Director Cheran opens up about his upcoming JK Enum Nanbanin Vaazhkkai and what made him launch his own music label. Nikhil Raghavan listens in

There comes a time in every individual’s life when he pauses to introspect and fight that battle within to find out for himself where he stands in his chosen profession. For director Cheran that moment happened four years ago, just after the release of his Pokkisham. Cheran has now come out of his self-imposed directorial hibernation with, what he calls, a powerful emotional drama, JK Enum Nanbanin Vaazhkkai. Excerpts from an interview with the director-actor:

Who is JK? Is the film autobiographical or based on personal experience?

JK is just an individual; he could be you or me. For every individual, there is one instance that alters the course of his life, for better or worse. This story is just a chapter in the life of JK that becomes a turning point. It is a period of realisation which has a connection in the pre and post phases of this chapter. JK is made in a modern setting and the protagonist, played by Sharwanand, is representative of anyone in society. He is a superb actor and what you will see is the character I have conceived for the story. And, no, it is not autobiographical or based on some real-life experience. In all the films I have made so far, I tend to not repeat the storyline, the concepts and the treatment. I have spent a lot of time refining the script for JK and what you will see is a simple story with a screenplay that has been given a unique treatment.

Why the four-year gap?

Sometimes we get influenced by extraneous factors. Sometimes we falter in our own judgment; this is a basic human flaw. In my last two films which I produced, directed and acted in, Maya Kannadi and Pokkisham, there were mistakes I realised only after their release. In my opinion, Maya Kannadi was a very good subject but casting me in the lead role was a mistake. As for Pokkisham, the treatment was too slow and I deliberated a bit too much on the subject. Sometimes we get carried away by the subject and the script, but I have learned from those mistakes. The delay was purely due to financial reasons; I had to recover from the losses of the last two films. Meanwhile, I acted in four films — Yuddham Sei, Muran, Chennaiyil Oru Naal and Moondru Paer Moondru Kaadhal. This period has been one of introspection during which I recharged my creative energies and the result: JK.

How have your formative years as an assistant to K. S. Ravikumar helped?

It was like studying in a school. I was able to involve myself in every department of a film’s progress, right from inception to completion, and that teaches you a lot about how to plan a film. When I started making my own films, the content and creation styles were my own, developed on the foundation that Ravikumar helped me build. He is a great teacher and what I have learned in those eight years you cannot learn in any university.

How different is it being a director and an actor?

When I agree to act under another director, it is only because I have complete faith in him. So, my directorial views and ideas do not surface and even if they do come up, I know best not to let them be known. I tell myself that when I cast directors such as Parthepan and Rajkiran in my films, they agree to do so because they have total faith in my capabilities.

It is difficult to say whether I am a better director or actor. Or if my strengths as a director overshadow my acting talent. When I complete a film I realise that I have not really exploited all my strengths; there is always something lacking, despite trying to be hundred per cent perfect. If I were that perfect I would not have failed in Maya Kannadi or Pokkisham! Filmmaking is always a learning process and I continue to discuss my film right from the story stage with close friends and associates so that corrective measures can be taken.

Why have you not directed films for other producers?

Maybe my style of filmmaking is not conducive to the commercial compulsions of producing films. I believe in balancing ethical values, socially relevant subjects, strong characters and commercial aspects judiciously without any compromises. All my films have been strong on characters and not as much on the star value of the actor. Further, I need total freedom when I make a film. I think all this can be achieved only if I produce and direct my own films. Four National Awards (Vetri Kodi Kattu, Autograph, Thavamai Thavamirundu and Aadum Koothu [which he co-produced]) say something, don’t they?”

Audio release on September 15

The audio of JK Enum Nanbanin Vaazhkkai is being released by Cheran under his own label, Dream Sounds. Cheran explains, “Music is an integral part of every film of mine. Just as my cast, crew and I put in every bit of our energy into the film, so do the music composer, the lyricist and the singers. Hence, when music companies undervalue the worth of such creative talents and bargain on prices, I get very upset. Consequently, I decided to launch my own label to release the audio of JK, promote and market it the way it should be done to add value to the film. Dream Sounds will offer its label to other producers who have faced similar situations with music companies; after all, I should know how much blood, sweat and tears go into the overall making of a film.”