Priyadarshan talks about who he believes is the best among the new breed of actors in Malayalam and why he hasn’t worked with Rajinikanth, among other things.

Interview with director Priyadarshan on release of Marakkar Arabikadalinte SimhamFacebook
Flix Interview Tuesday, May 05, 2020 - 16:22

That old adage that the show must go on has come a cropper in this unprecedented season of the coronavirus. Nobody has an exact picture of how things may pan out and showbiz is equally in the dark, exploring strategies to wriggle its way out. While some small or medium budget films look for OTT windows, big films with massive budgets need to wait longer.

Priyadarshan’s Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham, the most expensive Malayalam film ever made with a budget of Rs 100 crore, was to hit the screens in March but its planned, simultaneous release — in over 5,000 screens across the world — has now been delayed indefinitely. What next?

In a long chat with TNM, Priyadarshan, who has directed close to 90 films in multiple languages, talks about when Marakkar could see the light of day, who he believes is the best actor among the new breed of actors in Malayalam, why he has never worked with Rajinikanth, and how his daughter Kalyani made a quiet entry into showbiz.

It’s not the ideal time to talk about films or entertainment, but you must be worried over Marakkar’s release and its box-office prospects?

Frankly, I’m not sure if we’re at a stage where we can even discuss such matters. There are bigger things at play, and I think we all need to wait longer for things to subside. Films, rather entertainment, should be the last thing on our minds now. With such huge stakes involved [we have spent around Rs 100 crore] we’re concerned about our product which we painstakingly built, but we are in no hurry to release the film. We’ll take a call when the world returns to normalcy, when people are in a position to enjoy things the way they used to earlier. We’re looking forward to a release in December or even early next year.

Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham was scheduled to release in March
The news of Irrfan Khan’s demise must have come as a shock to you. [Priyadarshan worked with Irrfan in the 2009 Hindi flick Billu].

It came as a shocker, especially in the wake of reports that he had recovered from the illness. I did speak to him four months ago and he appeared cheerful and optimistic. In fact, he wanted me to do a full-length comedy flick with him. During the shoot of Billu, we forged a close relationship in a short time and that’s why I feel the loss personally. He was such a great person, so genuine, so affable and down-to-earth. Also, he was quite contented, never bargained for his remuneration, and can you imagine, he said ‘no’ to the likes of Ridley Scott. For a person with a theatre background, I expected him to be loud and dramatic, but he was nowhere near that. Subtlety was his biggest asset. I will miss him.

So how has the lockdown been otherwise? Stifling or relaxing?

Sometimes, it’s good to slow down and the lockdown has given many of us a chance to relax and ruminate. I’ve done a bit of reading, besides watching films at my Chennai home. I’ve also started writing a new script, for Akshay Kumar.

You’ve been residing in Chennai/Madras for a long, long time, but curiously you have never shot in the city.

Chennai is special for multiple reasons, but as a filmmaker it is a logistical nightmare to shoot in the city, with permissions required from multiple agencies. Even after having acquired all the permissions, you might still run into other law enforcement agencies. Be it in Europe or even the US, it’s easy to shoot anywhere once you have obtained all the nods. In Prague and elsewhere, I remember, they literally roll out the red carpet for you. I’ve shot at Chennai studios and indoors, but never ventured out. It’s strange that such stringent measures are in place in a state ruled by chief ministers from the film world.

That way, which are the best cities to shoot in?

I’ve shot practically all across India, and I must say Mumbai, the most vibrant city in the country, is awesome. I’ve shot the maximum number of films there. Bhopal (and the entire Madhya Pradesh) is amazing and the state offers every support to shoot wherever you want. Uttarakhand too. Earlier, Bangalore was such a beautiful place, along with its salubrious climate, to shoot and logistically too, it was a breeze. I remember we had a blast filming Vandanam (in 1989) on the arterial MG Road, in Cubbon Park and even close to Vidhana Soudha. Mysore, where I shot the entire Kanchivaram, is another great city to shoot in. Ooty is another favourite place, but it is no longer what it was. Kerala, obviously, is charming forever.

You have repeatedly expressed your wish to film an MT Vasudevan Nair script — one of your biggest dreams. If the current controversy and case involving Randamoozham are sorted out, do you think you can approach the legendary writer to film the same?

