Director Ram doesn’t believe in mincing words. Honesty seeps through his answers, just like it does in his movies. He believes in what he does, regardless of whether it fetches him criticism or acclaim. Ahead of his upcoming movie Taramani, the National Award-winning director opens up in an exclusive chat with indianexpress.com about censorship, his leading lady Andrea Jeremiah and lots more.
Q. Let it be Lipstick Under My Burkha or the documentary on Amartya Sen, the Censor Board has been making headlines of late. Following these, we get a Taramani poster that says ‘According to the Censors, a film gets a U/A certificate if a man has his drink neat, but the same film gets an A if a woman has her drink neat.’ What were you trying to convey?
The Censor Board was ready to give a U/A certificate, but with 14 cuts. This scene in question was one of those cuts. But, I was ready to take an A certificate since the movie talks about adults. I don’t want thirteen-year-old kids to watch this movie.
Can a man understand the modern woman, her self-esteem – that’s the core of Taramani. Women have increasingly become more independent and do not need a protector. When it came to promoting the movie, I wanted the posters to convey this.
However, I wouldn’t blame the Censor Board. I feel they don’t want to disturb the general social perspective. Their job is tough — a movie caters to a diverse audience from mixed backgrounds. The Board proposes changes as it doesn’t want to offend anybody. On the other hand, at this moment in India, I do feel right-wing thoughts have crept into the juries. When Kattradhu Thamizh was on the table, I felt there were more left-oriented people. But now I feel that has changed.
The Censor Board officer was very democratic. He suggested that I take an A and release the movie as it is. Obviously, he has to follow the rules. In fact, even after the A certificate, there were 12 minor cuts. I had to remove the word ‘f**k’. To be frank, the word will be felt louder if we censor it.
Q. Should the Censor Board be concerned about language in ‘A’ movies considering that the audience will comprise only adults?
There are written rules that certain words have to be muted on screen. However, we use such language because the story’s logical sequence demands it. For example, Andrea in the movie plays an Anglo-Indian character; she might have heard these words even in her childhood. Also, women do not have many Tamil words that they can use to chide men. When a woman has to react immediately to a man abusing her, the word ‘f**k’ becomes necessary. I don’t use it for controversy. I rather employ language to project my character’s background. In my opinion, the Censor Board could be more relaxed about language for movies that get rated ‘Adults only’.
Q. Aren’t there hurdles that come along with an A certificate?
The main issue with an A certificate is whether women would be comfortable coming to the theaters or watching it alone. In a male-dominated society like ours, they don’t get treated as adults. There is an inhibition to perceive women as adults. There was apprehension as to whether all men would bring their girlfriends to the movie.
While there were no tax concerns due to the A certificate, there will be issues with satellite rights. Furthermore, theater revenues are bound to take a hit as fewer families will be watching the movie on the big screen. For small movies like Taramani, these are challenges. In order to overcome all these hurdles, we decided to use our posters as means of communication.
Q. CBFC chief Pahlaj Nihalani has recently frowned upon actors drinking, smoking on screen. Your thoughts on that?
Someone told me that now movies will get an A certificate even if a man drinks on screen. It is fine as long there is equal treatment of both genders. It is right to raise our voice if the movie promotes alcoholism. But if the story falls in an ambiance that makes it a requisite, we can’t do anything about it.
The political truth is that censorship changes with the party in rule. The line between A, U/A certificates is hazy and creators were earlier playing with it. Earlier, only films with U got a tax exemption. Thankfully, that’s not there now. Now we don’t know what taxes we are going to pay, but that’s a different issue altogether. The point is producers were forced to get a U certificate for even mature content. A person kills 100 men on screen, the movie still gets a U. What can children see on screen is up for debate. While heterosexual love is acceptable, homosexual love is not. If we go by such standards, all recent movies in Tamil should be certified A. We still get a U/A as we are left with no other choice.
The way I see it, the Censor Board is concerned about things that affect the politics of life; everyday issues such as man-woman equations, feminism or caste. This can get worse or can become more democratic as well. There is no way to predict what will happen.
Q. Did you have any qualms about Taramani clashing with Ajith-starrer Vivegam, which is touted to release around the same time?
When my producer said that the movie will release in August along with Vivegam, I had told him that it was a ‘vivegam atra seyal’ (unwise decision). I felt it was unnecessary, considering that the movie has been in the making for around three years. However, the date was convenient for him. Moreover, since he agreed to an A certificate as per my wishes, he asked me to concede.
We can’t compete with Vivegam in terms of budget or promotions. It is a monumental test, but he wanted to take the risk.
Q. You had earlier mentioned that Andrea Jeremiah is an underutilised actress in Kollywood and that Taramani would be pivotal to her career. How was it working with her?
Andrea is highly professional. She worries only about the script and never about money. She is more focused on her art than her looks. In fact, we do not have a makeup professional for Taramani; Andrea did her own makeup. She was also very simple. It was very comfortable working with her. In my opinion, Tamil cinema did not have characters apt for Andrea to play before Taramani. But now she has some exciting projects lined up like Vetrimaran’s Vada Chennai. Andrea has the potential and will be around for a long time as an artist.
Q. We are getting to see Anjali again in an extended cameo after Karthik Subburaj’s Iraivi. Do tell us about her contribution to the movie.
To be honest, Anjali has a bigger fan base than Andrea in Tamil cinema. Her role in the movie, while important, is only for ten minutes. Since I directed her in my first movie Kattradhu Thamizh, we share a great friendship. When I approached, she readily agreed. Anjali is a great artist any day; dubs really well. She is also very humble, not all heroines would agree to a smaller role opposite her peer. I could also say she helped Taramani. She allowed us to use her pictures in our promotions. It is a friendly gesture from her side.
Q. What can the audience expect from Taramani?
Taramani will respect you as an adult. It will disturb you – as in if you are separated from your other half, the movie would urge you to at least try sorting the differences. At the minimum, if you are a man, it will definitely make you introspect about your choices and decisions. It is not a love story, but a movie about love.