It has been a dream-come-true for Rajesh M Selva to direct Ulaganayagan for Thoonga Vanam.
From a fan to an assistant director and now, directing the one and only Kamal Haasan is indeed a memorable ride for Rajesh. “No one is perfect but Kamal sir always works hard to effectuate the excellence”, says Rajesh who quickly went down the memory lane to recall an incident that happened during Marmayogi, which was dropped due to financial reasons.
“Kamal sir had written a poem in both Sanskrit and Tamil for Marmayogi. It’s for a sequence, where a particular character has to enter into one part of the cave, reads a poem inscribed on the wall and comes out from the other end. For the record, Marmayogi was in the sixth century and I took the responsibility of finding out the Tamil scriptures of that time”, recalls Rajesh, who had spent nearly forty five days with the researchers at archaeological department to know the scriptures of sixth century Tamil that existed in Pandiya kingdom.
“I was very proud and submitted my research work to Kamal sir. He had a glance and asked me to hand it over to production designer. But after few minutes, sir called me again and asked to find the Tamil scriptures of fifth century. I was upset but only after ten minutes, realized the reason behind his query”, says Rajesh, who was back then a third assistant director to Kamal Haasan.
“If a person reads something in the 6th century, it would have inscribed minimum hundred years before. That’s Kamal sir for you”, says Rajesh.
Rajesh’s biggest request to the audiences is to be in your seats well ahead before the movie starts and not to miss the beginning. “Story of our film will unfold soon after the titles", says Rajesh.
The director says that Thoongaa Vanam will be an engaging thriller and audience will come out of the cinema hall with a big smile. “A lot of cultural differences are there between our country and France, where the script was originally written. The way a French reacts to the death would be subtle while our reactions would be loud”, says Rajesh, whose film is based on a French story.
The director also says that the characterizations of Trisha, Prakash Raj and Sampath will be way different from the original. “Trisha plays a never seen before role in the film but I can’t say the same for Kamal sir”, laughs Rajesh.
Seasoned actors in the film
“Talks for me directing a film for Raj Kamal Films had happened even before a year but when Kamal sir gave me Thoongaa Vanam, I realized the huge pressure”, says the director.
“It’s always my dream to rope in seasoned actors in Kamal sir’s film, which rarely happens. I feel lucky to get Prakash Raj, Sampath, Yugi Sethu, Trisha and Uma Riyaz on board, the way they improvised our scenes are remarkable”, exclaims Rajesh.
Project planning in Raj Kamal films
“All over the world, filmmakers and producers spend more time in project development. People do a lot of rehearsals and preps before shooting but in Kollywood, they think it as a superfluous investment. We at Raj Kamal Films spend enough time on project planning and hence our films are cost effective”, says Rajesh, who has worked nearly seven years in the production house.
“Vishwaroopam had high octane action sequences but it was a zero-error movie, none of the actors had single scratch because we always give more importance to the safety measures. Unlike other movies, French stunt choreographers in Thoongaa Vanam didn’t come on the shooting day; we did proper rehearsals and gave enough training to the actors”, said Rajesh.
Normally, debut directors do not get a chance to mix their films in Los Angeles but when Rajesh asked, Raj Kamal films asked to him to go ahead. “I had shown the final cut and explained how sound design would provide a different feel to the film and Kamal sir immediately agreed”, says Rajesh.
Rajesh adds “A little hum from a light or a noise from an AC would provide a unique movie watching experience. Technicians at Los Angeles have done remarkable job”.
Rajesh also compliments music composer Ghibran for maintaining absolute silence in few scenes. “Ghibran and me share a good wavelength, we argue a lot but only for the betterment of the project”, says the director.
After the release, if someone happens to say that Thoongaa Vanam is on par with international standards, major credits should go to my cinematographer Sanu Varghese, says Rajesh.
The director says “Sanu always asked me to see the bigger picture and made sure that I don’t decide anything emotionally”.
Buying official rights
“Not only Thoongaa Vanam, Kamal sir has bought rights for many other films in the past”, reveals Rajesh who also says that they would laugh on comments saying Kamal Haasan had copied from other language films because people at Raj Kamal Films know the truth.
“Not to forget, they (western filmmakers) too get inspired from Kamal sir and filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino have accepted it”, adds the director.
So why Raj Kamal Films are not revealing that the rights have properly bought by them? Rajesh says “Kamal sir doesn’t believe in the idea of letting out all the information to the audiences. It’s not necessary for a moviegoer to know the budget, business and running time of the movie, all we are trying to give is a quality film”.
“Most projects in Kollywood are inspired from foreign language films but I feel it to be unethical. Let’s get proper remake rights and play around the plot as we wish”, explains Rajesh on his ideology of remaking foreign language films.
Marudhanayagam and Kamal’s comment on Thoongaa Vanam
So what did Kamal say after watching Thoongaa Vanam ? “Nothing, he said OK and started working on his next film. That’s how sir reacts; we are from his school right? So appreciating us is like patting his own shoulders”, chuckles Rajesh.
Marudhanayagam? “Just like everyone, Kamal sir and Raj Kamal team are working towards it. Hopefully soon”, says the director.
Cameos in Kamal films
For people, who are not aware, Rajesh had played interesting cameos in Kamal’s films including the terrorist in Vishwaroopam and spy in Uttama Villain.
Rajesh says “It was an accident. When we were shooting for Vishwaroopam in Michigan, a NRI named Abhu was supposed to play the terrorist role but he had visa issue so Kamal sir had asked me to act in that scene”.
“You should act in baddie roles so that audiences will hate you’ is what Kamal sir said jovially, and it is he who a styled me in Vishwaroopam”, says Rajesh.
For Uttama Villain, we searched actors to play a spy, who can speak good Tamil in Bengaluru and he should also hang on the rope. “Kamal sir once again insisted that I do this particular role and also told on a lighter vein to do small cameos in all the upcoming films of Raj Kamal International”
“I might direct Kamal sir’s next film but nothing has been finalized yet. I would be the executive producer for one of the upcoming films of Kamal sir and getting offers from outside too. I’m not the kind of a person, who plans big”, signs off Rajesh.