Dada director Ganesh K Babu: Audiences feel represented when they see flawed heroes
The filmmaker, who recently delivered a hit with the romantic drama Dada, starring Kavin and Aparna Das, talks about his debut and the journey that led to it
It is not often that you come across a creator who is forthcoming to discuss the flaws in their creation. Ganesh K Babu, the director of the recent hit film, Dada, belongs to that rare kind. "I am so grateful for the ones who took the time to mention the shortcomings they felt in my film. Evlo invested ah padam parthu irundha idhellam notice panni irupaanga? I am enjoying this phase of learning and unlearning," he says as we sit down in a cosy corner of a coffee shop. I believe this mindset is quite natural for Ganesh, who confesses his stories come from his observations of people. "I am a keen observer of people, and I make note of the interesting things that I spot. Every person's life has at least one exciting aspect that will make for an engaging story or a character sketch. Once I finish studying them, I picture each of them in the scene I have in my mind until I get the most engaging combination." Incidentally, Ganesh's early job as a crime-show reporter aided his fascination with studying people. "I worked on Kuttram Nadandhadhu Enna? and we had to present a week-old crime with new insights and revelations to the audience. So I had to travel a lot and meet new people. The show taught me to see events from a perspective that many fail to see."
This distinctive viewpoint of Ganesh is visible in a lot of Dada's camera angles, dialogues, and shot divisions. But one unusual take that didn't go well with a section of the audience is a comical sequence involving a sexual predator in an IT office. "Sexual harassment at workplace is a serious issue, and it has to be dealt with great care. However, I took the Magalir Mattum route of showing the abuser as a joker. In retrospect, the sequence does feel misogynistic, and I should have made Aparna's Sindhu slap the AVP herself even before Kavin's Manikandan intervenes. Henceforth, I will be extra responsible whenever I touch sensitive topics."
Ganesh goes on to add that the tonal shift in the second half wasn't planned in the initial drafts of the script. "There is hardly any flab in the dialogues of the first half. But the second half is when the characters begin to talk a lot. This is a conscious decision to engage a larger section of the audience who enjoy a certain type of humour. These people accelerate the word-of-mouth for small films like mine. I didn't want my debut to fail at any cost, so I made the changes, which a few felt were inorganic to the original script. I am sure my second film will have fewer compromises."
Manikandan and Sindhu are imperfect people living in an imperfect world. While Manikandan swears at his pregnant wife, Sindhu gives it back with a series of slaps. But they are also the same people who give it all for their child, of course, at different stages of life. "All I had to do was strip the hero and heroine tag away from these two people to envision them as characters. They both make mistakes that our protagonists don't usually make in mainstream films. That is the reason why Manikandan doesn't apologise in the climax. Even though he feels terrible for the mistake he made, he is just too overwhelmed to verbalise his emotions. Instead, he brings the kid in and introduces him to his mother. That's Mani apologising in his own way. Many members of the audience related to Mani and Sindhu because we are all flawed internally and these characters are our representations on screen."
Ganesh shares that he drew references from his own relationships to ensure that scenes were as real as possible. "Manikandan doesn't seek closure from Sindhu, despite suffering a lot after their separation. Even though they get their private spaces twice, he refrains from asking anything because the answer we seek from our loved ones has the power to rip us apart. I have personally experienced it in one of my relationships and I used that to pen Manikandan's character." The filmmaker goes on to add that the dark humour too was an extension of his personality. "I am the kind of person who says, 'Vegama poi sethurudha da!' instead of the usual 'go home safe'. It might sound offensive to outsiders, but the ones who love me know that it is out of care. So I used this trait of mine as the base for the conversations between Manikandan and Amith (Harish)."
The young filmmaker, a self-confessed fan of Selvaraghavan and Radha Mohan, agrees that his debut has shades of both these directors. "The films we adore influence our writing subconsciously. While Selvaraghavan sir presented the dirt inside human minds in the most engaging way, Radha Mohan sir showed us that any story can be wholesome with the right writing. Their creations are very close to my heart and I guess their influences will be evident in my future works too."
Up next, Ganesh will be joining hands with Lyca Productions for his sophomore film, which he states will be quite an experience. "That's a huge statement to make. I know every film cannot be called an experience, but I am confident that the project will be unique." The filmmaker adds that his experience of working in Kamal Haasan's RKFI productions has given him the confidence to shoulder this project. "I was taught that a writer shouldn't restrict his creativity because of the budget. 'Onnu America la poi shoot panrom, illa virtual-a America va kondu vandhu shoot panrom!' is the mindset we were conditioned to. I am approaching my second film with this attitude."