R. Parthiepan on making a film without a story and the passion that drives him to keep working

Kathai Thiraikadhai Vasanam Iyakkam — the one constant in every film’s opening title. But, in his 25 years as director, R. Parthiepan has never used it in any of his films. So, when he decided to make a movie about the movies, he knew he couldn’t find a better title.

“I’ve created this film with a lot of passion,” says Parthiepan, after a hard day’s shoot in Coimbatore. “Every creator wants his film to be special in some way. I had this daredevil idea of making a film without a story. My assistants were not confident about it, but I was,” he says.

KTVI, he says, does not rely on scene-by-scene action but on the flow of the screenplay. “Till the interval, you never know whether there is a story. After that, you’ll pick your brains to pre-guess me,” he adds.

The film mainly stars newcomers. “You can draw so much on a blank canvas; new actors are like putty that you can lend shape to,” he says. But, it is proof of Parthiepan’s standing in the industry that a bevy of top stars have offered to essay cameos in the film. “So many people have chipped in for this… Arya, Amala Paul, Prakash Raj, Vijay Sethupathi, Taapsee… I did not even let them enter the vanity van. I was such a taskmaster, but they were all game for it,” he smiles. Composer Yuvan Shankar Raja has also agreed to compose a song.

Arya, he says, is a “beautiful actor”. And, in this film, Parthiepan has tried to get his arresting eyes speak many languages. “Arya’s like me; he never checks the monitor.” As for Amala, he says she lends gravitas to a scene. Taapsee is working with him for just a day, but is taking guitar classes so that she looks realistic on screen. “I love their sincerity. It shows passion. And, only passion drives an artiste,” he says.

When did the idea of making a film rooted in cinema strike him? “We all pine for the girl in the next street without noticing the eager eyes of the beauty in the house opposite. Likewise, I kept looking for a story when this idea hit me. This is the industry I know best. This film is a part of me. Where else would I look for a subject?”

Parthiepan has always been ahead of his times, making films that were radical (Pondatti Thevai, Housefull, Kudaikul Mazhai) — that appealed to a certain section of people while bypassing the rest. Does he feel he fits in better now when the industry has freed itself of the shackles of genre? “I guess so, which is why I am still around,” he says.

Parthiepan the actor is already at work. He’s working with Dhanush in Vetrimaran’s untitled creation and teams up with Mahesh Babu for a Telugu film. He’s also looking at some Malayalam scripts. “I’m shocked the directors come to me. Kerala is a land of incredibly talented actors!” But, he’s done good work there, including in the court-martial drama, Melvilasom.

After a silver jubilee career that has hit dizzying peaks, boring plateaus and depressing troughs, Parthiepan says what keeps him going is passion for cinema and a sense of responsibility to the audience. “I recently met someone who had lost his memory and struggled to recall even his wife’s name. He walked up to me, and said he remembered bits of my Housefull. And then, proceeded to narrate every little nuance of the film. Do I need better inspiration to create?”