Semma Scene: A fine balance
In this week’s column, Vasool Raja MBBS’s director, Saran, talks about how the film’s pre-intermission scene was made
"Considering Vasool Raja MBBS is the remake of Munnabhai MBBS, I knew that the film had a theme that could work across languages. When Kamal sir got on board, I knew we had the talent to treat even the serious aspects with humorous undertones. That’s why Crazy Mohan sir was brought in for, even though he was very busy. It was Kamal sir who gave me the idea of casting him, so he wouldn’t leave the sets. He hesitated, but I told him we would work the shoot around his schedule. His role of a doctor and his ‘that how do I know sir’ lines became an integral part of the film, and the iconic interval block scene too features him at his best. I’d narrow down the lines on the day of the shoot. Each scene would have pages of lines and my job would be to edit them. I’d leave blank spaces for Kamal sir to fill up, who, interestingly hadn’t seen Munnabhai MBBS at the time.
The interval block is setup after Raja’s father (Nagesh) gets insulted in a previous scene by Vishwanathan (Prakash Raj). Kamal sir actually tried to have us cast K Balachander, as he felt his father was a commanding character. But KB sir didn’t want to share screen space with Kamal sir. On the day we planned on meeting him, he left to his son’s house in Mumbai without telling us. So our obvious choice was Nagesh sir. As he was in the film, we wanted an emotional scene around him.
Prakash Raj uses his hands a lot when emoting — so much that we can actually say that his hands will act when he acts. So we decided to capitalise on that and that’s how the ‘what is that maamu’ scene happened. The shot where he places his hands on the table while saying that line wasn’t scripted. As it involved the hero and villain, we executed it as a ‘back and forth’ scene. I had to cut and write new scenes that focussed only on their actions.
We composed another shot with a close-up lens to focus on his hand when he does the action. Then I told Kamal sir to do the same so that it would look like he’s teasing the other character. In fact, there’s even a shot with just their two hands in the frame (smiles).
Thankfully, it worked out and the audience reaction for that scene was phenomenal. Another example of Prakash Raj’s hand gestures improvising is his telling himself to calm down, to which Kamal sir responds as though he were called (laughs).
That’s when Vishwanathan talks about how he insulted Raja’s father. This change in tone was in the script already but the way we pulled it off is different. The interval block is like an abbreviation of the full film — it has a lot of humour, but still has the right emotional cues. This scene is when Raja tells Vishwanathan the reason for getting into that college as a student.
Music plays an important role in emotional scenes and Bharadwaj’s music right at the moment when Raja says “Marakka mudiyatha naal, enga appa azhuthu naa paatha naal.” The music also serves to take the audience back to the scene in which Raja’s father gets humiliated.
Kamal sir never uses glycerine. Very few artistes have the talent of shedding tears at will. He in fact knows exactly which facial muscle to twitch to make the tears flow.
Both Prakash Raj and Kamal sir are masters of the art and have their own formula for how they pull off their roles. My role was to balance their performances — in a way like how I balanced the ‘what is that maamu’ scene (smiles). Munnabhai MBBS had a sequel — Lage Raho Munna Bhai — but Kamal sir and I didn’t think it made sense for our audience. But if I get an extraordinary story that can be told as a sequel, we aren’t ruling out the option.”
(As told to Gopinath Rajendran)