam

In VTV, she has done a Syrian Christian role but in Aadukalam, it is an Anglo-Indian role. She had given 15 days but that’s when the permission to shoot in Railway Colony was cancelled and we had to break the schedule. Meanwhile Trisha had given her dates for a Hindi film and our schedule was getting postponed and hence she could not do Aadukalam.

I was not impressed with


On the trail of a heroine

Producer had gone to Mumbai and brought in bundles of photographs from which we shortlisted Tapasee. I was not impressed with Tapasee. But after I saw her, I felt that she was the ideal girl. Then she went and got her nose surgery done. Tapasee is a nice and hard working girl.

Dhanush’s tough times with Tapasee

For the first few days, Dhanush had a tough time with Tapasee due to language problem. She wanted the dialogues one day prior but we were constantly changing the dialogues. She was not able to manage. The dialogues that she was speaking within her family were English and that outside were in Tamil. She would manage English and when it came to Tamil, Dhanush used to help her by speaking them without sound and she would get some. Dhanush had a tiring time with Tapasee and other new artists. It was certainly pressurizing for seasoned artists like Dhanush and Kishore to pull it off with newcomers. Someone will always goof up shots resulting in retakes. Hence Dhanush used to feel elated when there was a shoot with Kishore. But Tapasee has done a good job for a first timer and has fitted the role perfectly.

Dhanush had a tiring time with


Kishore is not excited about a

few things in Aadukalam

On Kishore

Kishore is going to look different from his earlier films. He basically did Aadukalam to express his gratitude towards us. Kishore is not excited about a few things in Aadukalam which is his personal opinion. He is so much a Madurai person in this film. If not for him, the role would not have acquired so much dynamism. Mainstream audience will be moved to the edge of the seat while watching Aadukalam because of Kishore especially towards the last 20 minutes of the film. Whatever Kishore does, he does with effortless ease in a very convincing manner which has helped Aadukalam in a huge manner. I can only discuss in detail about this after the release of the film.

G V Prakash’s contribution

G V has exceeded expectations in Aadukalam. The amount of energy and enthusiasm he shows towards certain films and certain people is very high. I called him early this morning for mixing and he was there immediately. This, I don’t think, anybody else would have done. GV is energetic, passionate to films that are close to his heart.

GV is energetic, passionate to

films that are close to his heart

We started work on songs from 2008. In Polladhavan G V shared his work with Yogi B and Dheena which he considered as an insult but could not say anything at that point. However in Aadukalam, he was keen to prove that he can deliver any kind of work. We have also used Yogi in Aadukalam and he has rapped for GV’s tune.

Yogi’s rap

Everybody wonders how English rap finds its place in a Madurai milieu but it has got nothing to do with the content. When Yogi sings, there would be a force and an emotional high which nobody can bring out. Things that cannot be said in the scenes can be communicated through songs. That’s why we have used Yogi and he has done a wonderful job.

Building trust

There were fresh inputs from GV. Both of us had lots of free time. More than working, we spent time on talking. We have only done 6 songs in two and a half years. I used to go to his studio, keep talking, spoil his work, meet people etc. In this process, we built mutual trust, rapport, respect and a good relationship with each other. When people appreciate the tracks of Aadukalam, it is mainly because of the relationship we share with each other. GV is very hard working; some people might differ but I have seen him work.

Projects in pipeline

I am planning to do an off-beat film that runs for 100 minutes with no songs. It will be a simple film which I will complete within 3-4 months. This is an inspiration from one of Naa Muthukumar’s poems. The film will be budgeted small and will be one step ahead. Aadukalam was selected for some festivals but we could not send it as they wanted a premiere. When producers have spent around 15-20 crores in a film, it is a big risk to showcase before the release whereas we can take that risk if it is a small budget film provided the investors are interested. We are targeting at the festival circuit and planning for a multiplex release with 30-40 prints for this small budget film.

Vada Chennai

After this I will start my next project which may or may not be Vada Chennai because casting is becoming very difficult as there would be a transformation of a person from 17 to 35 years in it. Not only one person but the supporting cast also will undergo changes as the story moves along. There are many technicalities involved in it and we are a bit afraid to get into such a venture. We need a proper artist with 100% commitment and one who believes in the script as we do. As we are yet to zero in on such an artist, we are keeping our fingers crossed. Meanwhile we might also want to do other scripts. Everything will fall into place after the release of Aadukalam.

Cloud Nine’s involvement

I wanted to produce the small budget film and told Durai Dhayanidhi and Rathnavel but they were excited and wanted to fund the small budget film too. I was taken aback. Regular mainstream investors will not be interested in such films but these are people who want to experiment and explore all avenues of film making.

Suhasini Mani Ratnam

I am talking to Suhasini Mani Ratnam who is creating awareness about film festivals in Chennai. She brings in curators form all over the world and makes them watch our films. Now I am talking to her. Although she has not seen Aadukalam, it was her contact who selected the film for Dubai but I wanted it to be taken to Berlin and they said they would try.

Tags : Vetrimaran, Polladhavan, Aadukalam, Dhanush, Tapasee, Divya, G V Prakash kumar
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