The much-hyped Aravaan is nearing completion. Malathi Rangarajan catches up with Vasanthabalan who gives some interesting insights into the making of this period film

His Veyyil and Angaadi Theru garnered plaudits at various podia here and abroad. And except for his debut Album, his meaningful forays have worked magic monetarily too! Naturally all these have kindled interest in Aravaan, Vasanthabalan's fourth film, said to be a magnificent showcase of the Tamils who lived a couple of centuries ago. If you think such hype should make him sound upbeat, you're wrong. Vasanthabalan isn't voluble. The ‘you-ask-I-answer' session is formal for the most part, and yet gives ample insights into Aravaan, which is nearing completion.

Expectation is high, and he must be tense. “No, if you are sincere, rewards are bound to come your way,” he replies.

“I've researched a lot for the project, poring over books and travelling to remote places to get an authentic perspective of life in the 18th Century. Sadly, we don't have much material on our people then,” says Vasanthabalan. “Scripting took me a year.”

Aravaan is based on a small portion of Su Venkatesan's 1300-page novel, ‘Kaaval Kottam,' which deals with life in the Madurai belt 200 years ago. “What I've taken is a short story by itself, running to about 10 pages in the book,” he tells me.

Both Veyyil and Angaadi Theru were emotional journeys. “But now for the first time, I've tried to mix action and emotion.”

Does Aravaan signify the oppression of the vulnerable? “Yes, as against the heartlessness of the powerful,” he says.

Vasanthabalan is convinced about the potential of Aadhi, the hero of Aravaan. “In those days, our people were very tall, with marked features. I had watched Aadhi in Mirugam and Eeram and found him to be perfect for the character of Varipuli,” he says. So Aadhi's height and nose got him the part. “And his commitment,” he smiles.

When Vasanthabalan asked Aadhi if he could develop an eight-pack physique, all he said was, “Give me three months.” And he did it.

Incredible cooperation

As Aravaan is a period film, costume is minimal and footwear hasn't been used. Hence bleeding and bruises were routine occurrences while shooting in the forests and on the mountains. “Aadhi must have been injured at least 120 times during the 100 days of shoot,” he says.

It's been an arduous trip for the cast and crew — a crew that had to carry the heavy equipment on hilly terrain, and a cast that comprised around 1000 junior artists, besides the main actors! “Their co-operation has been incredible,” praises Vasanthabalan. “Cinematographer Siddharth has done a splendid job. And so has Karthik,” he adds. The popular singer debuts as composer with Aravaan.

A settlement of 100 houses was created in Ovvamalai, near Melur. The dry heat was unbearable, but they slogged it out. Another extensive set was put up at Kongaimalai, a place behind Thoranamalai, near Tenkasi. “We had to avoid cell phone towers and overhead power cables. Hence we sought remote areas unpolluted by man. Of course, DI should also help us camouflage such matters,” says Vasanthabalan.

But Nature's animus was a challenge. “All the five elements seemed to be at war with us. Large sets were washed away in the rain.”

Archana Kavi is the heroine, and Pasupathi, a favourite of Vasanthabalan, is doing a significant role. “He has the looks and complexion of Kombodhi, the name of the character he plays. Added to these are his powerful eyes, and his talent to portray a gamut of emotions. And of course, he's a friend.”

Aravaan … an intriguing title! “It is relevant,” contends Vasanthabalan. “In the ‘Mahabharata,' Aravaan is Arjuna's son. Krishna, Arjuna and Aravaan are the most handsome men in the epic and when one of them has to lay down his life for the victory of the Pandavas, Aravaan is considered the right choice. He is sought only when required to sacrifice for the sake of the mighty. My Aravaan faces such selfish moves too. But he's a real hero!”