The film 12B (2001), directed by the late Jeeva, has two endings, and one gets the sense that the career of Deepak Bhojraj, the man who edited the trendsetting trailer of the film, could have gone either way: He could have easily been a farmer, but is a designer of posters and trailers. He has now taken up the job of the creative head for actor Karthi’s next.
His office is centrally located in Ooty, just half a kilometre from the town square, Charing Cross. It is drizzling and I am late. An employee from Rising Apple, Bhojraj’s four-man company, ushers me in. I find the man in the drawing room, next to a dark brown, worn-out sofa set. We go inside and get on it.
“We are doing some posters. One is with Moodar Koodam director Naveen called Alauddinin Arputha Camera (Aladdin’s Wonder Camera). The first look poster was released only two days ago,” he tells me.
Bhojraj is heftily-built and is dressed warmly for the occasion. The temperature is a bit lower than most days at the popular hill station. He has a salt-and-pepper beard tied into a tuft at the lower chin. What else is he working on?
“I am discussing with director Vikram Kumar (of 24 fame) on his next Telugu project. He has asked me. But till it gets started, I don’t know when and how. Two more Tamil films are also in the works,” he answers.
Bhojraj is most known for the poster of 24 (2016). “I set up this design studio (Rising Apple) in Ooty about eight years ago. Earlier, I had to design posters after they completed the film. But for 24, I heard the narration of the film and did the concepts. We did a photo shoot for that and created a poster. We planned that every month, on the 24th, we would release a poster. It was conceived completely by me and we strategized the planning of the promotions. We did seven first-looks. That was never done before. That’s why it worked,” he declares.
“You need to drive the message (of the film) to the people, but this has to be the right message. Whatever you are preparing the audience for, that has to be right,” he says.
Bhojraj has worked closely with Mani Ratnam on Guru (2007) and Yuva (2004), among other films. “Mani Ratnam never tells you what he wants. I think he chooses his team very carefully. He is always open to an idea. We get a chance to challenge ourselves more,” he says.
How did he get a chance to work with Mani Ratnam? “I did the promos for AR Rahman’s shows. At the time, these shows (the Unity of Light series) were happening in Chennai. After seeing them, Mani sir called me. Then I did Shankar’s Boys and Virumandi for Kamal Haasan. For Virumandi, before the film started, we conceptualised, shot and edited the trailer,” he says.
“Directors like Vikram Kumar and Mani Ratnam never tell you what to do. That’s what they pay us for. I have to excite the soul who conceived the idea with every poster and trailer that I do. If I convince them, I am sure that the audience is… That I am in the right direction,” he exclaims.
Bala is another top rung director Bhojraj has worked with. “Directors like Bala...he is very definite. I worked on (the Atharvaa-starrer) Paradesi (2013) with him. Initially, he was not very open but changed later. I did the sound mixing and determined the colour, look and feel of the film. I got the background score done. I even trimmed the film,” Bhojraj says proudly.
“The first cut of Irudhi Suttru (2016) was done in Ooty on this table,” he says tapping his desk. (The editing of the film is credited to Sathish Suriya).
Bhojraj has also made the posters for films such as Jeyam, Lesa Lesa, Saivam, Thapputhanda, 180 and Vidyummun. He has also cut the trailers for most of these films.
Bhojraj comes from a joint family of Badagas, an indigenous tribe in the Nilgiris, and is the oldest of three brothers. “From school, I was into photography. I was shooting landscapes and portraits. Later, I got an SLR and put together a portfolio,” he says. “I used to take pictures of my family. In all functions, I used to be the ‘official’ photographer. People started appreciating me and that is when I realised I had talent. I was never good at academics. So I had to look for an alternative,” he quips.
“I wanted to get into cinematography. So, I went to the Film Institute in Chennai, but they turned me down, saying I needed science schooling. But I was in the Accounts group,” he says. “My father said ‘finish your basic degree and then decide what you want to do’. So I finished my college in English Literature at Government Arts College in Coimbatore,” he says.
After passing out, Bhojraj met director PC Sreeram. “I asked him to take me. He could not take on assistants as he had too many. He told me to work in the direction department of JS Films. I worked there for four, four-and-a-half years,” he recalls.
Bhojraj’s first trailer was for 12B. “When I approached Jeeva, he said ‘no’. He said ‘only the director and editor can edit the trailer’,” he recollects. “‘How will a third person do it?” he asked me. So, I was driving back (from the meeting) and I got an idea. I got all the technicians’ names. I devised a concept. I made the title sequence with all the credits coming on like a bus horn and going back. I did all this by myself. I created the music for it and went and showed it to Jeeva about 3-4 days later. Then he said, now, you do whatever you (want),” he says, with a chuckle.
The trailer for 12B set a new benchmark in Kollywood. “It got to be known as the fastest-edited trailer. Everybody started calling after that. I got big films,” he says.
On choosing projects, he remarks: “For me, what is important is, anything that comes to us that is challenging and exciting and we have not done before, we take it up. As long as it is creative, we do it. There is no self-limiting line,” he said. “I named my firm Rising Apple to indicate imagination, as a falling apple signifies gravity. For me creativity is imagination.”
Asked about his opinion on New Wave (independent) Tamil cinema, he says: “I think, we still need to explore a lot. We are still very conservative. Everybody says the audience has to accept the film. The audience expects good entertainment, that’s about it. We are failing to package films in a better way.”
Until 3-4 years ago, Bhojraj was making ad films. “My production company out of which I did ad films was called Raconteur,” he says. “I have shot some 45-50 ad films. I stopped about 3-4 years ago. I still get offers. But it is regular, man, and there is no great idea to take up. In Chennai, there are no companies making great ad films,” he said.
“Have you heard of Nilgiris Alive,” he asks suddenly. “We make this merchandise and sell it all over town. I realised that tourists do not take souvenirs back with them, apart from tea and coffee. This is my own brand. I am here in Ooty and giving it back to society. We make things relative to Ooty like stuffed versions of animals that are here,” he said.
I asked him to name the directors he admires. “Shooting off the top of my head, among the younger crop of directors, there are Thiagarajan Kumararaja and Karthik Subbaraj. Directors like them are rocking the scene. They are creating their own genres,” he comments.
Is it difficult working out of Ooty? “Right now, we are in the process of setting up a branch in Chennai. My office was in Chennai for 20 years. We had an independent house in Chennai and an office there. I decided to take a break from ad films and direct my feature. I wanted to do something that I love, but have never tried. I was on a break for six months and then I decided to do graphic design,” he said.
Bhojraj had to go through a process of finding his feet before he got into graphic design. “When I first came back to Ooty, I did not know what to do. Then I started learning graphic design. We slowly set up shop. I was not in a hurry,” he says.
What next? Can we expect a film directed by him?
“I am working on a couple of scripts. I should have gotten into directing long back. I just pushed it and pushed it and hopefully, it will soon happen. One is a love story. I am collaborating with a writer in Australia. Another is a thriller, but I am not getting any time to sit on it,” he says. “I consult for a quite a few feature films. I even do some fine tuning on scripts,” he says.