Director Selvaraghavan and music director Yuvan Shankar Raja, who are back together again with Nenjam Marappathillai, open up to RITZ on films, life, friendship and more.
Interview: Manigandan K R [Twitter ID : @cineobserver]
Photography: Kunal Daswani
Location courtesy: Somerset
Make up: Suman Joshi, Naturals Lounge, Alwarpet
Tamil film lovers across the globe are rejoicing and for a very valid reason too! Music director Yuvan Shankar Raja and director Selvaraghavan, who worked together and delivered five phenomenal films with some scintillating and soul-stirring music back-to-back before choosing to part ways, have come together again after a gap of almost eight years.
Their combination has always been one of the most formidable in the Tamil film industry as every single time the two have come together, fans have been assured of a memorable hit with unforgettable music. The phenomenal response to the recently released teaser of Selvaraghavan’s film Nenjam Marappathillai, with Yuvan’s music in the background only goes on to show that the duo hasn’t lost its magical touch one bit.
In a style that is unique to RITZ, we caught up with both stalwarts for their views on a number of topics including their upcoming film Nenjam Marappathillai, the bond they share, why they parted ways and more importantly, how they got back together.
“When it comes to working with directors, some give me a lot of space. Some don’t. Some take exactly what they want” – Yuvan Shankar Raja
Nenjam Marappathillai has triggered a huge amount of excitement. On the one hand, it will see you and Yuvan come together for the first time after eight years. On the other, it is a film that has top directors handling all three important aspects – production, direction and acting. Gautam Vasudev Menon is producing it, you are directing it and SJ Suryah is playing the lead. How did this combo happen in the first place?
Selvaraghavan: It was entirely Gautam’s initiative. He has been talking about it for the last six years or so. The credit goes to him. We both decided to start such an initiative and then I brought SJ Suryah on board and so it became three directors together.
Fans have been eagerly waiting for information on the film but nothing concrete has been disclosed so far. Some believe it to be a horror-comedy, some others call it a straight horror film and then, there are also those who claim it to be a psycho-comedy mixture. What exactly is Nenjam Marappathillai?
Selvaraghavan: Why must a movie be fixed in a particular genre? I thought it would be really cool to invent a new genre rather than fixing a film or pushing it towards a particular genre. I thought let me invent one.
What is this new genre that you have invented?
Selvaraghavan: It is genreless (laughs).
Every single time you have composed for a Selvaraghavan film, it has been a resounding success. You produce rocking hits. The teaser that you guys recently released is again a hit. What is special about working with Selvaraghavan?
Yuvan: When it comes to working with directors, some give me a lot of space. Some don’t. Some take exactly what they want. Some give me the space to think of what I want. Selvaraghavan falls in this category. Also, what I like about him is that he does his homework and then comes to me. For instance, if there is a certain situation that he needs a song for, he would do his homework and then play me some references. He’d say, “If it is like this, it would be nice.” That really inspires me. When you regularly do movies back-to-back, you tend to get stuck in a pattern. So, when someone gets so involved and plays something to you to take you forward, your mind opens up. Selva gives me a lot of space to play around.
After working on five movies, which were filled with brilliance, the magic suddenly disappeared. Selva and you stopped working together. What happened?
Yuvan: A thousand things happen between friends. Things could move front or back. That’s what friendship is about, right? There could be a difference of opinion on issues but once that is sorted, then you are back on track again.
So, who do fans have to thank for the joy of seeing you both together again?
Yuvan: No, no. It’s the other way around. We should thank the fans because they were so particular about it. They wanted this combo and so, one fine day, we met and spoke. We were like, ‘Come on man, there are so many people wanting this. We should not let this go.” It took off from there.
“I never give anything away about my film. That is for the audience to go, watch and enjoy. Go to a movie without expecting anything” – Selvaraghavan
So, who made the first move?
Yuvan: We both did.
Take us through how it happened.
Yuvan: One day, I messaged him. I just picked up my phone and sent him a message saying, ‘I think we should work together.’ From there, it took off slowly.
So, is there a guarantee you guys will not part ways again?
Yuvan: (Laughs) I think we have both matured a lot more now.
