Give me an adult certificate, but don't ask me to remove scenes: Manoj Beedha
The debutant director discusses Hollywood inspirations and local issues, as he opens up about this week’s release, Vanjagar Ulagam that stars Guru Somasundaram and Chandini Tamilarasan
Guns, gangsters, drugs and jazz music are the highlights of the intriguing trailer of Vanjagar Ulagam, which exudes the vibe of a Tamil film with Western influences. Manoj Beedha, director and producer of the film, agrees: "Martin Scorcese films have a lot of jazz music. I think it makes films cooler, and Vanjagar Ulagam has a lot of such elements. It is a layered film."
The trailer's rich visuals turned out to be the calling card for the film, and the first-time filmmaker reveals that it was cinematography and sound design that interested him about cinema in the first place. A product of the New York Film Academy, Manoj credits the institute for teaching him scripting. His love for cinematography made him choose his Mexican classmate, Rodrigo Del Rio Herrera, as his cinematographer.
"It will add a fresh perspective to the film. The way he looks at things is quite different from cinematographers here," says Manoj. Rodrigo, unfortunately, could only shoot half of the film due to visa issues, and Saravanan Ramasamy, Nirav Shah's assistant, stepped in to finish the shoot. The cinematography made this film a considerably expensive affair, but Manoj feels that the quality of the film is important and producing it himself allowed him the freedom to focus on filmmaking.
"When some ideas are too bold, people are not very welcoming. They try to cut corners and don’t want to spend too much on technical aspects," says Manoj who has mainly roped in friends and acquaintances to work on this film. Another classmate of his, V Vinayak, is the brains behind the story, and the film stars his friends, Cibi and Vishagan. "I didn't want to write my own film. Vinayak and I worked on the screenplay together. I had a unique idea and I’m confident the execution will be received well."
Another major highlight is music by Vikram Vedha-fame Sam CS. "Only after almost 50 per cent of the shooting was done did Sam come on board.” From jazz to ‘carnatic dubstep’, Manoj believes Sam's attempt at different genres has elevated the film, especially the background score and re-recording.
Guru Somasundaram's presence has also done a great deal for the film. Despite being in famous gangster films like Aaranya Kaandam and Jigarthandaa, Guru hadn't played a gangster yet — not till this film. "I didn't have him in mind while writing the role. But I felt that it would be an interesting challenge to cast a good actor who is not physically intimidating for such a role," he says. "Pudhupettai is a big inspiration actually. I know all the dialogues of the film by heart." Guru's improvisations, he says, have largely aided this film.
The director calls the film a thriller that revolves around Chandini Tamilarasan's character. Though a self-admitted masala film fan, Manoj's debut project is rather offbeat. He explains, "I am a huge fan of Mani Ratnam and Selvaraghavan. They strike a balance between both offbeat and commercial cinema. I feel whatever engages you is commercial and in that sense, Vanjagar Ulagam is a thoroughly commercial film."
Making offbeat film allows filmmakers some liberty to be politically incorrect. Manoj agrees: "Smaller films allow you room to experiment and the risk is a lot lesser. My next film has a bigger budget and the constraints will be a lot more." It’s probably why Manoj will be working on two versions for his next film: A no-holds-barred version for Netflix and a family-friendly version for the theatres.
He isn't pleased about the censor board’s recommendations for cuts despite giving Vanjagar Ulagam an adult certificate. "I know people who do drugs, I know people who have extra-marital affairs. Cuss words were edited out. How long are we going to pretend these things don’t happen? If you give me 'A', then you should allow me the freedom to retain my scenes at least," says Manoj.
He had to reschedule Vanjagar Ulagam's release date in the last minute due to the sudden release of Nayantara's Imaikkaa Nodigal. “The big-ticket release reduced the number of available theatres. This was a huge setback and now, I’ve been forced to spend more money for the publicity," says Manoj who believes that the system is partial to bigger and influential names.
"I will talk to Vishal about it and see what can be done. There needs to be a protocol in place. All I'm asking for is an even playing ground for films like this," says this director, a former assistant to Peraanmai director SP Jananathan.
With Vanjagar Ulagam finally gearing up for release this Friday, ask him if the producer in him is satisfied with the director and Manoj admits, "As a producer, I don't like the director so much. As a director, I have used the producer to make a mark in the industry. I'll be able to repay this debt to my next producer."