It was all Dhanush
After two days of trying to get through to Velraj, I finally manage to catch him on the eve of Thangamagan’s release. I make a casual remark about how busy he seems to be. He laughs apologetically, and mentions that he’s been shooting forMarudhu, a Vishal-starrer, at Rajapalayam.
Any other director in his position would be nervous about Thangamagan’s release. “I am too, and would have loved to be in Chennai at this time,” he says. “But I couldn’t avoid it (makers of Marudhu), as I’d committed to the project.” He’d made a similar commitment to the Paayum Puli team, and this landed him in some controversy when news came out that parts of Thangamagan were being shot in his absence.
The media likes its scoops,” he says. It turns out that Paayum Puli’s shooting had been delayed, resulting in its dates clashing withThangamagan’s. “Only some song and fight sequences were shot in my absence. This happens all the time with many films anyway.” Velraj may be at Rajapalayam, but he is nervous about Thangamagan’s reception all the same. “When you’re a director, every film is your first film.”
Velraj doesn’t like that Thangamagan is being promoted as VIP-2, as “the film has nothing to do withVIP.” “Perhaps because the same team is making this film, somebody somewhere must have started referring to it as VIP-2. And it stuck. In fact, while shooting some parts of the film, even we were referring to it by that title!” laughs Velraj. “But it’s important that people not come into the theatre expecting to see another VIP.
After Polladhavan, Padikkadavan, and Mappillai, this is the fourth film of Dhanush to borrow its title from a yesteryear Rajinikanth film. “The producers insisted we use this title. So…” Velraj immediately expresses his gratitude to Dhanush for putting the whole team together a second time. “It was all him,” he says.
The team shot Thangamagan in 50 days. “It’s a middleclass family subject that could be shot in such quick time.” The team also tried to accommodate Dhanush’s growth as a star after the massive success ofVIP. “Thangamagan is releasing in 600 screens, Dhanush’s biggest yet. If VIP targetted youngsters,Thangamagan is for the whole family.” Velraj mentions that if they wanted to, they could’ve recycled a similar story. “But we wanted to give them something new.”
I ask him if there’s any credence to the rumour that Dhanush plans on directing films eventually, and that films like these are, in a sense, training ground. Velraj admits that Dhanush was integral to the whole experience, be it script-writing or direction. “I’m sure he could direct a film whenever he wants to.”
Velraj is meanwhile gearing up to shoot Vetrimaaran’s Vada Chennai early next year. He admits that such films provide him with more scope and satisfaction. “Vetrimaaran sits with me and helps me decide the whole tone of the film. We narrow down the colours and the backgrounds in advance.” And this seriousness in planning is perhaps why a cinematographer gets recognition in such films. “But I don’t understand why nobody talks about the cinematography in a commercial film.
That’s tough work too, you know,” says Velraj, whose two awards for being the best cinematographer came for his work inPolladhavan and Aadukalam, both Vetrimaaran films. Answering his own question, he says, “Perhaps it’s because masala films are focussed on making the hero and the heroine look good. It’s important the audience see their faces clearly. We can’t really experiment too much with silhouettes or shades. In a film like Aadukalam, even if the hero wears a torn shirt, it’s all right.”
The last time we had a conversation, Velraj mentioned that nothing would deter him from cinematography; that even if he were directing a film, he couldn’t stop himself from sitting behind the camera. However, he hasn’t shot Thangamagan. He grins sheepishly. Well, Dhanush asked me not to, and suggested that we introduce a new cinematographer. We discussed it and thought it’d be better that I not be burdened with too many responsibilities.” He has directed two films already and yet, isn’t sure if he wants to direct a third. “I guess we’ll know by the weekend,” he laughs.