Mover and Shaker

GauthamVasudevMenon, an award winning film director and producer has been in the film industry over ten years. A trendsetter in Indian cinema, Gautham has been an inspiration to many. He has recently won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Tamil, and has also been nominated for a Filmfare Award for Best Director.

GauthamMenon tells Marie Banu how media could be used to bring about social change

You had recently directed the anthem song for Tamil SemmozhiMaanadu. Can you share your experience working in this project?
In movies, I put together a concept and the songs are woven into a screen play. I don’t have to think too much about the visuals for the song as they form part of the script. Working for the Tamil SemmozhiMaanadu anthem song was a new experience, because the song was already composed and recorded. I was asked by A.R. Rahman to make a video out of this, and being a government project I wondered if it would have a political edge. A.R. Rahman convinced me that the project was about Tamil, the language, and Tamilians, and asked me to script out a concept.
I suggested shooting the video with all the singers, similar to ‘we are the world’ song. MP Kanimozhi was very supportive and was like a producer of the film as the funds came through her from the government. Both A.R.Rahman and I did not charge for this project but spent on making the song.
I decided to include all singers who contributed to the project. It was nice to see T.M. Soundarajan and Shruti Hassan share the same platform. We brought in concepts like having Tamil alphabet shaped murukus, showing Google in Tamil, and making the Chief Minister enact some scenes. It was fun and a tremendous experience for me.

Two of your movies were based on the life of a police officer and both were super hits. What was your motivation to work on this topic?
It’s not just the police, I admire men in uniform. I wanted to join the army but my mother wasn’t too happy about it. I did take the NDA examination, but pursued engineering. Film making was my passion and so I weaned away. If I did not pursue this career, I might have probably joined the army.
I respect that profession, and am looking at making more movies about the police and the army. I want to show the dreams of one who wants to become a police officer, and how it gets shattered because he has to work within a structure that has been already set up.
I think about men in uniform to be the basic instinct for any action film as they are the only people associated with action in real life. It is easier to write a story for a thriller film with a police officer as a protagonist.

Your films have been milestones in Tamil cinema. Which of them did you most enjoy making?
It is difficult to pick. I enjoy the process of film making. I write what I want to write and make what I want to make. I don’t think about what people would think and I don’t get bogged down while making the film. It is only when I finish the film do I get into a nervous state as it involves a lot of money.
The most emotional film for me was ‘VaaranamAiyiram’. I made that after my father passed away. The story was about him and his moments with me. Suriya, a good friend of mine decided to play both the characters as father and son. He asked my assistants to go to my house and pick up photographs of my father, and insisted to appear like him in the movie. I felt that I was just five films old, and I didn’t want people to say that I spent someone else’s money to make a personal film. I was wary, but Suriya insisted.
He said that he knew that the story was about my father and so wanted to look like him in the film. Whenever Suriya would come to the set, I would get emotional. Most of the scenes were shot at home and this made me happy. When the shoot was over I felt that the movie would come out well. It turned out to be a hit and I even received an award for that film.

If you were asked to direct a movie on a social topic, which issue would you choose?
Of late, I have been thinking of doing a film on a person who is able to handle life despite being disabled. I do not conform to that school of thought where you show lives of people who are suffering in order to make one contribute. This is happening anyway.
For instance, issues like a ramp not being provided in a theatre to help disabled persons commute easily are some issues that I would like to talk about when I do a film.
I am becoming socially conscious of late. I always feel that the lesser we talk about it, the better. I somehow conform to that kind of an idea and people who know me will understand. I have contributed to charities and I will. But I would never want to talk about it as my intention is only to make a contribution.

How do you think media could be used to bring about social change?
Even the smallest of scandals are blown out of proportion in the media. When you skip channels and watch news, a scandal is the one you want to watch. That attitude should change. There should be some system like a censor board governing the television channels. We have started a production house and are going to produce television shows and show good content on television similar to American television. There is no mainstream director who would like to direct a television program for the fear of being termed as a television director. I am confident that I can balance both. I am getting into prime time television and looking at doing good content. Hopefully we will try and cover social issues as well.

How did you convince your parents about your decision to enter the film industry?
My parents would never disagree to what I wanted to do. My father did not watch many films, but my mother was a film buff. The films that I watched while I grew up were those that my mother recommended to me.
When I finished my engineering, my parents wanted me to go abroad or seek employment here, but I expressed to them that I wanted to become a movie maker. They were initially worried as it involved a lot of hard work, but I convinced them. Their consent was my motivation.
Whenever I attend a show or a movie, I take my mother along. Recently during the music release function at London, I made A.R. Rahman hand over the first music cd of my film ‘VinnaithaandiVaruvaaya’ to my mother.

Will you encourage your children to enter the film industry?
I don’t have any issues, but will not force them to enter the film industry. My children are very young: Arya (8) Dhruva (4) and Adhya (2) are all boys. We decided to make them what they want to be. But, they all must attend college. Arya likes cars and wants to be a car racer. He has just started watching films, mostly animation films.
I insist on college education even for those who come to work with me. Education streamlines a person, and I believe that a lot of taste depends on what you study. The friends you choose and the life you go through during the college days sets you up for the rest of your life.