Gautham Menon: I am the reason for ENPT’s delay; I’m sorry
The filmmaker's much-anticipated Enai Noki Paayum Thota is finally set for release this Friday
It appears that the much-delayed Enai Noki Paayum Thota (ENPT) has finally got a release date. You must be relieved.
Rarely does any feature film prove to be easy to make, much less get a release. Despite the difficulties surrounding Enai Noki Paayum Thota, all the excitement about the film seems to be the same, mainly thanks to the music, visuals, Dhanush’s look, the freshness of Megha Akash… As for the reason behind the delays, I’m afraid the answer won’t inspire people to take to filmmaking. I would rather that youngsters learned the good about the film industry before they come in. In a way, the title of the film is a reference to my life right now.
Fans have been bombarding your social media timeline with requests for updates about ENPT.
Request? More like, abuse. I don’t understand this. It’s my film, and if I hadn’t shown them the trailer or visuals, they wouldn’t have even known its existence. I’m the person who signed and took on the responsibility of making the film. Fans have the right to comment on whether a film is good or bad, but while a film is being made, it’s mine. Let me do my job.
This almost maniacal need to get everyday updates about a film isn’t just restricted to ENPT, it seems to me. Recently, some self-confessed Vijay fans tried to spread fake news about a Bigil song getting leaked, in order to pressurise the producer into sharing updates.
I think it is just 10-15 people doing all this. Through social media, they make you feel the power of a thousand people doing this. Some filmmakers and producers unfortunately fall prey to such pressure.
Given all these problems, does it become difficult to switch on your creative side?
Not at all. Not one day have I ever felt bad about shooting a film, regardless of how many problems a project may be facing. I think I was born to do cinema. For instance, I recorded a Bombay Jayashree song recently for ENPT, and while listening to her voice, the lyrics, I forgot everything momentarily. Filmmaking is all I know, all I like. To answer your question, I can switch on and off easily. If I weren’t able to do that, I couldn’t do this interview with you—not when so much is going on.
I noticed in your trailer a prominent use of voiceover. Tell us about your love for voiceovers.
I try to stop using voiceovers, but it seems I take to it naturally. In this film, we have pushed their use further. In fact, Dhanush who originally said he didn’t have dates, got persuaded by the script and its use of voiceovers. ENPT is a film about simple emotions. Police and gangsters become part of the story. There’s a heroine, a Pollachi boy…
Is it fair to conclude that the film is about the love story between them?
Sure. She’s not an established heroine though, and isn’t even sure if she really wants to be an actor. The romance between them is explored in the backdrop of film sets.
The heroine is named Lekha in this film. Some of your other female leads have been called Hemanika, Reena, Jessie, Leela… Where do you draw inspiration for names of your characters?
I think it’s just instinctive and these names occur to me naturally. Even for my film titles, I don’t spend too much time. Around the 15th minute of this film, there’s a voiceover in this film that talks about a bullet coming at Dhanush’s character. I called Madhan Karky about it, and he recommended this title.
I like names. When someone’s had a baby, I’m eager to know what name they have chosen. I guess these details register.
It appears that your heroines belong to the same archetype: The urban, well-dressed, educated woman who has no trouble making ends meet.
I know I haven’t really deviated from writing these women, and I realise that some people have called me lazy for doing this, but these are the women I know. When I participate in college events, students tell me they like the women in my films. If my heroines inspired real-life women, that would give me a lot of joy. In a way, Jyotika’s character in Pachaikili Muthucharam was an attempt at exploring a different type of woman. Perhaps if the character were done by a relatively unknown actor, it might have helped us stretch limits. Jyotika didn’t ask us to, but I remember removing a couple of shots while editing the film, so it wouldn’t look off, given the space she was in.
You are a self-confessed admirer of Mani Ratnam’s films. When you see the Madhavan-Meera Jasmine romance in Aaitha Ezhuthu for instance, is it tempting to see how you could handle such an angle?
I remember watching the film and wondering why Meera Jasmine was still with him. He’s a horrible person. But there’s a fatal attraction there, like Jyotika’s character to Milind Soman in Pachaikili Muthucharam. I do feel women get attracted to the wrong men... It’s an interesting idea worth exploring, I think.
You have mentioned that your interest in cop films stems from how action is a natural consequence of their jobs. However, be it in your last film, Achcham Enbadhu Madamaiyada, or from the looks of it, ENTP, it appears you could have found a way to integrate action into the lives of everyday characters.
