Direction Dreams: New-age directors don't have to rely on stars
...says R Pradip Kumar, who worked as an assistant director in films like Kadaikutty Singam, Watchman, Dhanusu Raasi Neyargale
In conversation with R Pradip Kumar
Films worked on: Kadaikutty Singam, Watchman, Dhanusu Raasi Neyargale
Directors worked with: Pandiraj, Vijay, Sanjay Bharathi
Main responsibilities: Art department, costumes, ensuring continuity
When did you realise cinema was your calling?
I was a professional cricket player until 2015 and wanted to get into the Indian team. Being a wicket-keeper batsman, and with Dhoni in the thick of things then, I knew making a career out of cricket was out of the question. I then decided to give my other childhood dream, cinema, a shot. At the time, I would watch almost four films every week. I first considered becoming an actor, but knew I wasn’t cut out to cold-call studios. So, I decided to learn the craft instead and joined a film school.
What have you learned from your directors?
Pandiraj sir writes his own stories. He's the most brilliant writer I have worked with, and I admire how he writes every day.
Vijay sir's technical knowledge is astonishing. He can figure out things by just looking at a scene paper.
Sanjay Bharathi has a way of convincing people. Even if you have a brilliant script, you need to say it a certain way to impress people; he's great at this. His budgeting skills are brilliant too.
What’s the oddest or most memorable thing you have seen or done as an AD?
Kadaikutty Singam has a scene in which a town bus doesn't stop to pick up an old woman just because she has a basket full of things. The art department had one set of baskets with weights and a similar one with cotton on it. Somehow, the cotton-filled basket got replaced with the other one, and this scene also involved actors Karthi sir and Soori sir. When Soori sir was trying to carry it, he couldn't, and then Pandiraj sir came to carry it and he couldn't either. Soori sir jokingly accused me of intentionally switching the baskets, and the set, including Karthi sir, had a good laugh (smiles).
What’s an area of filmmaking you had a tough time with, but are better at now?
Writing conversation scenes involving two people is easier than designing a mass scene like Vijay sir coming out of the smoke in Thuppakki. To elevate such a scene, one needs a sense of making. That's why we think of Mani Ratnam sir's films when we think about writing a love scene, and names like Shankar sir or AR Murugadoss sir come up when thinking of mass scenes.
What is your take on present-day cinema?
In terms of quality, there is no doubt that Tamil cinema has improved. I don't think a film like Maanagaram would have worked a decade ago. It's nice to see the evolution of Tamil cinema from being a star-driven industry to a content-driven space. In today's OTT world, people skip songs and fight sequences. This pushes filmmakers to put out quality content. Of course, there is a separate market for superstars like Ajith sir or Vijay sir, but Tamil cinema is in a space where new-age directors don't necessarily have to rely on stars to make their films.
What's a change you wish to see in Tamil cinema?
It takes a long time for an assistant director to turn director. During this phase, there isn't a proper source of income at all times. People with financial support can manage to survive this phase. However, it is not feasible for everybody to be without a proper flow of income. That's why we see a lot of ADs struggling to make it as directors. Also, it's difficult for a new director to approach actors or production houses without having contacts. I wish there were systems to help with such things.
Who would be the dream cast and/or crew for your debut project?
I want to do a film with Ajith sir as he is an actor who can make a mass film, classy.