Direction Dreams: "Creators should get the same respect actors do"
...says Shakthi Mahendra, who has worked as assistant director to Balumahendra in Thalamuraigal
Films worked on: Thalaimuraigal, Ulkuthu, Oru Naal Koothu, Cadaver
Directors worked with: Balu Mahendra, Caarthick Raju, Nelson Venkatesan, Anoop Panicker
Main responsibilities: Editing reports and costume
When did you realise cinema was your calling?
From childhood, I was attracted to the world of cinema. I discontinued studies after ninth standard to get into the film industry. My mother was supportive of my decision. I studied acting and direction in Balu Mahendra sir's Cinema Pattarai (he later even adopted me) and I also learnt editing from Sreekar Prasad sir. I got to work and act in Thalaimuraigal.
What have you learned from your directors?
All the directors I've worked with have been soft-spoken and professional. But I learnt everything about direction from Balu Mahendra sir. How to maintain the sets and how to frame the shots are things he constantly thought of. His sets were totally different from what I later saw when working with other directors. Balu sir's sets were always silent and people rarely spoke loudly in them.
What’s the oddest or most memorable thing you have seen or done as an AD?
For Thalaimuraigal, we shot completely at Nazarathpet. Since it wasn't easy to commute on a daily basis from Chengalpet (where I lived at the time), I got myself a hotel room near the shooting location itself. On the day we wrapped the shoot, I vacated the room and had to come to Koyambedu. I travelled by car with Balu Mahendra sir and I was so tired that I just fell asleep on his lap! When I finally got down after the drive, he laughed at how I fell asleep instantly and even told other students at the institute about it. That's an incident I'll never forget.
What’s one area of filmmaking you had a tough time with, but are better at now?
At the institute I studied, we got to learn everything from penning a script to bringing it alive on screen. But cinematography and music were aspects of filmmaking that I had to learn more about. Knowing how to shoot a scene from a cinematographer's point of view is something I'm still learning. As far the music is concerned, you're supposed to know what mood you want to convey musically and for that, you need to know the basics of it. I recently saw a short film where, for a romance scene, they'd used music that would've better suited a horror film. I laughed when I saw it.
What is your take on present-day cinema?
The industry is busier than ever and thanks to digital platforms; the reach of films are at an all-time high. Because of this, many filmmakers are getting chances to make films, but, unfortunately, most of these are not quality works. On the other hand, there are many people who have dedicated their lives to the art, but they aren't getting that platform. Having studied filmmaking and being a person who reveres the art, seeing someone easily getting that opportunity and then doing a shoddy job is quite disheartening. I know we have no right to tell them what to do, but it would be nice if they understood the value of what they're given and make the most of it. They also aren't giving importance to the story anymore; they care only about genres like adult-comedy or whatever else is trending. That's the reason why we don't have many feel-good films in Tamil cinema these days. I wish makers would give importance to such genres.
What's one change you wish to see in Tamil cinema?
Producers and actors only back experienced directors. An AD, despite having a great story, can't even approach a big actor, let alone narrate a script. We all grow up as some actor's fans and we pen stories keeping them in mind. But then, we're not even able to approach them. So, we resort to doing a smaller film. Meanwhile, those outside the industry don't know what we go through and say, "Unnaku enna pa, film industry la irrukeenga." It's like the Ostrich story from Master. I hope this changes and creators get the same respect actors do.
Who would be the dream cast and/or crew for your debut project?
Karthi is someone who can be easily moulded to fit any character. He is one of the few actors whose acting doesn't disturb the story and gives the space for the creator. He seems to be a very comfortable person to work with, so I'd love to have him in my film.