Cheran has created history by churning out one of the biggest blockbusters in Tamil. Autograph, made on a shoestring budget of Rs 2 Crore is likely to garner a distributors' share of nearly Rs 10 Crore! Cheran a middle-of-the-road director who has made a name for himself by directing films like Porkalam, Bharathi Kannamma and Desiya Geetham has done a wonderful job as the actor-director in this film. His Pandavar Bhoomi got him the Filmfare award and Vetrikodi Kattu won him a National award. He turned to acting with Thankar Bachchan’s Solla Marantha Kathai in which he essayed a role of a lower middle class educated youth who gets married to a rich girl to save his family. His acting won him rave reviews and now with Autograph he has turned to producing, directing and playing the protagonist. Excerpts of an exclusive interview to Sify.com(Read: Autograph tops the box office)
What if Autograph was not a hit?
When I wanted to make this film about five years back no producer came forward. So I put everything I had and borrowed heavily to make my dream possible. I went through hell as distributors were not willing to touch it and I almost decided to go back to my hometown in Palayamkottai. Then things turned around in my favour and the rest, you know. Let me tell you that I had immense faith in the film.
What is the production cost and how big a hit is the film?
I cannot tell you exactly the cost of production as it took nearly a year for making the film. There were three different milieus in the film and four cameramen shot in three different locations to make it possible. All I can tell you is that Autograph is a super hit and in most of the release centres it has been shifted to bigger theatres with higher capacities due to the unprecedented crowds. The word-of-mouth was in favour and ladies seem to have loved it. I have increased the number of prints from 65 to 85. And the second week collections were much better than the first week which is something rare these days. (Vote now: for the best film of the week!)
How did the film become such a big hit?
(smiles) I think it was a well-made film with a 350-page script ready before the shooting started. It was not just the dialogues. The description of each shot, costumes of the characters and all kinds of minute details were worked out well. Even the lyrics of Jyapakam varuthe…Jyapakam Varuthe… written by me was well-received.
What was your inspiration to make Autograph? Was it your own life?
Autograph is a project that was very close to my heart as it was partly autobiographical. It was a film that as derived from life. The script was presented in four stages of a man - at school, college, work and finally when you are ready for marriage. There are many Senthils (my hero) in real life.
Why did you use four different cameramen in the film?
Since Autograph is about looking back down the memory lane, I had to use different cameramen for getting different moods and style of visuals to represent different stages. Ravi Varman had shot the school episode in Senthil’s life with 35 mm lens to give it a distant feel. Vijay Milton shot the Kerala scenes about my college life and first love using a lot of Telly and Zoom to give it an intimate touch. Dwaraknath shot the Chennai episode with steady cam to show the fast life in cities. And Shanky Mahendran shot the 'live' part of the film when camera is always a point of view of my character.
But critics say that 165 minutes was too long and some theatres cut the film. Please comment.
I threatened the theatres with legal action if they cut even a second of my film and it worked. The purpose of the film was to make the audience experience life and it can be enjoyed only at leisurely pace. Actually the slow pace really brings out the desired effect in the climax.
We heard that you are flooded with offers?
I am doing the hero role in Panju Arunachalam’s Ganesha. I am basically a director and I will be directing a film for Krishnakanth of Indian Theatre Productions.
One last question. Do you think if a superstar was the hero of Autograph, then the film would have been a bigger hit?
I can't comment on that but all I can say is that the audience could relate to Senthil as they found him as the boy-next-door. Tell me which hero would have had the patience to spend 18 months on a project, the time taken to complete this film?