Frankly, it won’t be appropriate on my part to approach MT or even talk about Randamoozham. So such a question does not arise. Also, with MT sir, I don’t want to associate for a mammoth project like Randamoozham, instead what I have in mind is a small tale, like Kanchivaram. We came close to finalising two-three projects, but unfortunate things happened and those got shelved. It’s unlikely to happen again, but I will wait. Another dream is to work with Amitabh Bachchan.

Rajinikanth?

Who does not want to? Like almost all directors in the south and elsewhere, I too am in awe of the Superstar, but I could never have done justice to his histrionics had I gone ahead and done what we discussed years ago. In fact, two-three offers came my way with a project with Thalaivar, but I didn’t have the courage to tap his energy on screen. I still clap, whoop and whistle the moment I see him on screen. He is just, just beyond everybody.

Going back to your old films, many still talk about the anti-climax in your most romantic and fun-filled films. After having a laugh riot of sorts, why did those films — the list is quite long — have to end so traumatically? Any regrets?

I concede Vandanam and Abhimanyu would have collected three times more if those endings were different. Looking back, Vandanam, in particular, was brutal because as the creator such an anti-climax had no justification, or in literary parlance there was no poetic justice. Chitram or even Thalavattom had to have anti-climaxes because there were proper reasons cited in the story.

I’ve always liked films with such endings – that leave viewers with a lump in the throat. When I watched movies like Moondram Pirai, Pushpak or even Nirmalyam, I left the theatre with a heavy heart and it lingered for a week or so. Maybe that was playing in my mind when I chose to go against the flow. Let me also tell you that in Telugu, I changed the climax of Vandanam, taking a cue from Fazil who tweaked the climax of almost all the films when he remade them in Tamil. In fact, he told me to do the same and I applied it to many of my remakes in Hindi. Every film is destined to be the way it is. No regrets whatsoever.

Are you game for another set of remakes or are they over? Of all the remakes you’ve done, which according to you is the best and which is the worst?

Remakes are over. The best have to be Hungama and Garam Masala, the remakes of Poochakkoru Mookkuthi and Boeing Boeing respectively. Not just the technical finesse, the two were far better films, barring performances. The worst has to be Doli Saja Ke Rakhna (remake of Aniyathi Pravu). The remake of Kilukkam would have been totally different had I stuck to the original cast, Aamir Khan and Pooja Bhatt.

A new set of actors have shot into prominence in Malayalam cinema, but you have not yet worked with any of them. Any particular reason?

I admit or rather confess I’m struggling to understand the romance of this generation. I can’t write or conceive things which I myself don’t understand or am comfortable working on. Also, it needs a certain prodding on my part to convince many of them to be on the same page. But I face no such issues while working with Mohanlal or Akshay and I’m so comfortable.

And yes, I’m closely following each of the new actors and some of them have already done phenomenal work. Fahadh Faasil is the best among the current crop. Some of his performances are so natural and he can pull off even humour with ease. Perhaps he is the most natural actor in Malayalam after Mohanlal. Prithviraj is another powerful actor who I’m really eager to work with.

Your daughter Kalyani has made a quiet entry (as an actor) and won many hearts.

An acting career was not in her mind, having graduated from a top architecture institute in the US. When she came back to India, Nagarjuna (Tollywood superstar) approached us for a film with his son in the lead and she wanted to test the waters. Surprisingly, she won a few awards on her debut, but I wasn’t that happy with her performance.

In Malayalam, she never wanted to hurry, may be a bit scared, and she wanted to get introduced only by Sathyan Anthikkad or Fazil. But when Anoop Sathyan came up with the script of Varane Avashyamundu, she felt that was the project she’d love to do in Malayalam. It’s a lovely film and her performance made me say for the first time that “I am proud of you as a father.”

At 94 films, you have another six films to reach that magical figure of 100. Will you be super selective in the next few years?

Actually it doesn’t work that way. There were instances where I was extremely careful, but the results went awry. For instance, Midhunam, a film which is being revered and discussed so much now, was a box-office disaster. In fact, it’s one of my biggest flops. So was Mukundetta Sumithra Vilikkunnu, which is again being lapped up now by a repeat audience. I can plan, but things may not go as per the script. I do have some exciting threads lined up, let’s see how things shape up.

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