It’s hard to achieve realism when you bring in action into an average guy’s life. In ENPT, he’s a simply guy who gets attracted to a heroine shooting in his college campus. But then unexpected problems surface, and fights and crime come into his life. We have still handled it all realistically. In fact, I worry that Dhanush’s star image could actually be a hindrance. We had to work on breaking his image, and to his credit, Dhanush has done it beautifully. As an actor, he has lent an edginess to some of the darker scenes. We had no creative differences, except when it came to picking the composer, but I was able to persuade him with Darbuka Siva’s tunes.
Darbuka Siva’s music is an important part of helping retain ENPT in public memory, don’t you think?
Absolutely. More than me or Dhanush, it is the film’s music that has kept the audience interested in this film. When I met Darbuka Siva at the audio launch of Kidaari, I felt a certain vibe, and we connected. It is all about being in the right place at the right time. I liked how he discussed music, how he thought about songs. It touched me somewhere, and that’s why when AR Rahman conveyed that he could not be part of this project, I approached Siva. I worked with him as I would with other composers like Raja sir, Rahman, and Harris. I gave him elaborate explanations, and he would listen and let himself be inspired by what I was saying. In return, he gave me magic.
After the release of Vaaranam Aayiram, it seemed unthinkable that you would work with any composer other than Harris Jayaraj.
I didn’t think so either, but remember that I was a youngster who had assisted Rajiv Menon in Minsara Kanavu. I still remember what I felt when Rajiv played Rahman’s songs to us. Eventually, when I got an opportunity to work with AR Rahman (for Vinnaithaandi Varuvayaa), it was impossible to let it go. Similarly, my family and I grew up on Raja sir’s music. It was all I saw on TV—in Oliyum Oliyum; it was all I sang in school and college. How could I not work with him for Neethane En Ponvasantham?
I note that your films generally seem show a reluctance to get into particularly dark zones, or examine, say, issues like caste.
I saw Vasanthabalan’s film (Angaadi Theru) and went into a zone for a week. Pariyerum Perumal really affected me too. It’s not that I can’t do such films, but I’d rather watch them instead of experiencing as I make them. I think it’s better if my films are in my zone, and come from my soul. Vaaranam Aayiram in fact affected me a lot while I was making it. I invest too emotionally into my stories, and if I want to be deeply affected, I will catch films of Vetrimaaran, Ranjith…
It has been almost 20 years since you made your debut with Minnale. What’s changed?
I think it’s because of all my work during these years that you showed an interest in interviewing me, but otherwise, I’m exactly where I was when I did my first film. Despite my filmography, people won’t do films for me easily, and I still feel like a first-time filmmaker.
With the notable exception of Yennai Arindhaal, every other film of yours in the last decade has been produced by yourself. Is this to avoid intrusion, or a way to maximise revenue?
I remember when I was asked to change the climax of VTV for its Telugu version. They said the Telugu audience wouldn’t accept a tragedy. I remember thinking it was the same audience that made such a huge hit out of Marocharithra, a tragedy. I felt ashamed about it, but had to change VTV’s climax, even though it was inspired by real life. So you could say such events made me turn producer.
If I don’t ask you for the status of some of your pending projects, I fear my timeline could be flooded by fans too.
(Laughs) I have nothing much to do with Naragasooran anymore, but I hear they are looking at a release by October. I will make an announcement about Dhruva Natchathiram’s release date on September 6. I will also be announcing another project on the same date with a producer who has shown great faith in my work. I have finished work on a web series called Queen, which is a fictionalised biography based on Jayalalithaa. Sometime next year, I would also like to make progress on the Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa sequel. I’m also in discussion about the Andhadhun remake with Prashanth.
What are you hoping for, with ENPT’s release?
I want to apologise to all the fans who have been annoyed about the film’s delay. I’m the reason for the delay. Perhaps my rapport with people should have been better. Perhaps I could have convinced Dhanush about some issues; perhaps I should have convinced the investor better. Perhaps I was wrong to think that I could focus on delivering creative work despite all the financial issues. I’m the reason for the delay and I’m sorry. There are films that create magic inside theatres. Dhanush’s look and performance, Megha’s freshness, the music, the cinematography, the back-and-forth nature of the writing… ENPT is a simple film, and if people feel its magic, I will be happy. If they don’t… I’m sorry