R Parthiban: Iravin Nizhal is born out of my self-confidence
The actor-director talks about his audacious new film has opened to positive reviews
R Parthiban's long-awaited Iravin Nizhal is finally out, and confirms everything that he promised in pre-release conversations. It's experimental, ambitious, unique, creative... And it's an achievement. Here's the actor-director speaking at length about his latest film:
Excerpts from the conversation:
You had said the success of Oththa Seruppu Size 7 readied you for Iravin Nizhal. How did you mean it?
Irrespective of how rich you are, your content is what matters. Cinema is a business where one can get an exponentially high salary, and a good hit can put you in a league where you can demand crores. I know that having done films like Ulle Veliye (1993). But Oththa Seruppu is something different and even if it sounds like self-praise, the truth is, even legends like Sivaji sir and Kamal sir didn't do it. I come from a theatre background, so being able to hold the audience for two hours was an interesting challenge. But when that film got released, I had to beg theatre owners to show an additional show as people were showing an interest in it. But then, it went to film festivals and even landed a spot on the Oscar's eligibility list. A year later, when people watched it on Netflix, many regretted not having caught the film on the big screen. I hope they don't miss Iravin Nizhal in theatres.
Moreover, I find that Tamilians overseas seem to have more admiration for the language than many of us here who make a living from it. That's how Iravin Nizhal, a story I had written 10 years ago, happened. When Ilaiyaraaja sir saw Oththa Seruppu, he asked me what more I could possibly do. I sheepishly smiled because I knew I had Iravin Nizhal next. The impossibility of pulling off such a film with quality intrigued me. I didn't want to make it an off-beat story for an OTT platform. I wanted it to be something that the audience could enjoy.
Iravin Nizhal seems to contain a lot of parallels to your first film, Pudhiya Paadhai.
Yes, both are emotionally strong. Pudhiya Paadhai was the story of a child born in a rubbish bin. Iravin Nizhal starts with a child trying to drink the milk of a dead mother's body. Imagine how difficult his life would be. That's why AR Rahman sir called it a dark film. His contract clearly states that the film shouldn't have nudity or strong language, and we have both (laughs). But his music overpowers all of that. It comes down to how a shot is perceived. I can only shoot a scene, but his music brings out the pain that's conveyed. Thankfully, those at Censor Board too understood this, and given the film's concept, they have given no cuts and just asked me to mute a few words. I think those words add value to the film. Aana cut panna vendiyathu avanga kattaayam. Adhunaala dhaan kattayathulaye 'cut' irukku.
What were the big challenges in making the film?
I knew this film was nearly impossible to make from a technical standpoint. Aperture and focus are just some of the 100 difficult feats I had to think about, and when we started filming, the 100 problems we expected turned into 1000. Content has always been the deciding factor of a film's success, but even then, theatres and OTT platforms are backing only star vehicles. I want the audience to watch this film in theatres. I initially named it Meghathai Methithavan, but I wasn't really satisfied. I get Rs 5 lakh as remuneration when I act in a film. But I spent two and a half years making this film. That's how expensive this film is (smiles). Iravin Nizhal is a product of self-confidence.
Gimbal operation, by Rakesh, was a tough task. Cinematographer Arthur A Wilson brought in the effect of a day even though we shot the film completely at night. We had two focus pullers who would keep taking charge at a gap of five minutes. Every time, a shot got cut midway, they all cried and that showed how much they were involved. There's a scene where I break a wall and a stray dog runs toward me. He was ironically the only character who did what was expected in every take. Similarly, there is a scene involving a donkey and a horse. All these were challenges.
I have never memorised my lines and I learnt this from Amitabh Bachchan sir when I assisted Bhagyaraj sir in Aakhree Raasta (1986). He would read the lines for an hour and then never touch the piece of paper. That practice came in handy for this film and it was helpful given I also had to supervise other aspects as a director. Thankfully, I also have my co-director Krishnamoorthy who would handle the job when I was in front of the camera.
You have cited Alfred Hitchcock's Rope as an inspiration and it was a thriller made to look like a play. Since you are from a theatre background, did that motivate you to take up this challenge?
I decided on the format first and wrote a script around it. There's a scene in a temple, and the statues are real and heavy. I cannot move them as I please, so I have to go towards that and within the duration, I take to reach that spot, I squeeze in a few scenes that were supposed to come later. That actually made the film more intriguing to watch. That's also why you cannot afford to take your eyes off the screen.
You have three Academy Award-winning technicians who worked on this film...
I have dreamt that someone in another country would, one day, choose a director like me for their project (smiles). VFX supervisor Cottalango Leon is actually from Thirunelveli, and he agreed to supervise the work. Similarly, I loved the sound work in Whiplash, and thanks to the internet, I was able to rope in its sound editor Craig Mann. I was initially happy with just these names being tagged alongside the film's title. Only after working with them did their magic become apparent.
Rahman sir's work exceeded my expectations. He would randomly share a couple of tracks, and when I would ask him which scene it was for, he would say he was thinking about my film and creating tracks. It shows how much this story meant to him. The first song 'Kaayam' actually describes the whole story. He did not do this film for the money, and to call Iravin Nizhal an important film in his career was a boost for all of us.
You compared Iravin Nizhal with your first film. Is it safe to say that life has come full circle?
I think it has just reached a quarter. 90ml dhaan pannirukom (laughs). I wish to be healthy only because I want to do more films. The 32 years I have spent feel like just a year or two, and the success of this film will only give me more confidence to do something new.
Similarly, right from my first film, things have never fallen in place for me to direct another star. Even Pudhiya Paadhai wasn't supposed to feature me in the lead. There were times when Rajini sir would call and discuss his upcoming films with me. He would say we should team up for a film but I was keen on showing him in a different light. The remake of 3 Idiots, which became Nanban, was also supposed to have worked, but it didn't. I don't think there's retirement in my life; so if Ajith, Vijay or Rajini are up for a film, I can narrate 10 scripts to each of them. For now, I want Iravin Nizhal to be a commercial success; so it opens a gateway for directors who can take a couple of cameras and begin shooting something. Iranian films are made that way, and they become world-famous. I want Tamil films to be so too. Iravin Nizhal's success will bring back new zest in me, and that will only lead to more interesting films.