Radha Mohan: My films don’t usually need stars
The director opens up about his OTT debut, Malaysia to Amnesia
It’s such a relief when film personalities strike up an immediate rapport with you that allows them to sometimes, even answer the unspoken questions. Director Radha Mohan, whose Malaysia to Amnesia was released on ZEE5 last Friday, is clearly a filmmaker who is able to strike instant bonds. As though he already read my mind, he goes on to speak about the humour genre and how it’s the need of the hour. “Malaysia to Amnesia is a fun entertainer, made keeping the situation at hand. People are under a lot of stress, and I want this film to be a stressbuster," says Radha Mohan.
It’s a film with a twist. “It is about a family man who ends up lying to his family before it takes a different turn altogether. How he comes out of that mess forms the rest of the story,” says Radha Mohan who is well-known for films that instil the importance of values. “In this film, we have spoken about family values and characters that realise their importance.” The film is made for the pandemic, but interestingly, it was made during the pandemic as well. “We shot amid government restrictions and were not sure how the work would happen. The script was designed, keeping all these restrictions in mind, and shooting with regulations turned out to be a unique experience," says the filmmaker. “All the meetings happened through Zoom calls, and we really took to technology. Getting permission to shoot at various locations was a difficult proposition, and just as we thought the worst was far behind us, the second wave happened."
While most Tamil releases this year were those originally conceived for the theatre, Malaysia to Amnesia was made very much as an OTT film. As a filmmaker in the industry for more than a decade, Radha Mohan found this to be a new learning. “With feature films for the theatre, we think about tailoring it for the big-screen experience, in terms of visuals and sound. Here, we had to consider how it would all look on a mobile phone.” The OTT space, with more freedom, has allowed filmmakers to create the type of content, or write the kind of dialogues, that would otherwise not be permissible. “I think OTT platforms have a space for everything. I am seeing a lot of originals and native, regional content come up in recent times. I think this diversity of content is a great thing. I think that the notion of these platforms catering to only thrillers or dark content has totally changed now.”
The director takes pride in his adaptability. “When I was an assistant director, I worked with carbon papers and handwritten scripts. When I became a director, I learned to write on my laptop. Now, I'm into digital filmmaking. For Malaysia to Amnesia, all the work has happened over digital conversations,” says the director. “It was enough to have a passion for cinema earlier; but today, unless you have sound knowledge about technology and computers, it’s impossible to be a filmmaker.”
Humour has always been Radha Mohan’s forte. “This genre is evergreen, and irrespective of the format, it will always find a place. Humour comes naturally to me, and I'm blessed to have funny friends,” says a smiling Radha Mohan, who also likes to work repeatedly with certain actors. “Every time a story demands a good performer, I go for actors like MS Bhaskar and Kumaravel. I don’t write these characters for them. If I did, they would have featured in all my films. In this film too, after I had written a character, everyone who read the story asked me if I was planning on roping in MS Bhaskar for the role. I think that’s because he has created a name for himself over the years.”
The director has, in the past, moved away from his staple diet of family entertainers and made films like Payanam and Gouravam. “It wasn't planned to be different. I have always preferred stories that have a real-life connection, and it will always be so. I follow my gut feeling and when it tells me I can do something, I go ahead (smiles).”
Save for Nagarjuna and Jyotika, Radha Mohan has almost never worked with stars. “My films don’t usually need stars; also, working with them comes with a lot of responsibilities, including having to cater to their mass appeal and fanbase,” he says. “I like telling simple stories, drawn from people I have met. If I conceive of a larger-than-life subject, sure, I can approach a star.”
Radha Mohan's films (Azhagiya Theeye, Mozhi) have always been praised for their representation of women. “I ensure that all my characters, male or female, create an impact. I treat each character to be important and bring in good actors who can do justice to them. I view the heroine to be on par with the hero. I find it distasteful when films utilise them only for dance sequences,” says the director. ‘When you define the characteristics of a role, everything else falls in place. When an Archana (Jyotika) in Mozhi is written not as someone who seeks sympathy but as someone who is strong and level-headed, the character only grows in strength through the film.”
I ask if he plans to collaborate again with Prakash Raj. “Soon, I hope. The current climate makes it hard to plan anything. But we will work together soon," says Radha Mohan, whose next film is the SJ Suryah-Priya Bhavani Shankar starrer, Bommai. “The film is a different attempt for me and is a departure from what people have seen so far in my filmography. SJ Suryah liked the story so much that he came forward to produce the film. Priya and he have done a brilliant job and the film will help them evolve further.”