Balaji Mohan: I was shocked to see how similar the coronavirus situation is to the events in Vaayai Moodi Pesavum
The director discusses his romcom which hit the sixth year mark last Friday
Nobody who saw Vaayai Moodi Pesavum when it released in 2014—not even the film’s cast and crew—would have imagined that the world would go on to face a pandemic a few years later, an infection quite similar to the ‘dumb flu’ shown in the film. The film showed swab testing methods, a city being in lockdown, health workers wearing hazmat suits and a government insisting on social distancing. The similarities are surprisingly very many. With the film hitting its sixth-year mark last Friday, we speak with the man behind Vaayai Moodi Pesavum, director Balaji Mohan...
Excerpts from the interview:
The disease in your film was fictional, and yet, a lot of the facts surrounding a real pandemic are shown in it. What kind of research went behind its making?
We did not, back then, have enough Indian references. However, I did ample research about pandemics and government strategies to deal with them. This is how I brought in ideas like the swab test and hazmat suit. To be honest though, other concepts like lockdown and the mass sale of masks in the film sprang from my imagination. When the coronavirus scare began early this year, I was quite shaken to notice the similarities it had with the disease shown in my film. I did not even imagine that the virus had the potential to cause chaos.
Was Vaayai Moodi Pesavum born from this idea of a novel virus?
The main idea was to make a film to emphasise the importance of conversations. I used the ‘dumb flu’ as a tool. Every decision in this world, noble and wicked, is the result of a good or bad communication. The original idea was to make it a silent film. I wanted to have talkie portion in the first ten minutes and then only in the climax. But slowly, the film evolved and I decided to use dialogues in the first half.
Not since Pesum Padam in 1987 has a film had as much silence. Were you worried whether the audience would get impatient?
Yes, we took it up as a challenge. It was an attempt to change this disadvantage of the film into a positive. I felt that there would be a bigger kick of making such a fim succeed. The silent episode in the film was also important and not just a gimmick. Shooting it as a bilingual was double the trouble. We filmed every shot twice.
As a result of the lockdown, we are hearing stories of domestic violence and increased conflicts in homes. This seems quite far from the point you wanted to make in the film.
This situation is almost like nature giving everyone a push to work on relationships. We have very little to do with our time, except for warm and meaningful conversations with our loved ones. It is surprising and saddening to learn of people fighting within their families. Relationships need patience. I see patience as a combo pack. When you master patience, you will learn to be kind and understanding.
Another parallel is how your film touches upon characters fighting over their love for film stars. This feels awfully similar to the fan wars and hate hashtags that are trending these days.
The fan wars and hatred on social media is simply people having little else to do. But over the last month, I was surprised to see not too many instances of this, due to the coronavirus situation. I was happy to see them being sensible for as long.
Are you, like many other directors and writers, using this time to complete your scripts?
Yes, I have been writing several scripts in multiple languages and genres for both the webseries space and feature films. I am afraid I won't be able to reveal much about them, right now. I will get a clear picture only after the lockdown ends. In fact, the future of cinema will be decided after that. I guess irrespective of all our differences, all of us are in the same page when it comes to the post-coronavirus world.