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Thursday, February 15, 2001

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In the right direction

They come from different backgrounds but the common factor is that they have the urge to be "creators". And luckily for them, satellite channels have opened many vistas. MALATHI RANGARAJAN traces the travails and triumphs of four directors of the small screen.

THE SIMILARITIES among them are striking - they are ace planners and workaholics who have their feet very much on the ground. They do not get carried away by the accolades and adulation that come their way today, and are practical enough to know that quality output alone can sustain them. They are all directors who have made a name on the small screen. Meet them - Naga, Kanthan, Venkat and Sundar K. Vijayan. The experience could be enriching. The first is a Pune film institute product, the second a chartered account and the third a former bank employee. Only Sundar K. Vijayan has been in films from his teens. They come from different backgrounds but the common factor is that they have the urge to be "creators". And luckily for them, satellite channels have opened many vistas. So what the big screen has not done for them so far, the small has showered with magnanimity.

As Naga say, "More than luck, it is being in the right place at the right time that makes all the difference". These technicians were when channels opened up.

Watchers of Min Bimbangal's "Marma Desam", parts I and II, have been fascinated by the whodunit plots exquisitely crafted and executed by Naga. Indra Soundarajan's story so artistically embellished and grippingly presented by its director. Naga began as a cameraman for films in Mumbai and had a sojourn into the world of corporate films before he embarked on projects with K. Balachander and Kailasam of "Min Bimbangal".

Naga is too taciturn for a director. And he is also pensive. However, "Ramani vs. Ramani" brings out the humorist in him. So from comedy to crime, Naga seems to be honing his skills in every direction. Naturally films must follow. "I left Mumbai only because I felt I was not in the set-up that gave me satisfaction. Ramji of the "Naiyandi Durbar" show, put me on to Kailasam and I find contentment here". Films are in the offing but I am not in a hurry" says Naga. "Television has taught me a lot... even about how to deal with people", he adds. From the position of assistant cameraman in Hindi films to a name to reckon with in the world of serials, Naga has come a long way. "I live life as it comes. I don't fantasise" are his parting words.

From the stage to serials, this chartered accountant and former Finance Manager too has traversed many a long-winding path before he settled down in the small screen. Kanthan's "Charulatha" is doing extremely well in Sun TV's Sunday evening slot. Though away from the 'Crazy' group for the first time, (he is still the permanent director of 'Crazy' Mohan's stage plays and serials) and into director Vasanth's television venture , Kanthan's "Charulatha" proves that his yen for humour is intact. Films could be the next stop for this director but again his steps are very measured. Probably his brother Mouli's early exit from Tamil filmdom and his complete refuge in Telugu films have made Kanthan cautious. "To an extent yes" he agrees.

Kanthan is keen on training himself in computers also. "Three C's matter most to me now - comedy, corporate films and computers", Kanthan laughs. He could have added "Charulatha" too, to the list. Yet another stage product who is making great strides in serial direction is Venkat. "I still write for the stage and if television lets me down I'll go back to theatre", he avers. But Venkat has not forgotten the trials he faced during the time when had given up his job to become a full-fledged director in films. His tryst with theatre, his experience with YGP's troupe and his spate of successes on the stage, gave Venkat the courage to take up film direction. "Thambadhiyam oru Sangeetham" was his first film as director and a couple of other films followed. But thereafter things came to a grinding halt. Till of course television came up. S.P. Muthuraman sent for him and he was introduced to A.V.M. Saravanan. Soon "Nimmadhi Ungal Choice" Part I had Venkat as its writer. With AVM's "Achi International" he became director all over again, but this time it was serials for the small screen. Then followed "Galatta Kudumbam, "Sondham" and "Vazhkai".

Venkat is a happy and contented man today. The earlier frustrations have made him philosophical and he is not too keen on doing films, unless they are going to be something different. "'Bombay' Kannan introduced me to YGP, and thereby to theatre, actor Prasanna infused confidence in me when my morale was at an all-time low and S.P. Muthuraman and A.V.M. Saravanan taught me television and have made a man of me" says Venkat, with emotion. The man who had nothing much to do some years ago, has been working continuously for the past few years without a break, but is not finding it in the least strenuous. "This is how I want to be... busy always", he says with a smile.

Another worthy import from films is Sundar K. Vijayan. Sundar joined his father K. Vijayan, a director himself, as his assistant, at the age of 16. Again after a couple of films on his own, nothing happened. After a stint with the ad media, Sundar saw the chances that satellite channels offered, grabbed them and is where he is today - at the top.

What AVM did for Venkat, Kailasam, Min Bimbangal and K. Balachander are doing for Sundar today. But Vivek Chitra Sundaram set the ball rolling with 'Madisaar Maami'. From "Othigai" to the current success "Kaelviyin Nayaganae". Micro or mega, Sundar proves his potential in every venture. He talks with excitement about Abhinaya Creations' latest project, "En Peyar Ranganayaki".

"I don't want to create any exclusive touches in my work. Each product must be different", says Sundar.

Television exposure has boosted the confidence of this talented lot, immensely. "I can now make a quality film at a low budget in just 15 days", says Sundar K. Vijayan. Instead of building up their frustrations to unhealthy levels, these 'creators' of the small screen are able to see the positives of the medium they work in. Ask them whether they feel that television, their present medium of expression, is a poor cousin of cinema, and each comes up with an interesting response. "I should like what I do..that is primary. I am doing television now because I enjoy it", says Naga softly yet strongly. Kanthan is on the defensive I've come from theatre to television. So even going by your scale, it is one step up the ladder for me", he says.

"See, here I don't have to make compromises. I don't have to include vulgarity in my serials. Television has cultured me and given me a sense of direction", explains Venkat.

Sundar's line is a little different. "You may not believe it, I have so far rejected at least three offers for directing films, including Kamal Hassan's.

He offered me a chance to work as second unit director for his "Marudhanayagam". When films gave me the cold-shoulder television welcomed me with open arms, and made me a busy man. I just cannot throw it away for a couple of film offers." Aspirations they all surely have. Frustrations and disappointments they may have faced.

But each has adapted himself to the television medium beautifully and will not give it up that easily.

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