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'I auditioned elephants on highways for Seemaraja'- Cinema express

Direction Dreams: I auditioned elephants for Seemaraja

This weekly column brings to you a promising assistant director, and their aspirations and this week it is Venkatesh, co-director of Rajesh and Ponram

Published: 26th April 2019

Directors worked with: Rajesh, Ponram

Key responsibilities: Allocating roles to assistant directors and location scouting

Films worked/working on:
Siva Manasula Sakthi, Boss Engira Bhaskaran, Varuthapadatha Valibar Sangam, Seemaraja,Mr Local 

When did you realise your calling was cinema?

I guess the fascination for cinema is in my genes. My grandfather worked as a driver for veteran actors like Nagesh and he used to take my mother to the shooting spots along with him. So, she grew up with a healthy admiration for cinema, which, I guess, got passed on to me. When I was in college, I happened to see the shooting of Cheran’s Vetri Kodi Kattu and I was fascinated by it. That was the tipping point, and I decided to become an assistant director right after graduation. 

Was it a smooth transition for you?

Not at all. I only got chances to work on small, insignificant films for almost five years. But I slowly made my way up the ladder. Thirutham, directed by Ponram, was my first major release. Since Rajesh was also part of the team, I became friends with him and assisted him in his debut, Siva Manasula Sakthi. From that point, I became a regular associate of both Rajesh and Ponram. And the journey has continued until the upcoming Mr Local.

You are credited as a co-director. How different are your responsibilities to that of the assistant directors?

Co-directors basically act as the bridge between the production house and the director. We are an integral part of all the processes and stages of a film.  

Do you wish to stick to comedy films, or will you experiment with genres going ahead?

Both Rajesh and Ponram are jovial, light-hearted people, and this is reflected in their films too. Even if they tried to do something new, people always demand comedies from them. And this, in turn, has greatly influenced the image producers have about their associates like me. 

They expect me to make comedy entertainers too. For my part, I want to steer away from comparisons, and wish to make realistic and lively films like Vetrimaaran sir. However, I will make sure that my films are light-hearted, just like those of my gurus. 

Can you tell us about any particularly memorable shooting experience?

Working in Seemaraja was an unforgettable experience. As the film had a historical portion, I had to make sure that everything shown on screen — locations, costumes, and props--was perfect. For instance, we needed a 10-feet-tall elephant for a particular sequence. I searched all of Kerala to find an elephant matching our criteria. Sometimes, I had to stop elephants travelling in trucks and conduct an audition of sorts in the middle of a highway to find the best one. Also, through the research we did for the film, I learnt a lot about the royal families who are still living in palaces in Tamil Nadu. 

Who would be the dream hero for your debut film?

Hands down, Vijay Sethupathi! I admire him a lot, and whenever I see his films, I feel an unexplainable emotional connection with him. It’s been my longtime wish to do a film starring him in the lead.

What gives you the push to keep pursuing your dream?

When I decided to enter this field, I wasn’t sure I’d be selected as an assistant director in even a small-budget film. But I’ve managed to reach so far and become a co-director. I enjoy every moment I spend working on films. Regardless of whether I direct my own film or continue being a co-director, cinema will always be part of my journey.

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