Gautham Vasudev Menon talks about his favourite genre, romance, being influenced by Mani Ratnam’s films and his latest release.

In 2000, watching Mani Ratnam’s Alaipayuthey (Sakhi in Telugu), Gautham Vasudev Menon, like most movie lovers, was moved by the moment that makes Karthik (Madhavan) take the bus to Kerala to meet Shakti (Shalini), a young doctor working at a medical relief camp. “The waterfront, the dark rain clouds, the boy’s travel to find the girl… Evano Oruvan Vasikiran (Kalalai Poyenu) was almost straight out of real life. I’ve tried to incorporate such moments in my films, wherever possible, if allowed by the script,” says Gautham, when we track him down for a brief interview. His latest romantic outing, Yeto Vellipoyindhi Manasu (YVM), released this Friday.

The Mani Ratnam touch

A year after Alaipayuthey, Gautham’s film Minnale (2001) released and the Mani Ratnam influence was evident, as Reema Sen stepped out of the car to do a Geetanjali-like gig in pouring rain. Gautham admits the Mani Ratnam influence in his love stories. “I cannot say my films match up to his work though,” he adds with a smile. To an extent, the love stories in Gautham’s films have also been autobiographical.

From Minnale to YVM, Gautham’s name has become synonymous with love stories, even though his body of work wasn’t limited to feel-good romances. A psychological thriller like Nadunisi Naygal (Erra Gulabilu) had no room for romance. Even his cop stories — Kaakha Kaakha (Gharshana) and Vettaiyadu Vilayaadu (Raghavan) — were talked about for the deft handling of the romance between the lead characters. Vaaranam Aayiram (Surya s/o Krishnan) is still remembered for its melodies and the romance between Suriya and Sameera.

For YVM, Gautham introduced us to his lead character Varun (essayed by Nani) and Nithya (Samantha) months before the film was released. In fact, photographs of the lead characters from the film and clippings were part of the promos. Some of these haven’t found their way into the film. It was a well thought out plan to allow the audience get familiar with the characters. “For a film like Vettaiyaadu Vilayaadu, I was particular that nothing should be revealed prior to release. For a simple love story, we thought it would be nice to make people familiar with the characters. The run time of the film was 2hr 40 min and we brought it down by 20 minutes. We used these deleted scenes for the promos,” says Gautham.

Good music and a strong female lead are staples of a Gautham Menon movie. Instead of Harris Jayaraj and A.R. Rahman, this time it’s the magic of Ilayaraja. Costumes by Nalini Sriram have been a fixture too, since Kaakha Kaakha. “There’s never been an instance when I didn’t like something and had to ask Nalini (Sriram) to rework the costumes. For Jessy (in Ye Maya Chesave) we wanted to give a certain look. For YVM, we wanted a more relatable every-girl look,” says the director.

Love over the years

YVM traces the life of Varun and Nithya from the age of 8 to 25. Before we can mention When Harry Mets Sally, Gautham says, “YVM belongs to a similar genre but barring the fact that the film captures the growth of these two characters over a span of time, there’s nothing to compare with When Harry Met Sally.”

The Tamil version Neethana En Povasantham (NEP) stars Jiiva in place of Nani. Wouldn’t it have been convenient to have the same set of actors for both the languages? “Of course, it would have been easy for me. But for commercial reasons, I needed to have different heroes. Samantha is constant in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi. Having said that, both Jiiva and Nani have interpreted Varun’s character in their own different ways and made the films quite different,” says Gautham. He calls Nani a ‘gentleman actor’ and credits him for command over his language and diction. “He performs. All we needed to do was capture him through the camera,” adds Gautham.

Unlike Vinnai Thandi Varuvaya (VTV) and Ye Maya Chesave (YMC), YVM and NEP will not have different endings. “The screenplay is the same, except minor region-specific differences. The character played by Krishnudu in Telugu has been done by Santhanam in Tamil,” says the director. Krishnudu and Naga Chaitanya were a hit combo in YMC and Gautham is glad to have Krishnudu back on board. “He is good. In this film, he doesn’t have a full-length role but adds value by what he does.”

Again, unlike VTV, there is no sinister element of darkness running through the love story of YVM, clarifies Gautham. “YVM is a feel-good romance,” he says. “Nithya is not Jessy; she is sure of herself.”

The Hindi version, Assi Nabbe Poorey Sau, is 60 per cent complete and the shooting will resume going by the response to the Tamil and Telugu versions. The Hindi version stars Aditya Roy Kapur and Samantha. Next, Gautham is working on a film with Suriya.