With three hits in as many genres, director Vijay talks about why he constantly feels the need to push boundaries

You'd expect someone who delivered as massive a hit as the bitter-sweet historical romance Madrasapattinam to be sitting smug in his chair. But, young director Vijay, with three hits behind him, is raring to go. He's signed up Vikram for a “very different” film, handed over a Hindi script to Venus Movies, and is busy brainstorming with his bunch of assistants who help him stay in tune with what's happening in the world outside cinema.

When Vijay talks sitting in his classy black-and-white office outfitted with rare photographs of legendary auteurs and those of his mentor Priyadarshan, you see the urgency of a creator. “I just want people to remember me as someone who thought differently and made films that struck a chord with them…”

For someone who started off by adapting hits from other languages and making a success of them (think Kireedam and Poi Solla Porom), how easy was it turning original for Madrasapattinam? “Actually, I reworked about 80 per cent of Kireedam,” he interrupts gently. “Madrasapattinam was supposed to be my fifth film. The film, which drew varied talents such as Arya, newcomer Amy Jackson, editor Anthony, composer G.V. Prakash, cinematographer Nirav Shah and art director Selva Kumar, beautifully fell into place. But, it grew in scale thanks to producer Kalpathi S. Aghoram sir's vision; he helped realise our dream,” he recollects.

And, Vijay has ensured he hasn't repeated himself. If Kireedam was brimming with action and emotion, Poi Solla Porom was an ensemble comedy that dealt with a serious issue; sepia-tinted Madrasapattinam brought alive the flush of a star-crossed innocent first love. “My next is a different genre,” he states.

So, what is the as-yet-untitled film with powerhouse performer Vikram, produced by Mohan Natarajan of Rajakaliamman Films, all about? “It's a performance-based subject, and Vikram sir is preparing hard. His dedication is, in fact, getting me nervous. There's more responsibility to deliver,” he says.

And then, there's the Hindi film. Vijay hopes to be able to crack the Hindi market like his mentor did, and straddle Bollywood and Kollywood. But, that'll be after he wraps up his Tamil project.

“I can't handle more than one film at a time. Adding to my woes, a film stays with me long after I've shot it. I write the dialogues, live the characters… It's so difficult to let go,” he says.

All he can do is be amazed at Priyadarshan's ability to simultaneously shoot two films and do post-production for a couple more. The love for his mentor is so strong that after doing his first film, Vijay dropped everything to help Priyadarshan with his dream project, Kancheepuram. “How could I not go? It was so liberating an experience. I helped with the dialogues; Ah! The joy of writing just what the script demands…”

And yes, he does intend making something similar someday. Also on the radar is a stark movie. One without songs? “GV (Prakash) will kill me, but why not?” he laughs.

Immersive experience

So, how does he want his films to be remembered? “Film viewing is an experience. I want the audience to immerse themselves in my films. And, I love rooting my films in the local culture. They should mirror what's happening in society…and lend it an element of timelessness.”

Whom does he prefer working with — stars or actors? “I believe in moulding actors. I always tell them to react, not act. It works. Priyan sir says that casting is 50 per cent of the battle won. I've been lucky that way,” he says.

There's one more area in which he follows his mentor — in training people. “At 31, I'm the oldest in my team. Surrounding myself with youthful energy is invigorating. We are like family, and you do anything for family. Even today, if Priyan sir calls me for his movie, in any capacity, I'll be there for him,” he concludes.

Ad-on!

Vijay was a successful ad filmmaker before he stepped into films. His Venus Ad Films has more than 100 ads to its credit. And, Vijay’s recent SBI commercial won CNBC’s ‘Best Corporate Advertisement Award’.

“Advertisements teach you how to translate a story idea onto screen with maximum impact in minimum time,” says Vijay, who’s influenced by the ads of Priyadarshan, Prahlad Kakkar and Babu Shankar.

Madrasapattinam

If the sweet love story between Paridhi and Dorayamma (Amy Jackson) tugged at your heartstrings, the attention to detail too impressed. Be it the washermen’s quarters, the railway station or the trams plying on non-crowded roads, you were transported back in time to an era when patriotic fervour ruled high.

Poi Solla Porom

This remake of the Hindi sleeper hit Khosla Ka Ghosla did well in the Tamil version too. With a cast that boasted actors such as Mouli and Nedumudi Venu, and a bunch of new talent, there was little that could go wrong. And, producer Priyadarshan allowed his student Vijay to go right ahead and change the way he filmed the second half.

Kireedam

This was Ajit’s comeback vehicle of sorts, and saw him in fine form. This film, inspired by the Malayalam original of the same name, saw him team up with Trisha. Raj Kiran played his conscientious father, and the bonding between father and son came across beautifully on screen. And, Ajit got a romantic makeover with this film, which marked Vijay’s debut as director.