Eleven years and four films. The numbers seem disproportionate but the constant love Vetri Maaran’s films receive speaks volumes about the high regard in which he’s held. He thinks he isn’t a good director though. As his latest release, Vada Chennai, is running to packed screens, here are excerpts from a conversation with him:
‘I knew Vada Chennai wouldn’t be a loss’
“While the profit margin might have reduced, I knew it wouldn’t be a loss, even with delays. I work fast and I keep working; I don’t get tired of it. Even when Vada Chennai released, I still had around 30 days of work left. But I decided to let it go as we had a release date.”
‘Vada Chennai still continues to surprise me’
“Generally, I pick scripts that end up teaching me. Vada Chennai is like my bible. All my scripts have been from here. Pollathavan was made with ideas I didn’t need for Vada Chennai. The mentor-disciple relationship from Aadukalam was from here. So every time I took ideas from this, I replaced it with something different. Even today, the story surprises me; the film doesn’t. It just keeps giving. I feel discontent that I couldn’t bring so many elements on to the screen, but the story continues to surprise me.”
‘I am never satisfied with my films’
“There is no sequence I am completely satisfied with. The mind conjures several ideas but you have to let them go due to practical difficulties. I have only felt ‘thappichom, edho vandhuruchu!’with a few sequences. (laughs) Examples are the hotel sequence with Rajan and the rest, and the intermission block. Even with the latter, I was relieved only after the edit. That was when I felt I had found the story I was looking for.
My unhappiness wasn’t about the runtime getting reduced. I wouldn’t want to tax the audience with five-and-a-half hours of footage. I might have shot so much, but it isn’t necessary that the audience needs to see all that. I just wish there could have been more finesse.”
‘Vada Chennai 2 is ideally suited for a digital platform’
“We have named the film’s prequel, Rajan Vagaiyara, and are discussing it with a digital streaming platform. Vada Chennai Part 2 is also ideally suited for a digital platform. It is proper web series material. I had pitched making Vada Chennai as a web series. But back then, they were big only in the US. Now, people know, and are ready. Dhanush is also very excited about making VC2 as a series.”
‘Some films can’t be controlled’
“Working without a script, the rhythm has somehow worked out till now. However, this isn’t the right way. I am trying to change that. But some films can’t be controlled. For example, Rajan’s character was supposed to be in just four scenes. But on paper, it turned out to be a hundred minutes. Moreover, Anbu’s story changed according to the changes I made to Rajan’s story. I was able to do all this because I had Dhanush as my producer. Any other producer would have definitely felt confused. Dhanush knows me from my assistant director days and trusts me. I believe in finding my films on the edit table. I am not a good director. Ninachatha ellam eduka mudiyathu. But I know how to create something from what I have shot.
I had 32 years to write Polladhavan; so I had a proper script in place. Even then, there were several last minute changes. We re-edited, made dubbing changes. I had shot for 92 days and dubbed for around 120 days. I think I was able to establish that trust there. We were dubbing until two days before release. I wouldn’t justify my process but I have had people who trusted my conviction. They believed I would deliver.”
‘Tamil audience is the most evolved’
“I consider the lack of a parallel cinema movement a gift to Tamil cinema. When everything made has to cater to the mainstream, the viewing standards of the audience are very high. I think no other audience can accept experimental films like Tamil people do. I used to say that if Visaranai becomes a success, then our audience is the most evolved. And they proved it. Tamil cinema has been conducive to making good films. Cinema is a people’s medium — it makes people go to a particular place to consume it. Especially in Tamil, cinema has been an influential tool politically and socially. So in this context, I feel the lack of a parallel cinema movement is good.”
‘I feel lost if every third scene doesn’t happen in the night’
“Fear and guilt are essential factors in a film for me. The way I had approached Pollathavan had fear imbibed in every moment. I am a night person, and have just started to sleep early. It used to be crazy when I was younger. I sleep in the evening and spend the nights reading or with friends. I grew up using my nights; so I have a great affinity for it. I feel lost if every third scene of mine doesn’t happen during night.”
‘Vada Chennai has made me more responsible’
“As a filmmaker, I still haven’t grasped the film entirely. It is a beast. I am too close to it right now and have seen portions of the film. It will take me a year to understand the film in entirety. But as a world, Vada Chennai has made me more responsible. It made me realise that I should start expressing what I believe in socially and politically. More than speaking on stages, a scene in my film is more effective. My primary way of expression is making films.”
This was originally written for The New Indian Express. You can find it here.