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In this interview with TNM, the director answers questions on his new film, its music and why it took him so long to make it.

Sarvam Thaala Mayam is on a drum-makers son wanting to play the drum Rajiv Menon
Flix Interview Friday, January 25, 2019 - 12:30

Director Rajiv Menon is back with Sarvam Thaala Mayam starring GV Prakash Kumar and Aparna Balamurali. The director’s last film was Kandukondein Kandukondein starring Tabu, Mammootty, Aishwarya Rai and Abbas in 2000. In this interview with TNM, the director answers questions on his new film, its music and why it took him so long to make it. Excerpts from the interview below.

You’ve directed three films so far, each after a long gap. Why so?

The gap that happened between Kandukondein and this was not intentional. I tried under various scripts. Under various actor combinations, small films, big films, musicals, Hindi, Tamil. It was getting postponed for some reason. It was as though the jinx that Ajith’s character, Manohar, faces in Kandukondein was happening to me as well. I was amazed at how that was happening. I kept writing. I think I write better now. It wasn’t that I was on a cruise or chilling somewhere. I was struggling but there was some problem, some roadblock or the other. Now I’m glad that we have a script and we shot it. Eventually we had to produce it as well. It was difficult but I’ve got past it now. I think I have a story which is powerful enough to tell.

We hear Sarvam Thaala Mayam is the story of a Dalit youth who makes it big in the music field. How did this story come to you?

My film is not a caste issue based film as much as a film about meritocracy. While I was doing a documentary on Umayalpuram in Thanjavur, I stumbled upon a gentleman called Johnson who was being called everywhere. Johnson came with his own bag in which he had tools. So I had this feeling that Johnson was an electrician. Then I found Johnson sitting on stage. I thought he must be a very influential electrician who gets to sit on stage. When I came to Chennai, again I heard Johnson being discussed. Then I realised Johnson is the man who repairs the mridangam. When I started doing the documentary here in Chennai, I realised Johnson was not a repair guy but he actually makes the mridangam that Padma Vibhushan Umayalpuram Sivaraman sir plays.

Now world over, drums are basically a circular piece of wood and stretched leather, someone beats on it, people who play it become famous, people who listen to it become happy, but people who make it live in oblivion and in borderline poverty. So my story is not driven by caste matrix as much as it is a story of people who make the instrument but don’t get to play it. It so happens in this film that it takes a caste angle. But that’s not my focus here. My focus is about a drum-maker’s son wanting to play and what would happen. I kind of started drawing the parallel between the Dalit who is waiting outside the temple in Nandanar’s Charitham and Peter who was waiting outside his guru’s house to gain entry.

Let’s talk about the music in the film. People are saying that it sounds like 90s’ AR Rahman.

I’m very happy that the music has been accepted and people really like it and they feel it is vintage ARR tracks. ARR’s greatest quality was to have a simplicity and a clear melodic line. We were really looking forward to that. But is it praise? I’m not sure if he is excited with people saying 90s’ ARR is back. Of course, he’s been creating music since. But that’s something all creators feel.

How was it working with GV Prakash Kumar in this film?

I did not make a conscious decision to bring stars into the film. It is not star-driven but more concept driven. I knew no one was ready to put that time required for preparing. People had to play to look more real. This is not something you can fake. GV was already an accomplished keyboard player. Since he already has rhythm within him, he just had to relearn the fingering. I put him in touch with Umayalpuram sir and he trained for a year.

Watch the full interview here:

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