Direction Dreams: "Atlee's success is not on account of luck"
...says VV Balaguru, who has assisted the Bigil director in Mersal and Bigil. The assistant director also shares his amibitions, struggles, and insipirations in a candid chat
AD Name: VV Balaguru
Films worked on: Kannodu Kanbathellam, King, Satham Podathey, Nedunchaalai, Mersal, Bigil
Directors worked with: Prabhu Solomon, Vasanth, Krishna, Atlee
Main responsibilities: Scheduling, artiste co-ordination, location scouting, scripting and post-production
When did you realise cinema was your calling?
This was something I realised in my school days. However, being from an orthodox family, I was not allowed to pursue it. It took me years to convince them and meanwhile, I worked as a sub-editor in Dinakaran and worked as an AD in the evenings. It was hard to get through without recommendations. As there were not too many films being made, I ventured into serials. That was a great experience that prepared me for cinema.
What have you learned from your directors?
Prabhu Solomon sir taught me to be sincere. I knew the hardships he went through; he is an embodiment of the line, 'hard work never fails'. Vasanth sir, meanwhile, is a perfectionist. He gives us freedom and encourages us to try something new. Atlee is extremely hardworking. He knows the pulse of the audience but people credit luck for what he does. Memes that make fun of him hurt me because he is a genius.
What’s the oddest or most memorable thing you have seen or done as an AD?
While shooting Satham Podathey on a Sunday, Vasanth sir suddenly asked for a hospital setup with a nurse, equipment, extras and a wheelchair. I was only given one hour to source them. The art department could not help because we were shooting in Taramani and they couldn't go to Kodambakkam and get back in time. I asked for a bike and headed to a hospital where I requested a nurse who was finishing her shift to be a part of the film. I also found a few guys who helped me with a wheelchair from another private clinic and in return, I made them extras in the scene. Vasanth sir laughed when I reached the set with a nurse on the bike. He appreciated me in front of the whole team.
What’s one area of filmmaking you had a tough time with, but are better at now?
More than the craft of filmmaking, having the confidence to communicate and express is what I have learned over the years. Without that, it's impossible to survive in this industry. The trick is to be good to everyone, while at the same time, making sure the job gets done.
Have you ever been starstruck?
I had the opportunity to work with Nagesh sir for the Sun TV serial, Krishnadasi. He really liked me and I was tasked with explaining his scenes to him every day. When I was not on the sets, he would ask for me. His dedication towards the art, even at that age, was an inspiration.
What is your take on present-day cinema?
It's really good but I feel we have to stop trying to recreate Hollywood films. They make films based on what they see but we have our own culture which should be shown to the rest of the world. If we check the films that have done well over the years, you will find they are culture-centric. Our strength is sentiment and we are letting go of it in pursuit of grander films.
Who would be the dream cast and/or crew for your debut project?
For my story, I feel Vijay Sethupathi would be perfect. It's an emotional story which is very unique to our land and he would be apt. I would be happy if Santhosh Sivan sir is also on board to handle the camera.