Revathy S. Varmha, who makes her directorial debut in Malayalam with Mad Dad, has years of experience donning the director’s hat
Revathy S. Varmha has been part of the ad and film industries for close to two decades. She, by the way, is on that side of the camera, as director, where one rarely finds women.
As we settle down for a chat over chai, the inevitable question pops up. Why films? A passion for the medium drove her to making films. In the not-too-distant past filmmaking saw very few women directors. The Indian film industry churns out films by a few dozens every year, yet there are but a handful of women helming films as director. Even among those, there are very few who are prolific and are involved in that hardcore world commercial cinema.
“It requires a lot of hard work. There is nothing regular about it…balancing a family and making a film requires some juggling and sacrifices, which in our social context is extremely tough for a woman,” says Revathy. Getting an actor (a man) to do something would be tough in the essentially male film set? “There have been times when I felt certain aspects wouldn’t have needed as much convincing if I was a man directing the film. But eventually I get my way,” she says with a no-nonsense air.
Revathy has been shuttling between Hyderabad, Kochi and Chennai as she is adding finishing touches to her maiden Malayalam film Mad Dad, set for release on January 11. The film stars Lal, Lalu Alex, Padmapriya, Meghna Raj, Sreejith (who acted in Rathinirvedam) and will launch newcomer Nazriya. The film delves into a father-daughter relationship, of how she looks after her father.
Revathy started very young as an ad film maker. At 16, a time when girls would rather focus on nail polish and boyfriends. Reading and writing was her world, copywriting and writing scripts for commercials were hobbies. She used to moonlight for an ad agency in New Delhi, where she lived with her grandfather, and that is how she landed her first commercial as director.
It was in the 90s, a commercial for Rexona soap and the client was Hindustan Lever, she recalls. The director abandoned the shoot and she had to take over. That was the beginning. She went on to direct ad campaigns for Cadbury’s (one of the Miss Palampur campaigns), Parker Pens (with Amitabh Bachchan), Nakshatra Diamonds (with Aishwarya Rai), Santro Zip (with Shahrukh Khan)…these are just a few among the 480 odd commercials that she directed before turning to films in 2005. In Kerala, she has done campaigns for Malabar Gold, Happy Jam besides some others. “I haven’t completely stopped doing ad films. I do them occasionally now. I’m, by the way, known as a cost effective director (of ad films) in Mumbai.”
She switched lanes and moved to films because she feels the medium excites her. That led her to make June 6 in 2006, with Jyothika in the lead. She scripted and directed the film. It tells the story of an orphan played by Jyothika who adopts a mother. That she has studied in boarding in Chennai helped while scripting the film. “I got someone who was good in the language to help with the dialogues,” she says. Aap Ke Liye Hum was the Hindi remake of the film starring Jaya Bachchan, Manisha Koirala, Mithun Chakravorty besides others.
Revathy clarifies that her first film was made in Tamil because Jyothika read the script and was keen on it being made in Tamil, “it wasn’t really by design.” She has also worked in the Telugu film industry.
She followed this up with a Sri Lankan film, Yashoda Kanna, which ran into trouble with the Sri Lankan government and the screening of which was stopped after the first show. “The government felt the film might incite trouble in the country. The film spoke about South Asian countries working together against a common enemy. I learnt a few lessons from that experience. Rather than talking about a film before its release, I feel as a filmmaker one should create support for it,” she says.
It took some time coming to doing something in her mother tongue. To script the film she temporarily relocated to Kochi, “to get a feel of the story I was writing.” She has been here for more than a year. “If I had worked from Mumbai, where I am based, I would have missed the cultural nuances,” she says.
Her face is a moving canvas of expressions when she talks about the film and filmmaking. Of how she has used two cameras, the Jimmy jib, Red Epic 5K camera… “One has to be completely clued in on the latest technology if one is serious about making films. As a director I feel I should offer a visual treat for the audience. When you fix a camera angle you should offer something extra to the viewer.” A different colour palette for scenes is all part of creating the visual experience. She can go on talking films and its time for a wrap. But not before she reveals that she has announced her next film Oru Pattil Podinja Pranayam and that Mad Dad will be remade in Hindi.