There’s a certain amount of honesty in the characters he creates. Be it Rajiv Samuel (Abbas) not forgiving his arch rival Rajesh Subramanium (Madhavan) for stealing his girl even towards the end, or the sublety of Reena Joseph’s (Reema Sen) reaction when she learns about her fiance-impersonator Rajesh in the refreshing love story ‘Minnale’ or the realism in romance between Anbuselvan (Suriya) and Maya (Jyotika) in gritty cop flick ‘Kaakha Kaakha,’ there is a streak of the real world and real people running through.
It’s that stamp of candour in the frames that makes Gautham one of the most genuine storytellers around.
Even outside the canvas of 35mm, Gautham retains that consistency in signature. He talks straight, speaks from the heart and is matter of fact about satisfaction and uncertainty, confidence and doubt, as he speaks about his latest release ‘Vettaiyaadu Vilaayaadu’ with Kamal Haasan.
It a sequel in spirit to ‘Kaakha Kaakha’?
“I would like to treat it as another episode of a police officer’s life. Something as an extension of Kaakha Kaakha. But then, I thought the genre should be slightly different. As in, make it like a thriller and then shift to the ‘Kaakha Kaakha’ mould in the second half. That’s how it’s come out. Very involuntary also, i think … Like, Ram Gopal Varma makes a trilogy on gangster films. I thought I’ll make a trilogy of cop films. I’m not equating myself to Ram Gopal Varma here, I’m just inspired by the idea. So this would be my second film. After some years, depending on how it goes, maybe the third film.”
The cop-versus-killer cat-and-mouse game, leads to the same problem as in ‘Kaakha Kaakha,’ when the cop’s personal life gets involved and affected in the course of the investigation. The classic serial killer mystery in the mould of ‘Silence of the Lambs’ and ‘Seven’ soon gives away to a full-fledged commercial action film as the cop and the mystery killer go tit-for-tat, says Gautham.
Apparently, the script demanded a place outside India. “It could have been China but I thought New York would be nice. It would have been nicer if we had planned it out a little better. We had problems with the first producer because he ran into a financial crunch. All the planning we made were rendered null and void when climate changed. More money was spent. We had to stay on for another 10 days from what we had planned. So costs went up. But, any place you put your camera, you get a beautiful frame. It’s a beautiful place to shoot. It’s a very film friendly place because a lots of shoots happen there. Once you get permission from the Mayor office, then you can shoot anywhere. You have to tell them what scene you are doing. And there are cops around to help you. We did some good work there. Not extensive as much as I wanted to, because of the budget. Like, I wanted to shoot action sequences on the road and stuff. But it realise its difficult to shoot unless you plan it three months in advance. So I changed it around, changed it around, made it simpler for Kamal and the other actors… But it looks good, the film looks like an English film.”
How difficult was it directing a director?
“I was directing a super actor. But, actually No. Because… lots of stuff happened between me and him because of the production. He was pissed off with change in producer, the film was not taking off, his time was getting delayed all. He was very unhappy and hesitant initially. He was like “Bunch of kids, what they gonna make” and stuff like that. He kept to himself mostly. So I’ll give him the scene, he’ll take a look at it and he’ll act. He’ll make a couple of changes… Simple ones, like “Can I hook this line and this line?” He would tell me when you write, you tend to write a little more. “You can cut this line.” So I take stuff from him. He let me handle it. I can never say he bossed over. He totally understood what I wanted. I wanted a subtle performance from him, the character demanded that and he went for the right variations.”
Did he manage to break ice with the legend subsequently?
“Well, as much as ice could be broken, we broke. It can’t get beyond that ever, I think. When you write something on paper, and when you see somebody peforming that to the hilt… To the T… you realise it’s awesome. And, he gives you much more than that. Certain expressions of his, you can never write. He would do something different for every scene. But we kept him totally subtle throughout. His character demanded him to subtle, quiet and soft, which he understood. As much as co-operation there was, there was from him. No complaints at all. It was a beautiful experience working with him because I learnt a lot in terms a lot on how my writing should be. Like, how an actor’s expression should be written, which we don’t tend to do because we write in the classic screenplay format. Whatever I asked him to do, he did. I asked him to jump in the sea he did that. I asked him to run and shoot on the road, he did that. He was extremely co-operative.”
