Direction Dreams: Tamil film industry was healthier in the hands of filmmakers
...says Mahendran, who worked as an assistant director for filmmakers like Ameer, Naga, Prasath Murugesan, and TJ Gnanavel
In conversation with Mahendran
Films worked on: Raam, Paruthiveeran, Anandhapurathu Veedu, Queen, Untitled 2D Entertainment film
Directors worked with: Ameer, Naga, Prasath Murugesan, TJ Gnanavel
Main responsibilities: Art Department, Action continuity, Costume, Dialogues, Scheduling and co-direction
When did you realise cinema was your calling?
When I came to Chennai, getting into the film industry wasn't the plan. I was doing a boring job but interestingly, the friends I made were all from the film industry. When I used to sit with them for their story discussions, I ended up having a dilemma if I should give it a shot and if yes, which department to get into. I took 40 days to decide and finally I decided on becoming a director. I realised getting into films isn't going to be easy, so I started with serials and I gradually moved to the bigger medium.
What have you learned from your directors?
I learnt how perfection is important to a filmmaker from Ameer sir. He would never compromise on what he wants to shoot and he wouldn't care about time or artist call sheets. For Naga sir, the story is of utmost priority and he too wouldn't let anything hinder the vision he has in his mind. Doing that in a calm and composed manner is his speciality. I like how Prasath sir knows about the dearth of good stories in Tamil cinema and chooses from good novels for adaptations. Gnanavel sir's planning and detailing is something I admire too.
What’s the oddest or most memorable thing you have seen or done as an AD?
My wife, who was my girlfriend back in the days of Raam shooting, would call one of the DOP's assistants as back then, not everyone would have cell phones. We had a heated argument and I was not in the best of my moods. We were shooting a song sequence that involved a sadhu with a rice stamper (ulakkai). He was instructed by Ameer sir to drop it and let it roll. But I was so distracted and disturbed that when he dropped the rice, I just jumped into the frame to stop it, thinking it's a mistake. The entire unit froze and the silence got back to me to my senses. Ameer sir walked up to me and when I was worried about what he would do, he simply just said, "your mind is not here at all" and walked away.
What’s one area of filmmaking you had a tough time with, but are better at now?
Technology related aspects, like Computer Graphics and cinematography, are something I took a while to get a grasp of as it's not something you can learn theoretically and need hands-on experience to master.
What is your take on present-day cinema?
In the last few years, a lot of young filmmakers have come into the industry and have changed the dynamics of how filmmaking functioned over the years in a good way. They've also proved how we can do high-concept films with a minimum budget. But I feel their learning process is limited because of how early they become filmmakers. I believe that the ability to become a director in a short span of time is not a boon. If a person becomes a director at the age of 25, what they've seen in your life for those many years is all that would reflect in your work. They would have not seen the world enough, know many people or read multiple books. That's why most of the blockbuster hits in today's Tamil cinema are by seasoned directors.
What's one change you wish to see in Tamil cinema?
The story is the most important part of the film but not many put in the effort to make it an endearing one. There's so much happening around us that there shouldn't be a dearth of stories. Directors can read novels and turn them into films but they don't have the time for it. The film industry was healthier when it was in the hands of filmmakers and not the actors. The golden period of Tamil cinema was when Bharathiraaja, Balachander and Balu Mahendra were active. They were able to do what they wanted to and people loved it too. I strongly believe that the industry will return to the filmmakers.
Who would be the dream cast and/or crew for your debut project?
Vidyasagar sir is someone who could give great music to an offbeat project as well as a commercial entertainer.