Direction Dreams: Tamil cinema desperately needs more writers
...says Kumar Ramaswamy N, who has worked as an assistant director for Arivazhagan, Adam Dasan, and Mohan Raja
In conversation with Kumar Ramaswamy N
Films worked on: Eeram, Paambhu Sattai, Aarathu Sinam, Kuttram 23, Velaikkaran, Borrder
Directors worked with: Arivazhagan, Adam Dasan, Mohan Raja
Main responsibilities: Costumes, Casting, Story Discussion, Dubbing, Scheduling
When did you realise cinema was your calling?
Until I finished school, I wasn't even a cinephile, but my father was one and he would take us to touring talkies often. During my early 20s, I got into the habit of reading, and I remember how I was hooked to this column in a weekly magazine that covered the personal life of directors. Those stories were really inspiring and gave me the confidence to start writing poems. I also remember seeing an artwork made from broken bangles that were put together to spell the word, 'Welcome'. It was the spark I needed to get into the creative field, I guess; I think I took the welcome quite literally (smiles). When I began doing my own artwork, my friends saw and encouraged me to get into films. I enrolled myself in the Film Institute in Chennai and studied direction. A distant relative ran a security organisation, and one of his clients was director Shankar sir. I took the job of security personnel immediately, simply because it was Shankar sir. His erstwhile assistant Arivazhagan sir spotted me and took me on board.
What have you learned from your directors?
Arivazhagan sir is simple, sincere, and calm. He reads a lot and has a splendid collection of novels. We come from the same school of thoughts and that sync has made me travel with him for 13 years. Most of the directors are either strong creatively or technically. Arivazhagan sir is strong in both aspects. He taught me the importance of ABC: Artist, Background, and Continuity. Mohan Raja sir is extremely down-to-earth and friendly. He deals with everything with a smile. He gives a lot of importance to story and dialogues. He even discusses ideas at midnight, and if an assistant was sleeping, he would request us not to disturb them. Both directors are open to suggestions from their assistants.
What’s the oddest or most memorable thing you have seen or done as an AD?
One of the first scenes of Kuttram 23 happens in a dumping ground. We shot this at the actual ground at Pallikaranai. It was difficult to stay there even for an hour, given the stench, but we went with three call sheets, and shot for 24 hours straight. We did this with a crew of 150 people. We took all the safety measures possible and wore boots, gloves, and masks. Despite the constraints, we finished everything as planned. That was an unforgettable experience and was made so particularly by the praise Arivu sir lavished on me.
What’s one area of filmmaking you had a tough time with, but are better at now?
I took my time to learn CG work. It has become a mandatory skill for a filmmaker. Only experience can teach what can be shot in a green matte and what can't. I learnt this through videos and by examining the work of other films. Arivu sir's films have a lot of CG work; so, I have learned a lot.
What is your take on present-day cinema?
Both business and creative-wise, Tamil cinema is one of the leading industries in the country. I don't think any other industry gives as much importance to content and new attempts.
What's a change you wish to see in Tamil cinema?
In the beginning, only directors made films, and only about 10 percent of them wrote their own story. There was much emphasis on writers back then and that translated into good films. I wish we returned to that model as our cinema desperately needs more writers now. The number of directors who read to get ideas is limited. It's nice to see directors like Vetri Maaran credit writers in his films. Even I wish to make films out of novels written by the likes of Rajesh Kumar, Janakiraman, and Jayakanthan. Plagiarism too has become a huge issue nowadays, and it's quite disheartening to see it happen.
Who would be the dream cast and/or crew for your debut project?
I have a few scripts on hand, and Arun Vijay would be a perfect fit to play the male lead in one of those.