What is Nenjam Marappathillai all about?
Selvaraghavan: In the current scenario, independent filmmakers have been having it tough over the last few years. It’s been getting tougher and tougher for those wanting to try something new as nobody can really judge what the fans want. So, we wanted to do something like an Indie film and see how it looked. Then, it turned out to look like something else. We wanted to start it small and make a quick Indie film. But then, eventually it ended up getting big and we are happy with what we got.
You still haven’t given anything away about your film…
Selvaraghavan : I never give anything away about my film. That is for the audience to go, watch and enjoy. Go to a movie without expecting anything. I’ll give you something you least expected.
Why SJ Suryah? Was it because you wanted a three-director combo?
Selvaraghavan: No, that’s not how it happened. The entire casting was done by me. SJ Suryah and I have become close after this movie. While making this film, we once had a conversation. He was angry because exactly 12 years ago, I had called him to my office and offered him a film. Then, I dropped the project and went to on to work on another film because I wanted to do something else. Recalling that, he said, ‘If you had done 12 years ago, what you have done today, I would have been in the list of top three or top four stars. So you have made me wait for 12 years now.’
I have always believed SJ Suryah to be someone special. It is not the SJ Suryah that people see. I think he has lots of potential. In fact that is why I chose him. The same thing goes for Regina. That is why, even when we audition people, we don’t get them to put make up or ask them to deliver lines or act. All that they have to do is be themselves. Be without makeup and talk for 10 minutes.
Your auditions seem to be of a unique nature…
Selvaraghavan: That is how my auditions are. For this film, I spoke to Regina for five minutes, to Nandita for two minutes and to SJ Suryah for five minutes. That is how my auditions went. I don’t force any character on anyone. I want people to play themselves.
So, what triggered the thought process for the script of Nenjam Marappathillai?
Selvaraghavan: Just as you are talking, imagine another person, just like you, sitting and watching you, what happens then? That is what triggered the thought process for this script. There are two people within everyone. Maybe, even three. My point is that each person has multiple facets.
A lot of this seems to be rooted in psychology. Did you research for this character?
Selvaraghavan: I have gone through a lot and suffered a lot in my life. Nothing impacts your life the way certain journeys do. I take everything positively and learn from each of them. That forms the basis to go deep into human psychology. Also, I act for my actors. So, imagine how many roles I would have played in the many films that I have directed so far. For five minutes, I am a king, for the next five minutes, I am Karthi, and then in the next five, I am Reema. Then, I am SJ Suryah and then Regina. There are too many faces and they keep changing. It gets to you and automatically, you go deep and get to think about it as it is not easy to reflect emotions just like that on your face. If you have to be a king, you have to first feel like a king. It’s easy for the actors also to know exactly what I want. Then, we can work on it, using that as a platform.
Why the title Nenjam Marappathillai? Any particular reason for naming it after a classic?
Selvaraghavan: No particular reason. I didn’t look at it as Sridhar sir’s film. Maybe I will never forget Yuvan. That’s why I have named it the Heart Never Forgets (laughs).
What was the inspiration for the music of the Nenjam Marappathillai trailer that has evoked a tremendous response?
Yuvan: It was the script. The moment it was narrated to me, I knew that this was going to be a really wacky album. Because wacky is the words to describe SJ Suryah’s character in the film, so you can be sure the music will also be like that. It will be totally out of the box.
“For this film, I spoke to Regina for five minutes, to Nandita for two minutes and to SJ Suryah for five minutes. That is how my auditions went” – Selvaraghavan
How many songs have you included in the film?
Yuvan: Three songs. I won’t call them different because today everybody is using that word. I’ll say it is going to be wacky. At the same time, when you listen to it for the first time, it will hit your head really hard. I can guarantee that.
Does your dad Ilayaraja share his thoughts on your music?
Yuvan: No. Most of the time, he doesn’t even know what I am up to (laughs). I am not joking. I’m serious. Even today, if you go to his room, he would be writing something. You won’t believe, he went for a class in Budapest recently. He signed up for a music course there. He went, studied and came back. That’s how dedicated he is. Like I said, most of the time he doesn’t know what I am up to because he has his own agenda but of late, we meet often because of my daughter.
