Direction Dreams: After Kamal Haasan, Dhanush is the most versatile actor ever in Tamil cinema
...says Sharath Jothi, the assistant director, who has worked in many films with Shankar, in this weekly column
In conversation with:
Films worked on: I, 2.0
Directors worked with: Shankar
Main responsibilities: Scripting, Art department, VFX, Production Design, Editorial coordinator
When did you realise cinema was your calling?
I'm an architect and that inspired me to learn more about animation and photography. During the mid-2000s when Pixar films were coming out regularly, I started learning animation tools such as 3DS Max, Maya, and Flash. I then went to Sydney to learn animation filmmaking. There, Kirumi director Anucharan and I were roommates and we used to make short films. That's when the first season of Naalaya Iyakkunar came out. I sent my short film to the show and became a part of season two.
What have you learned from your directors?
Shankar sir taught me work discipline. You can't learn creativity from anyone; so I was keen on learning how he makes big films. I believe that direction is 90 per cent management and 10 per cent creativity. I learnt how he mounts a story onto a film. When starting 2.0, I would ask how we can pull off so much work in three years. He would say, "I am also anxious but it's like climbing the Everest. If we keep staring at it, we would not be going anywhere, so let's take it one step at a time and we will one day get there." I don't think there's one day he has not worked on. For every scene, he would have four options and he would pick the one that he feels the audience will like the most.
What’s the oddest or most memorable thing you have seen or done as an AD?
While shooting 2.0, for checking the lights and camera, I used to take the place of actors. I did the same for the scene where Chitti makes a comeback, looks into a mirror and says, "Seththu pozhaikurathey oru thani sugam da". During the final rehearsal, I did not know that Rajini sir was standing behind me. After I completed the shot and turned around, he came up to me and said I really did well and asked me to do it again. I froze and tried to sneak out; he held on to me asking me to do again. Shankar sir, from a distance, waved his hand, asking me to do the same. I enacted once again and he tapped me on my shoulder saying I did a good job. He even asked Shankar sir if doing what I did would be good enough.
What’s one area of filmmaking you had a tough time with, but are better at now?
There's a difference to how I was taught to approach filmmaking back in Sydney compared to how it's here in our industry. They would finish the script followed by tests and trials before the actual filming -- which is something Shankar sir does too. The prep work will help us know how many shots we are going to shoot, what shots need CG, what camera and rig equipment are we going to use. Mostly, our industry does not do this analysis before going to shoot. Producers don't consider pre-production to be an important work.
What is your take on present-day cinema?
Thanks to OTT platforms, Tamil cinema has seen new growth. We used to rely on theatres alone, but now directors and writers are getting more opportunities. If you are good enough to write a good screenplay and technically sound enough to pull off a film, you are living in a great time. This is a golden era for screenwriters and directors.
What's one thing that you think you can bring to Tamil cinema?
I would want it to be a director/writer's medium. It's still an actor's medium. I am glad that it's changing. Vijay sir doing Master with Lokesh, Ajith sir is doing Valimai with Vinoth, Rajini sir doing Petta with Karthik Subbaraj... these are healthy trends. I wish stars go on to pick story-oriented films like they do in the Malayalam industry.
Who would be the dream cast and/or crew for your debut project?
Dhanush, I think. He is a great actor who can pull off any role. Be it an intense film such as Asuran or a commercial entertainer like Velaiyilla Pattathari, he has been maintaining the balance well. After Kamal Haasan, he's the most versatile actor Tamil cinema has ever produced.