Did Kamal have to use a double? “No stunt double. Not for Kamal. But there were no major stunts.”
Since, he wrote the film for Kamal, there was no need to modify the script to suit him. “There are moments when he’s not there in the screen and the attention shifts to the villain and to the heroine. Apart from a song in the beginning, there’s nothing we had to incorporate for him.”
Soon, he opens up to tell us more about Kamal’s character. “He’s a deputy commissioner of police. He’s 40-plus in the film, he knows what he wants. He’s instinctive, reacts according to his instincts. He’s a supercop. He walks in where he wants to. The story takes him to another country where he’s investigating a case. He’s not allowed officially. But he goes to check what happened to somebody he knew. And he unravels something.”
Is it real for a cop from Tamil Nadu getting to go on to a foreign country on an investigation?
“It is realistic. First half is very real, bang on… I’ve not compromised at all. He’s not allowed to take a gun. He has to find out what happened from the local cop there. He walks with the other cop and suggests what they could do… So, it’s a sort of an unofficial investigation.”
Who’s playing the villain?
“I can’t reveal that,” he says with a straight face.
What exactly was all the controversy about change in producer?
“Our producer Kajah Mohideen had a lot of financial problems. So the film wasn’t taking off. Kamal and we sat for script discussions and that took him. By which time, the interest rate was escalating. So, he tried commited suicide. Not because of us, but because he had financial hassles. For 10-15 days, Oscar Ravichandran came in, put in Rs. 90 lakh, and suddenly, he said he can’t do anything and backed out. There was a schedule waiting for Bombay. But then, we had to think about Jo’s dates, Kamal’s dates … If we lose those dates, everything goes for a toss.. So I funded that Bombay shoot myself… As usual, I put money in from my partner and we carried on. We did Rs. 80 lakh worth of shoot. Just when we were wondering what to do for the American schedule, Mr.Narayanan came in. But we are doing it on a first-copy basis. Now, Mr.Naryananan is on the helm. But distributors have put a stay on the film saying what Kajah owes them should be given back. The financiers put a stay. My work is going on. But May 5th, it will come out. “
What can people expect from Vettaiyaadu?
“A good film…nothing else. No problem if they call it another ‘Kaakha… Kaakha.’ That is a good film. It made for good viewing, good value for money. This is definitely that. It’s got good songs, it’s got Kamal Hassan. I wanted to go one step beyond that… which im not sure. From your earlier film, you have to go five notches higher. Especially with Kamal, I would have loved to do something like a Nayagan, which is an all-time favourite film, don’t know how “commercial” it was, but it was a complete film. I didn’t do that. I didn’t have that kind of time. So, I thought let me make commercial film.”
And he’s already on to his next film, ‘Silandhi’ working double shift.
How’s personal life been?
“Haywire… because I work 20 hours these days…I’ve gone on to ‘Silandhi’ with Sarath Kumar, Jyotika, Tabu and Milind Soman. I have lost weight. I haven’t spent time with my family. But that’s something I’ve brought upon myself… It’s just that I haven’t done a film in more than one and a half years. And I had a script ready and people were tearing it to bits. I just wanted to do the script and I felt I have a good team to support me on the prost production. Mahendra Jain, financier, is giving us the money, we are doing it on a first copy basis. I wanted to get going on another film. I shoot for Silandhi in the morning and from 6 to 2 in the night, I work on post production for ‘Vettaiyaadu’ and then sleep for 4 hours and work on the other again. We’ve shot for 20 days already. It should release two months after Vettaiyaadu. I’m also starting Suriya’s film in June. That will come out on Diwali.”
Whatever happened to the English and Hindi remakes of ‘Kaakha … Kaakha’?
The English version, I backed out because I wanted to establish myself here in Tamil first. The Telugu version didn’t do well. And I wasn’t ok with Sunny Deol doing it. The whole idea of remaking didn’t appeal to me.