Director H Vinoth has always maintained that life is about connections. We actively see some, and we don’t notice the others. As you speak to him, you identify at least a couple of such connections that resulted in Nerkonda Paarvai, his remake of Pink with actors Ajith and Shraddha Srinath, among others.
When he was scouting for locations in Gujarat for Theeran: Athigaaram Ondru, Vinoth was in a bus from Ahmedabad to Bhuj when he noticed a film was playing on the small television set. Most likely pirated, it was in Hindi, with no subtitles and little volume. As the bus trundled down the highway, Vinoth watched an aged Amitabh Bachchan help three young women prove that ‘No’ meant ‘No’. The second familiar face was Taapsee who had acted in a couple of Tamil films before she got active in Hindi.
“It was obviously a courtroom drama, and I was able to understand the basic storyline. Imagine how I would have felt when I was given the chance to helm the remake!” he says.
By now, everyone knows of how Ajith told Vinoth that if there was one thing he regretted in his film career, it was stalking on screen. “He told me: ‘I now understand what it means when everyone keeps looking at you, following you. It tells on my personal life. I have to set right the wrong I’ve done’,” Vinoth recalls.
Vinoth liked the idea of Pink. One thing that struck him was how violence against women has consistently seen a rise. He felt it was society’s problem. “It is necessary that men understand a woman, understand consent. They need to know that a woman walks alongside, not behind, us in the journey called life.”
In the initial days of the project, Vinoth did wonder how fans of the actor would receive Nerkonda Paarvai, because it was a slowburn film (amaidhiyaana, aazhamaana padam), with the intensity building up. “There were no typical star vehicle ‘wow’ moments, not much melodrama, not much 'goosebumps’ moments… this was about subtexts and layers and I did doubt if it would reach the audience. I wanted everyone, including Ajith Sir’s fans, to like it.”
There was also that fact remaking a commercial film was a little easier; that is about matching a star’s style to the film’s, across languages. “This, on the other hand, was a cult film. Each one connected with it differently. So many factors worked in its favour. I wanted to retain all of that, and find performers to suit the characters. Another important factor was that Ajith is far younger than Amitabh Bachchan and that had to be factored into the script. I needed time to take a decision, but what tilted the balance for me was that despite being a thriller at one level, it did not get boring during repeat watching. I spoke to the original writer Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury and asked him what he had to leave out in the film due to various constraints. During the pre-production, we met with many women and asked them what they felt about the film. They loved the idea of making something on these lines.”
Among the things Vinoth firmly believes in is that the producer must always get his money back; Boney Kapoor produces this film. “Each set has at least 25 main technicians and a 100 other people in the shooting spot. Each one has an idea of cinema and what it means. It’s like a mutual education lesson. Till the time I work with someone else’s money, I will make films with action and dance. When I earn enough, I will make pure cinema, my long-term passion, with my money.”
One thing on which the team worked itself up was when it came to deciding if they should retain the women drinking and premarital sex portions.
“Men and women are the same everywhere. For me, the film was not about drinking and premarital sex; it was about consent. That overrode everything else. And, no one speaks about consent,” explains Vinoth. So, these ideas from the original have made it to the remake.
Despite working with two stars back-to-back and directing three films, Vinoth respects tautness in a script and believes in following the grammar of the genre the film is set in. “My actors work within the scope of the film. You can’t cross that boundary. You can’t forcefeed emotion. If you fix the script boundary, it will reflect in one’s acting,” he says.
This practicality reflects in his personality too. “I never take any decision governed by emotion. Emotional decisions never work. First, we have to process our emotions and then attempt again.”
Another ‘connection’ in this film relates to Shraddha Srinath. She had originally auditioned to play one of the leads in Pink. That did not work out, but she got to reprise Taapsee’s role in Nerkonda Paarvai.
“For Falak Ali’s (Kirti Kulhari) character, we found Abhirami Venkatachalam, suggested by an assistant Shreya. She had the face of a Thanjavur painting, a temple sculpture. It was very different. And, since I wanted some link with the original, I cast Andrea Tariang,” elaborates Vinoth. And then, there’s Vidya Balan in a cameo. “I was wondering how I would be able to handle someone like her, who is a star of women-oriented scripts. But she was wonderful to work with; it was very comfortable. It helped that she knew Tamizh. The minute she enters the frame, oru hope varum. She has the face to make any character look convincing.”
Of course, every interview with Vinoth across media concludes with a question or two about Ajith. How was it to direct an actor who became a star and is now touching base with being an actor again?
“I don’t like to teach acting. I go by the rhythm of what they say. If that sounds right to me, I okay it. But, Ajith Sir went for multiple takes because he wanted to do better.”
What Vinoth remembers most about his interaction with Ajith is the role he played in ensuring the project shaped up well. “If Ajith Sir decides to befriend or associate with you, he will make it happen. He will create a comfort zone for you, and that’s endearing.” That will hopefully spill over to the next set too, since the actor and star are teaming up again.