Sense of a Scene: Going in circles
In this week’s column, Guna’s director, Santhana Bharathi, elaborates on the making of the iconic pre-credit scene in the film
"We decided right at the outset, that we’d place this two-and-a-half minute-long shot of Guna walking around the room, before the credits. We needed it to make the audience understand that Guna may not be mentally stable and that he’s capable of doing anything when he gets emotional. It also served to establish his history: His father issues, how his life would have turned out had his father not run away, and so on. We also say that the reason for his behaviour is the side-effect of having been injected with medicine (pentothol) — which also explains the slurred speech.
The doctor calls him a human and compares him with a matchbox that falls down when dropped, while Guna compares himself with a feather that keeps flying high — and that’s exactly who Guna his. He’s a person who believes that he’s not human; he’s convinced he’s god. That’s why he also wants to marry a goddess, Abirami, a character introduced to him by Ananthu. That’s why he regards everything as asingam. He hasn’t seen Abirami yet, and that’s why when the doctor asks him to show her, he looks clueless. As Ananthu tells him, Guna believes he’ll see Abirami on a full-moon day and so, when he finally sees a girl in a temple on such a day, he believes her to be Abirami.
As for this particular shot of Guna mumbling as he paces around the room, we were trying to partly denote the after-effects of the medicine. I had to do a lot of research, considering it’s a story about an unstable individual. The first shot of the film — a tracking shot — in which he stands like Lord Siva is followed by this shot. We wanted to introduce him in a new way, and decided on showing the atmosphere before showing him, and finally establishing that he’s on the lookout for a character named Abirami.
As for the idea of the camera following him around, this was an idea born out of conversations Kamal Haasan, cinematographer Venu, and I had. After seeing the location, I thought it made a lot of sense to have such a shot. This was also Venu’s first Tamil film and his assent was crucial for this scene. This tracking shot was done in a single take, but we rehearsed it for an entire day, and shot it the next day because of lighting issues.
We didn’t have monitors back then, and so we didn’t quite know if what we had shot would do the trick. We took another as a back-up. When shooting that scene apart from the actors, Kamal and Girish Karnad, the only technician in that room was Venu. We rehearsed it a couple of times and had to stand outside as the scene was being shot. They had to call the cuts and only after they did, did we all get to go inside the room.
It was a scene shot with a handheld camera. As the topic moves from one to another, Guna’s laughter turns to sadness which then turns to anger. It’s all to show his mental imbalance. I should thank Balakumaran sir for the dialogues which elevated the scene greatly. The end of that scene is when Guna walks into the door and gets knocked out cold. Kamal actually walked into the door. He’s someone who would do anything for a scene. It’s a bit like how he runs into a lamppost in the climax of Moondram Pirai. Also, he knows how to pull it off too. If we tried it, we would end up with a broken nose (laughs).
Though I’ve acted with Kamal Haasan in a number of comedies, I’ve only directed him in Guna and Mahanadi, both serious films. I always get a high when working on something different with him.”
(as told to Gopinath Rajendran)