Nasser: The film industry will never be the same again
Nasser, who is a part of Sripriya's short film Yasodha which got released yesterday on YouTube, opens up about future of cinema, getting back to direction, and OTT platforms
Nasser’s wife and producer-turned-politician Kameela, after helping Nasser connect on the video call for this interview, exchanges greetings with me, while sitting alongside him, with an image of the Golden Gate Bridge set as the virtual background. She says, "We can't go anywhere now, so we might as well go there virtually", before Nasser, whose career in Tamil cinema spans a variety of roles and genres and as many as 35 years, steps in to begin talking about teaming up for the first time with veteran actor, Sripriya, in her directorial, a short film named Yasodha.
"It's a film created by both Sripriya madam and Kameela. Sripriya madam has written the story, dialogues and the script as well apart from directing it. While she shot her portions at her home, I shot mine in my office," says Nasser. "While studying at the film institute, Aval Appadithan was an important film; so I have always had a lot of respect for her. It was a rare experience for me, because she passed on directorial guidelines to my son Luthfudeen who shot my portions."
Excerpts from the conversation:
What's Yasodha about?
The short film is about a couple who are staying separately because of the coronavirus pandemic. Due to its runtime of 25 minutes, the story is not a complex one but elegantly made.
As someone who has seen the evolution of technology in Tamil cinema, what was it like to shoot a film via a phone?
Idhu oru vinodhamana padapidippu. At the beginning of my career, wherever an actor, there the director would be too. These days, directors observe through a monitor which, at times, is quite far away from the shooting spot. For this film, this distance was even longer. We got the guidelines in paper and acting, based on these written instructions, was new and exciting. My mentors told me that I should always be a student, and so I try. When I saw the final product, I thought it was magical.
How do you see the film industry getting back to normalcy after the pandemic ends?
The entire world has come to a stop because of the virus. Who would have thought we would have restrictions on the number of passengers allowed in a bus or a train? This virus will change everything from the way we work to even our content. With social distancing being key now, we have to figure out how we can shoot, say, dance or action sequences. There should be a waiting area for shoot members to wait until they are actually required. It would take us months to understand how restrictions can be implemented.
And then, there’s also the matter of the cinema theatre in which hundreds of people gather under the same roof, and breath the same air. We don't know how to deal with that. With countries trying their best to come up with a vaccine, I am sure things will return to normalcy soon. But the film industry will never be the same again.
What's your take on OTT platforms becoming more important?
Technological growth cannot be restricted and there's nothing wrong in films taking the OTT route. They have restrictions too and the content has to tick those boxes for them to buy it. So, not all films can have an OTT release either. Cinemakaaran-a naan OTT paathu bayapadala. It has proved to be a great avenue for films with political content. Theatres will always exist because going out of our house to another place for entertainment is a big way of relaxation for the masses. Also, I am not sure how many crores of people view OTT content. When theatres began closing, they placed them inside malls, so that shoppers could be lured in. That worked out well in the industry's favour./
Whenever something new comes up, we should not be startled. We have to think about adapting to it. When television was invented, they said the film industry would be destroyed. Even piracy has evolved over time from VCD and DVD to the digital medium, and yet, films like Baahubali and Dangal still made a fortune at the box office. Those directly related to filmmaking, be it actors or technicians, would be needed for OTT content too. Businesswise, we should come together for a discussion and decide what can be done.
As an actor, I wouldn't mind acting in OTT content. I have even done serials such as Thenpandi Singam which was written by Kalaignar. There's a taboo that film actors would lose market if they act in soaps. I don't buy that at all. In Hollywood, stars who have acted as James Bond and Superman, have also done tv shows.
Is that why we see both in big-budget films like Baahubali and many small budget films?
I am an actor and I should be able to act across forms. Thani manidha naadagam kooda panniruken. My job is to perform and I can do it irrespective of what the film it is. As someone in the mainstream film world, I only have to take the availability and salary into consideration. I see it as a responsibility to do smaller films. If I only do films like Baahubali, it's a disservice to the industry.
Many actors talk about how they wish to do a variety of characters like you. How do you see your transition from hero and villain to now, character roles?
Maybe that's because I have aged? Dhaadi ellam veluthuduchu (smiles). When Nayakan happened, I was doing cop roles, but now, I am able to do many types of characters. If I were a hero, even at 70, I could have danced with a 17-year-old girl, but as a supporting artiste, I can only do roles that are befitting my age. I think it’s a plus.
Twenty five ago in June, your directorial debut, Avatharam, released. Can we expect a film from director Nasser soon?
Despite not being a financial success back then, the fact that it's remembered even after 25 years is what I believe to be its real success. Considering that a song from it (Thendral Vanthu Theendumbothu) has become a classic, Avatharam is a huge hit in my book. I am writing a lot; so if the time is right, I might return to direction.