Vivek Elangovan: A Microsoft employee by day, a filmmaker by night
The debutant director's Vellai Pookal, an investigative thriller starring actor Vivekh, releases this Friday,
Debutant director Vivek Elangovan is the latest to join a heavily crowded list of engineer-turned-filmmakers, which includes Gautham Vasudev Menon, Karthik Subbaraj, and Nalan Kumarasamy. However, Vivek is a unique presence in making this now almost-cliched career detour. "I love computer science, and I'm one of those few people from Tamil Nadu who took up engineering by choice," says the US-based filmmaker, whose first film, Vellai Pookal, is set to hit the screens this Friday.
Starring veteran comedian Vivekh in the lead, the investigative thriller is expected to showcase the actor in a completely new light. "We wanted to cast someone who would lend a very unique perspective to DIG Rudhran (Vivekh's character), and also have a strong audience connect. Vivekh sir was one of the first actors we approached," he says, adding that on Vivekh's insistence, Charlie was cast as Rudhran's sidekick.
Based on a true incident, Vellai Pookal has been extensively shot in Seattle, USA. The trailer reminded me of Kamal Haasan's Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu, and when asked about the similarities to the Gautham Menon film, Vivek says, "Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu is a classic. This is in no way like that. Our setting itself is different, and it also helped that I could bring in the nativity factor. We consciously avoided shooting in touristy locales."
How did a techie with no prior experience in filmmaking manage to bring veterans like Vivekh on board? "We reached out to him through a common friend, and he was initially hesitant. However, after a Skype conversation, and reading the script, he got on board," says the Microsoft employee, who has directed a number of Tamil plays and award-winning short films under the Indus Creations banner, which comprises other software professionals based out of the USA who share a common love for Tamil and cinema.
"Our journey started because we wanted to give back to the Tamil community. Starting off with plays, and then short films, we wanted to reach out to a lot more people, and this was the next logical step," says Vivek, who continues to work for the software giant even now. Not just him, but most of his crew, including music director Ramgopal, are working employees of tech giants like Amazon and Google.
The shooting schedules of Vellai Pookal was arranged to accommodate the office hours of the team. "After working at the office from 8 am to 2 pm, the shooting was arranged till 11 pm, and the cycle continued. I have used up all my accumulated leave to shoot the movie," he says, adding that while the USA schedule was easier due to his familiarity with the surroundings, shooting in India was a completely different ballgame.
Right from managing the crowds to dealing with the crew here, Vivek found it overwhelming. I ask him if it would have been easier if he had hands-on experience assisting a filmmaker before taking the directorial plunge. "Definitely, but I also had scheduling conflicts. Vivekh and Charlie sir share an almost 1000+ film experience between them, and they helped me out a lot during the shoot. Our filmmaking tips were from the various DIY videos on YouTube, film reviews, our friends working in the film industry, and the making videos of films like Baahubali etc..." says Vivek, who admits to suffering from Imposter Syndrome when it comes to his directorial capabilites. "I have always believed that writing was my calling."
Did he always envision Vellai Pookal to be a Tamil film? "Absolutely. Every one of us working outside India look to establish an identity of our own. Cinema unites all of us," says Vivek.
Vellai Pookal also stars Pooja Devariya and Dev in important roles, and the latter, who plays Vivekh's son in the film, incidentally plays a software professional working with Microsoft. Coincidence? "Well, actually I started writing this film based on the trips my parents used to make to the USA. The usual grouse for most desi parents is boredom, and the only solace they have is the long walks they take in the neighbourhood. It is definitely an ode to parents visiting their children, and is the cumulative experiences of all tech people. I can assure you it's not autobiographical."