He met me for an interview before leaving to Russia for the shoot of ‘Dhaam Dhoom.’ It turned out to be the last one he ever gave.
I woke up this morning to learn that the director of 12B, ‘Ullam Ketkume’ and ‘Unnale Unnale,’ passed away in his hotel room at St. Petersburgh during a shooting schedule of the action entertainer starring Jayam Ravi, Kangana Ranaut and Jayaram.
May his soul rest in peace.
He wanted to do a Take Two and expressed his desire to do one on his return from Russia. He may not have been the most original filmmaker, but he was a man with many dreams and one of the few who defied the star-system. He gave Arya, Pooja, Asin, Shaam and Vinay their first big break.
I reproduce below the interview that appeared only last week, after being held at the desk for over a fortnight.
Though the reviews have been mixed, cinematographer-turned-director Jeeva feels vindicated after the box-office success of ‘Unnale Unnale.’
“It has definitely reached the audience I had in mind. The market in A centres is as big as B and C. It’s just that they don’t go to the theatres because nobody makes films for them. But for ‘Unnale Unnale,’ we have got reports of students going in huge groups. I’m very happy about it.”
12B was a bold, though inspired, debut but the film didn’t do all that well at the box office. His second film, a fairly decent ode to college and friendship, ‘Ullam Ketkume’ was hit by production delays and his Hindi remake of ‘Run’ ran out of theatres.
Maybe, that’s why he wanted to be really sure of getting it right the fourth time. Maybe, that’s also why ‘Unnale Unnale’ is among the most ‘inspired’ of all his films.
That’s among the first questions we ask him: Why does Unnale Unnale seem to be inspired from so many romantic comedies in Hindi and English?
“Suppose you are studying medicine as a medical student, you will go to the library, read up related books,” says Jeeva. “So when we make films, we watch all kinds of films… so many films for reference. It is just a point of inspiration. If I didn’t make characters say ‘Day One,’ (a narrative gimmick seen before in ‘Kal Ho Na Ho’) I would’ve had to show the calendar, which has been used in so many other films.
So maybe one or two things, not completely. Overall, it is a different film.”
“Just like how there are only seven notes in music, there are only a few stories you can tell,” he explains. “We’re not giving proper films for the people in the city. So they watch Hindi films and English films. I wanted to make a classic romantic film in Tamil. It is a realistic film, not a typical fantasy film.”
How did he arrive at the choice of Vinay as the lead?
“I wanted to cast a character in the film. Not a hero. Vinay and Sada suited the characters.
I saw him in an ad, he was very convincing,” says the filmmaker who had earlier launched Shaam, Arya, Asin and Pooja.
No auditions? “Anybody can act. Even you can.”
Tanisha, however, had to be cajoled into doing the film but the script did the trick. “Tanisha is fresh, young and bubbly. She was the right person for the role. First, she was like: ‘What you people only call us for glamour…’ So I told her to read the script and then tell us. Once she read the script, she agreed.”
The idea for ‘Unnale Unnale’ was born out of gender wars. “Men versus Women. That was the starting point. There have been lots of films on the subject. ‘When Harry met Sally,’ ‘Before Sunrise,’ ‘Before Sunset’… ‘French Kiss’ is my favourite. We also borrowed a lot of dialogues from the internet. There are so many interesting jokes on the net.”
Jeeva was convinced that there was one set of movie-going audience that was not watching Tamil films. “There is a huge vaccuum of films catering to the youth. Coimbatore, Trichy, all A centres shows are continuously full. The college goers are enjoying the film. Everybody recollects and connects to what has happened to them in life.”
His next film, ‘Dhaam Dhoom’ is for all centres, meant for a larger audience. The film stars Jayam Ravi, Kangana Ranaut, Lakshmi Rai, Jayaram. The music by Harris Jayaraj and art by Thotta Tharani. “One schedule in Pollachi is over. We have another schedule in Russia.”
Jeeva is also quick to justify his choice of foreign locations, like Australia in ‘Unnale Unnale.’ “When you go to Bombay, you look for people you can associate with, people from the South. Similarly, when you go out of the country, you look for Indians. People become closer when out of country.”
Now that formula-filmmaking has brought him success, does he plan to take the road less travelled 12-B route again?
“12B wasn’t promoted properly. The market is ready for different kinds of films. I want to prove myself first and then with my own money, I’ll make different kinds of films.”