Cinematographer turned feature film-director Rajiv Menon has ideas and visual imagination, ingredients vital to be a good cameraman and a director. His career-graph as an ad film maker is punctuated by many prestigious awards showcasing his incredible talent as a cameraman.
In the film Bombay the recourse to fiction allowed Rajiv to get into areas beyond the reach of any ad film camera. His debut directorial venture Minsarakanavu (Sapney in Hindi) underscored his understanding of the reciprocity of emotions between individuals. A man with strong family bonds Rajiv shows in his currently running Kandukonden Kandukonden a sophisticated grasp of the ways facts and fiction can co-exist in a film.
Even when directing Rajiv continues his love affair with the lens. Very few who have seen Kandukonden Kandukonden (KK)know that its opening scene, a stunner, was shot by Rajiv himself.
Rajiv Menon talks about the making of Kandukonden Kandukonden...Excerpts:
Q: Why did you decide to go for a multi-starrer this time? And why the title Kandukonden Kandukonden?
A: I wanted to make a family film with one crore, a story of two sisters and three men who come into their lives.
I was inspired by Jane Austin's Sense and Sensibility and wanted to explore its contemporary relevance. It is not just about two sisters wanting to get married, but how they are ripped off from their roots and thrown into a strange city where they are nobody. How they triumph over the gauntlets thrown by fate, and discover a meaning for themselves and rediscover their personal equations with the three men. That is Kandukonden meaning discovered or rediscovered as you prefer. Lot of my own personal experiences have gone into the film.
Q: With so many top stars with different temperament and ego-levels did you as a director face any problems?
A: Fortunately I had a particularly well - behaved star cast, fully co-operative. I could mould them as I wanted. I never thought even a senior artist like Mammootty would accede to direction so easily. It was a pleasure to work with such committed artists like Ajith and Tabu. Aishwarya always ready to learn gave her hundred percent to the role.
Q: Like Minsarakanavu are you planning to have a Hindi version of KK ?
A: No. The film has totally Tamil ethos. Nothing much the North can relate to. It is full of Bharathiyar, Karaikudi, Carnatic music etc. Peope still read Bharathiyar and get excited. The poet is a part of the Tamil psyche. I don|t think anyone who reads Hindi poetry gets excited in a similar manner.
Q: Why did you opt for Ravi.K.Chandran as the Cameraman? Why not yourself?
A: I cannot do two things at a time and give my hundred percent to both. I have shot some 20-30 percent of the film at times when Ravi was not available. But I found it strenuous. When I am panning I have to look at the edges all the time. But when I do that I miss out on the faces. I prefer to be available for my artists without the cutters covering me.
Q: How do you decide upon the cameraman? What are the criteria?
A: There are some people|s work I like immensely. Like Ashok Mehtha|s, Santosh Shivan|s, Ravi K.Chandran|s. If I|m hard pressed for time with commitment in other area like direction and if they are free and I can afford them then I use them, that is all.
Q : Why did you select A.R.Rahman whose music is based more on fast beats than raagas, for a film with at least partly traditional and rural background?
A : There was no question of selecting A.R.Rahman. He was the only choice. He is family. He and I have worked together for over 14 years. He is the guy who got me into feature films and I got him into ad films.. His first jingle was for me. He comes home, lazes around. We|ll listen to all kinds of music, talk, discuss for hours together. We|ll have jam sessions. Even for KK he used to call up my mother regarding the beat of a song or a humming.
Q: It was rumoured you had shown the film KK before completion to certain rural audience...?
A: Yes, we did. We showed it to a section in Udumalpet and one in Erode. I'll tell you why. Very often there is a big gap between the story we want to narrate and the story that reaches the audience, between the mindscreen and the silver screen. I wanted to plug that gap. I was trying to figure out whether my story was reaching the audience as I intended to. Is it not better than doing a postmortem of the movie after release? I wanted to find out where I was sagging, where I was failing to communicate with the audience. This I do regularly when I make ad films.
Q: How did you select this cross section of rural audience? And how did you assess their judgement?
A: In Udumalpet out of 40 people only two had heard the name of the film and in Erode only six! Magazines like Anandavikatan and Kumudam carrying features on the film do not reach such pucca rural areas. Television was the media open to them. We then released lot of TV ads, put up posters and tried to find out what they related to and what they found uninteresting or incongruous and then incorporated the valid ones. I was sitting in the room next to the projection room watching their reactions. Later we had discussions also.
Q: What do you think of lyricist Vairamuthu|s remark that the lyrics get drowned in Rahman|s fast-paced music?
A: Where KK is concerned I think the allegation is unwarranted. I had written elaborate concept notes and given to Vairamuhu. The idea of enna solla pokirai was taken from a Pablo Neruda poem. We have used various sources. For kannamoochi enada my mother had selected and sent six songs of Oothukkadu and Papanasam Sivan. Look at the lines enmanam unakkoru vilayattu bommaya and kannadiporul poleda- we strived hard to achieve the desired quality and right nuances. If we had worked so hard to get the lyrics right would we allow them to be drowned in music? I didn|t find the lyrics illegible or inaudible. We have retained the Tamil classical feel in the tunes also.
If Vairamuthu had any personal difference of opinion to be sorted out with Rahman it should have been done on one to one basis in the studio. Such things should not have been aired from a public platform.
Vairamuthu said another debatable point also. Like bees are attracted by nectar people are attracted by the Tamil lyrics, not the music. When you all work as a team standing aside and saying , that too at a public function,that a particular person ‘screwed up my trip’ is not in good taste.
Q: Though it will sound cliched I have to ask you this- Being star material in the looks department why don|t you act in films?
A: I did, you know, in Fazil|s Malayalam film Harikrishnans in which I got bumped off in the first scene itself and was carried away on a stretcher! Well, jokes apart I|m not very keen on acting. My fair complexion and looks, I inherited from my beautiful mother. I didn|t have to work towards it. I singlemindedly worked towards becoming a cameraman and a director. If anybody has any technical doubts about photography they call me.
I have a very happy life. I can freely walk on the road, travel by second class or unreserved in a train. Nobody will bother. Recently I travelled sleeping on the floor of the train because I didn|t get reservation. Just imagine what will happen if Mohanlal or Mammootty travels like that sleeping on the floor!!!
Still if I'm offered a good role which would give me satisfaction I might consider it . But as of now I|m very happy in my chosen area of specialisation. ‘If you chase two rabbits at a time you'll end up acquiring none’, is what Akira Kurosowa has said.