So, how has the little one changed your world?
Yuvan: It’s a whole different feeling. Your life is truly complete once you have a baby. Of course, there are tremendous responsibilities that come with becoming a parent. It’s part of the territory, but I strongly believe that you realise the meaning of your life when you have a kid.
Does she come to your recording sessions?
Yuvan: Yeah, she does. She is very musically inclined. I can see that now. She is just six-months-old. Whenever we take her to see my dad, he carries her. When he lifts her, she would initially cry. My dad would then immediately go to the piano and start playing and then, she would become quiet.
How does Yuvan handle the huge pressure that is on him to deliver every single time, to perform?
Yuvan: I don’t let any of this into my head. I don’t think about my following. I don’t think, “My God, I have to deliver.” I don’t think of any of this. I only focus on being true to that song at that moment. Today, if I am going to my studio, all I think of is ‘What movie am I working on? Have I given my 100 per cent to each song in that film?’ That’s all that matters to me.
You say that you are a different person now from the person you used to be. Exactly how different are you now?
Selvaraghavan: From being a madman to turning a sensible person – that’s the difference.
That’s intense. Would you elaborate?
Selvaraghavan: So far, I have found only one thing difficult about the industry. Everything has to be done to a certain level. So, when it comes to that aspect, I am still a mad man. Because I have worked with people much younger and I still feel they are slow. I expect a certain kind of professionalism. I consider this industry as a form of art. When there is a country that does not consider art as art, that industry is never going to come up. Sadly, we have gone down from what I saw of this industry some 15 years ago. Rather than going up, it is still going down. The simple reason being that we are not treating this industry as art. It is an absolute art. I am still coming to terms with why people are not finding it an art form.
So, what you are saying is that art has lost its value over the years?
Selvaraghavan: Indian cinema has never been an art. There are certain mad people like me, a few people, who think it is an art and know its value. So, here’s why I call myself a sensible person from being a mad man. I call myself that because I have realised that the day people are going to recognise this as an art is never going to come. At least, I don’t think I will see that day. So, I have become sensible now and have come to the conclusion, ‘Let me do 15 or 20 films or let me do whatever I can and go in peace. I am not going to believe it is going to become an art anymore.’
“The moment it was narrated to me, I knew that this was going to be a really wacky album. Because S J Suryah’s character is like that in the film” Yuvan Shankar Raja
Your sequel to Aayirathil Oruvan is being awaited eagerly…
Selvaraghavan: First survival should happen, then sequels will happen (laughs). It’s a different sequel. We had everything planned but the scenario has changed. The idea I have for a sequel is really difficult to conceive of and make. The time has to come for it to happen. The sequel will happen in due course of time.
If the sequel does happen, will we see Karthi, Reema and Andrea in it?
Selvaraghavan: No. It is about the prince now. The small boy whom Karthi rescues in Part I.
Now that Dhanush is also a director, your family has five directors. Did you see this happening at some point in time?
Selvaraghavan: We never foresaw this. Maybe, we will produce another 10 directors from the family if we have enough kids (laughs). We thought if somebody wants to direct, why stop them?
Dhanush considers you his guru. Does he come to you for suggestions or feedback with regard to his film Power Paandi?
Selvaraghavan: We always screen each other’s movies and give suggestions. We play each other’s songs and there is nothing wrong in comparisons.
Of late, criticism has become harsh. It was always harsh. Now, it has gained a lot more in intensity. Comment.
Selvaraghavan: This shows the mood in society. It is not a reflection of cinema. People are going through a certain phase. Today, I am happy and content with what I have. But that is not the case everywhere. Everything has become about competition. So, people are getting restless. If I am going to live my life looking at my neighbour, I am bound to get restless. People are getting frustrated and restless and everybody today has to prove a point as we become a bigger power. So, everything becomes harsh. That is why I don’t see the happiness I witnessed in the nineties or the eighties. What I used to see then on the streets and in the neighbourhood was how people were really happy. During Deepavali or Ramzan, people shared everything. Now, people don’t even want to know who lives next door. They are in a constant state of rush. People are getting edgy and that shows in everything, not just cinema.