Madhumita and Vijay Venkataramanan tell Sudhish Kamath how their love for cinema brought them together and their upcoming documentary and biography on K. Balachander
It's a love story straight out of films. She grew up in Indonesia. He grew up in Japan. They met in Los Angeles, fell in love. Got married. Now, they write together. She directs. He edits.
“We've done all our films together,” says Madhumita Vijay, duly crediting her husband Vijay Venkataramanan as her partner in all her creative pursuits.
One of those rare women filmmakers in the country who also produces her own films, Madhumita has complete control over her films. Her latest project, a documentary on K. Balachander and his cinema, is again a collaborative effort.
“This being a documentary, we are directing it together,” she says. Her publishing company Trisakti is also bringing out the official biography of K. Balachander. “It's a twin project. Ramanan is writing the biography that covers KB's personal life while the documentary is an in-depth analysis of his cinema. We didn't want much of an overlap between the two,” explains Madhumita.
“KB's films are an anthropological document of the times he lived in, a time-capsule of that period. The documentary is a look at how his cinema evolved in the social context,” says Vijay.
The duo have already shot over 30 interviews from people closest to the man, including Kamal Haasan, Mani Ratnam, Sowcar Janaki, A.R. Rahman, S.P. Balasubramaniam, directors Vasanth, Suresh Krissna etc. “We have another 40 people to meet including Rajni Sir. It's also been challenging because of the names involved. Not just actors but also technicians who have worked closely with KB. But the backbone of the documentary is his own take on cinema, the middle-class world he created on screen and characters who were so real,” adds Madhumita.
Both the book and the documentary should be out by the end of the year, she hopes. Madhumita left Chennai when she was eight. She grew up in Indonesia and graduated in multimedia in Singapore, with Honours in filmmaking. “After that four-year degree, I did a specialisation diploma course in Directing at NYFA in LA which is affiliated to Universal Studios. I stayed there for a year- and-a-half which is when I met Vijay through some common friends,” she smiles.
Vijay grew up in Japan and studied filmmaking at the University of Southern California for four years before he started teaching editing there. “I soon moved from filmmaking to advertising because at one point I just had too much of filmmaking in my life. I was studying films, teaching editing, shooting on weekends and then also involved with the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles,” Vijay recalls.
“He edited my short, my thesis film from NYFA,” says Madhumita. She then moved back to India three months after they started dating and assisted Gautham Menon briefly when he was making “Pachaikili Muthucharam”.
“It was an unrealistic long distance romance that actually worked,” laughs Vijay. They soon got engaged and married after a year and went back to Los Angeles. Vijay was producing and editing commercials for leading advertising agencies in the world, TBWA Chait Day and DDB while Madhumita worked on her script for “Vallamai Tharaayo”.
While Madhumita came back to prep for the shoot, Vijay reached India a day before the shoot of their first feature film. Little did they know then the film industry here was an entirely different world.
“The first day when I went on set, it was very difficult because so many things are different. There, you would never see one loose wire around, everything would be taped down to the floor there. The biggest challenge for me was the chaos. I couldn't understand how somebody could shoot in this chaos,” Madhumita admits.
“I was used to sets that had $200,000 budget-a-day shoots. So there, we had safety procedures, security personnel who would go overboard to ensure safety. My first day here, someone gets me a chair to sit and a cup of tea and before I could finish it, something blows up right under my chair,” Vijay tells us about his first taste of the Indian experience.
“They had inserted live wires into a box right under the chair and it blew up because of a short circuit. I was so freaked out. I threw a fit and people were wondering what the hell was I getting so upset about,” he explains.
The next culture shock came in the form of hierarchy. “Assistant directors here are working for you, not with you. I got the shock of my life when an assistant held an umbrella for me when we shooting in the sun,” says Madhumita.
Even the work ethic was very different from narration to editing. “We come from a background were you just give people a script and they read it to figure out if they want to do it or not. Here you have to give a narration in two-and-a-half hours,” she adds.
“The edit here is done on camera while shooting. It's a practice to take only those shots that you need. If you take coverage from different angles, they think you don't know what you want,” Vijay continues.
Once they are done with the documentary, the duo has a couple of projects in the pipeline. “One is an action script that requires a star. It's a hostage drama,” says Madhumita. “The other is a Hindi horror film.” “Thankfully, horror is still one genre that's not star dependent,” says Vijay, who always has his hands full with mastering and postproduction jobs for international clients for their company GJ Multimedia.