Direction Dreams: Tamil film industry is competing on a global scale
...says Ramya Kalingarayar, assistant director of films like Kadhalil Sodhappuvadhu Yeppadi, Aaha Kalyanam, Vanjagar Ulagam, in this edition of Direction Dreams
In conversation with: Ramya Kalingarayar
Films worked on: Kadhalil Sodhappuvadhu Yeppadi, Aaha Kalyanam, Vanjagar Ulagam
Directors worked with: Balaji Mohan, A Gokul Krishna, Manoj Beedha
Main responsibilities: Costumes, casting, artiste coordination, script supervision
When did you realise cinema was your calling?
I am a huge fan of Vikram and despite studying in a residential school, I kept a tab on his films and interviews. When I was in 11th grade, I read an interview of his where he said acting doesn't feel like work as he enjoys doing it. That struck the first chord in me. I chose Viscom in college and then went to LV Prasad Film Institute to study filmmaking. During my time there, I made a short film and put it up on YouTube, mainly to share with my friends. After two weeks, I got a call from a journalist saying the video had gone viral and they wanted to interview me. I thought I was being pranked. When the article came out, I was among names like Karthik Subbaraj, Balaji Mohan and Nalan Kumarasamy. That motivated me.
John Edathattil, the writer of films like Guna, was a faculty member at the institute. He made me realise the importance of film-writing. I found tweaking stories, without changing the tone of the film or the voice of the director, to be a creatively satisfying process. After assisting films, I was also able to do script consultation for films like Vanjagar Ulagam and Monster.
What have you learned from your directors?
Balaji Mohan is a cool person, who remains calm even during peak pressure on set. He's an efficient problem solver and a well-organised person. Gokul likes challenges and despite being a direction team of just four people, we took on Aaha Kalyanam. He's from director Vishnuvardhan's school and they are used to working with a small team even for big films like Billa and Sarvam. I faced so many challenges when working on that film and was able to mature as a technician. Manoj Beedha is also a calm person and he has a unique style when it comes to presentation.
What’s the oddest or most memorable thing you have seen or done as an AD?
For Aaha Kalyanam, we did a 24-hour shoot which included some important scenes like the wedding sequence. It was a hectic schedule, but most memorable. I had a deal with the director that if he wanted to scold someone on the sets, he would vent to me instead and his go-to line was, "What the f*ck Ramya!" (laughs) We were so tired that everything started looking blurry during the final stretches. We were exhausted and had to push our limits. In hindsight, the experience was fun and taught us how to function under pressure.
What’s one area of filmmaking you had a tough time with, but are better at now?
To make the set-up for a scene realistic, you have to choreograph the background. We often pay attention only to the lead cast, but the background characters that appear in a scene add a lot of flavour to it. What they do while the lead actors are performing adds a sense of reality to the film. It was something I learned when working on Aaha Kalyanam.
What is your take on present-day cinema?
There are a lot more takers for unique and off-beat films in the Tamil industry now. There are also a lot more opportunities for newcomers now. There isn't anything called mainstream in the film industry now and we have become a more open culture. The concept of writers' room, which existed in the times of Kamal sir's earlier films, is now finally making a comeback. We are competing on a global scale as our products are released for the international market. When I watch a Spanish series, I want people in Spain to watch our Tamil content too.
What's one change you wish to see in Tamil cinema?
The industry can be more organised professionally. We need something like LinkedIn where our specific skillsets are out in the open, perhaps a new platform in the form of an app. It would be helpful to hunt for talents. When working on a script based on a particular industry, I should be able to find the necessary contacts to do research on that industry - similar to how a series like Gray's Anatomy has a team of doctors for making it factually correct.
Who would be the dream cast and/or crew for your debut project?
I would love to work with Vijay Sethupathi.