‘We would be into real estate if money were our primary focus’
Hema Rukmani, CEO of Thenandal Studios Limited, sheds light on the uncertainty over the release of Mersal
Mersal is TSL’s 100th release. Surely, there’s a lot of pressure.
If some of these problems weren’t there, we’d have been happier. As a team, we’re figuring things out. Mersal will get released in more than 3,292 theatres just as we had planned next week. Everyone including AR Rahman sir cooperated so much. Let us hope everything turns out favourably.
In what way has the film been affected by the strike?
They think the film shouldn’t come out because of the tax, which they believe will crush ticket prices. But we’re all friends. We are trying to sort the issues out in the most amicable way.
How much did you guys invest in the film?
I don’t want to reveal the exact figures, but we spent well above Rs.100 crore.
Your father-in-law Rama Narayanan was a veteran producer. How has Thenandal evolved over these years?
He was a man of many dreams but had little money. We have come a long way since. Murali Ramaswamy and I are passionate about films. They keep us going. We try to balance big budget films and small ones. Up next, we are working on Sangamitra. Thenandal is here to stay for the next 100 years.
Sangamitra, we hear, has a lot of VFX. Rama Narayanan, of course, was quite fond of visual effects.
Today, I realise those films could have been better. Nevertheless, his films had their identity. We aren’t on par with Hollywood yet, but I am sure that with Sangamitra, we’ll get there.
Sri Thenandal Films has been renamed Thenandal Studios Limited now.
Yes. We wanted to rebrand our company and it was a conscious decision. We wanted to create an international image. We retained ‘Thenandal’ because it’s a Tamil name. It’s made us what we are today. Murali wants to take our Tamil films to an international space and the rebranding exercise was mandatory. We have a strong past, and we’re looking to support more quality films in future.
What does Mersal have in store for the audience?
Atlee is a big fan of Vijay and so am I. Vijay wanted to do a film with us, and then we got Atlee on board. He had an interesting story, but it required some fine-tuning. Atlee was ready to do it. We were ready to spend so much for the project because of the script.
How has Atlee managed a big-budget film like this?
Atlee is an energetic director and focused. He has done two films now with Vijay and knows what exactly his fans want. All we wanted is a credible story. Atlee had it. His sense of commercial cinema has always impressed me. Vijay, meanwhile, is a sweetheart. He’s a wonderful human and a thorough professional. Even after reaching such heights, he remains grounded and is patient on the sets. Lots of films haven’t projected him as a good artiste. We know he’s one heck of a star, dancer, and a comedian. Mersal will also show him as a good performer.
Are you unhappy about Mersal getting an U/A certificate?
No child comes to the theatre alone to watch films. (Laughs) I am sure there are going to be loads of families walking in.
Mersal’s promotional methods have been enterprising. There’s been a Twitter emoji, an AI bot, and the title has also been trademarked.
Mersal is our 100th film and we wanted it to be special. We sat down as a team and decided the things we could do for that. Promotion is not just about posters, teasers, and trailers. We wanted to give something that would be interactive. The Twitter emoji was Murali’s idea. Marketing has been Thenandal’s forte and will be.
You started off as a critic. How does it feel when you get criticised for the films you produce?
Today, I am more empathetic towards films and directors. Because I am a producer and know what it takes to make a film. The audience easily blames the director, but they fail to understand that filmmaking is a result of teamwork. Lots of compromises go into making a successful film. When I find something negative, I call the directors and speak with them. Also, I understand when critics try to show their intelligence while reviewing a film because I have been there. At the same time, I don’t know how a creative person like a director will react to criticism because I am not one. Producers like us put in money on films. We risk our lives and trust directors’ dreams.
Any directorial dreams?
In a producer, there’s always an artiste, a critic, and a director. I rub shoulders with creative people and they influence me. Producing films is not easy. Unless we’re passionate about films, we’d not be here. If money were our focus, we would be into real estate business. No producer funds one film and stops with it. We try to do more. Murali often says, “Oru script-a thookitu ennikaavadhu vara pora!” But I have not planned to direct films. Anyway, never say ‘never’.
Do you interfere with the process of filmmaking?
No good director calls it interference. I give my creative inputs, as always. We all bounce off ideas. But ultimately, it’s the director who takes the final call. After all, he gets ideas from everyone, and the entire credit goes to him.
Why do you think there are few women producers?
Oru vela, avungalukku supportive husbands illayo?! (Smiles)