Not everyone is a born actor
Veteran filmmaker Bharathirajaa speaks to CE about his film institute, brand of cinema, and why he wants to compete with young filmmakers
Bharathirajaa has a childlike enthusiasm that pervades his demeanour as he discusses Tamil cinema and the artistes he likes. There’s no cynicism in his words. The man has tried his hand at every genre, but considers drama to be his forte. He smiles, “Honestly, I never thought I’d become successful. Looking back, I feel blessed and proud.”
Excerpts from a conversation with the director-actor:
What do you think of cinema today?
It’s the best time for anyone to be in the industry. Tamil cinema is known to adopt and discard trends fast. This is truer than ever now. Young directors are trying out new things and I love this. Also, technology has opened up immense possibilities that weren’t there when I started my career. Unlike some others, I am not against its use. But I believe you need to have a proper understanding of it.
Who do you think is most promising among the current generation of filmmakers?
It’s hard for me to pick names; each of them is quite talented. For instance, I liked Jigarthanda. I imagined something else entirely when I heard the title. But the film was wonderful. I also like Vetrimaaran, Bramma and Ram. They aren’t here for the money. They’re driven by passion. It’s evident in their work. Today’s filmmakers constantly re-invent themselves. When I see their work, I feel the urge to do a film myself. (Smiles)
Is that why you’re now back to directing?
Yes, I am working on three films: Om, Sella Kaasu (tentatively titled) and Celina. Om is about the relationship between an aged English poet and a young girl. The story is set abroad. It’s not a commercial film, but will be a fresh experience to the audience. Sella Kaasu is about demonetisation. Celina is a love story again! I’ve been simultaneously working on these scripts.
You are 75? And yet, you’re still making contemporary love stories?
(Laughs) So what? I’m an eternal romantic. Love can mean different things at different stages of life. Every generation finds its own way to romance but the essence of love remains the same. We think love is complicated, but it is actually quite simple. Everyone overthinks matters of the heart these days.
Your last few films didn’t do well at the box-office. How did you cope?
I am not exaggerating. It was catastrophic. It took a toll on my physical and mental wellbeing. I felt I had no identity. But I gradually came out of it.
Is there a formula that you incorporate in your films?
Films need to have an identifiable aesthetic. When you look my film, you should know it’s my work. That’s what I aim for. To ensure a hit, a lot of factors, like the story, characters and how the film is mounted, matter. Often, I deviate from the script depending on my thoughts and the atmosphere at the location. I don’t plan any scenes before the shoot. It just happens. Initially, I limited myself to realism. Later, I stopped differentiating between realism and non-realism, as I believed they exist together in life.
I’ve done enough to not be afraid of what I say. When I started out, I didn’t know whether I was directing right. Eventually, I gained in confi dence. I had to endure so much pain, but never lost hope. I’ve introduced more than 40 actors in the industry. I feel content. I’m not scared of death. At the same time, I am ageing. Enaku ippo vaazhanum-nu aasai. Romba naal!
Do you miss any actor in particular?
I miss Sivaji (Ganesan). He was a gem of a person. Once, I told him I came to the film industry to act. I said, “Naan ungala minjanum-nu dhan Chennai-ku vandhen.” He responded, “Yenda, un veetla kannaadi illaya?” (Laughs) Those were the golden days.
You haven’t worked with either Rajinikanth or Kamal Haasan in long time.
I remember paying Rajinikanth Rs. 2,500 during his initial films, even though he demanded Rs. 3,000 (Laughs). He still keeps asking me about that remaining 500 rupees. Today, he’s become more than a Superstar. So, I’m comfortable working with newcomers who can be moulded. At the end of the day, I get better results from them.
Any words of advice for filmmakers?
One needs to be dispassionately passionate about work. When you are working, you have to believe in it. But the moment you finish it, just cut yourself out. Once I’m done with a film, I become detached. I can joke about it.
You’ve also started a film school recently (BRIIC). Do you think acting can be taught?
Yes. Not everyone is a born actor. I can’t create actors, but I can definitely help them become one.
Do you think you’ve got the kind of recognition you deserve?
Even today, six-year-olds recognise me and young people want to take selfies with me. What more do I need?