Director Rajesh talks to Sudhish Kamath about his new film All In All Azhaguraja, his brand of cinema and the ‘happiness quotient’

When he messages saying he will be at the coffee shop at 11 a.m, you really don’t expect that he would be there on the dot. Once you get to know him better, you realise it’s one of the things he is very passionate about. “I learnt punctuality from S.A. Chandrashekhar, who I assisted for three-four films early in my career,” says director Rajesh, the master of bromance comedies Siva Manasula Sakthi, Boss Engira Baskaran and Oru Kal Oru Kannadi.

As he’s giving final touches to his new film All In All Azhaguraja, he takes time out to talk about his brand of bromance and what to expect from cinema.

“Only entertainment, no ‘message’,” he laughs, showing us the teaser of the new film that makes fun of the anti-smoking video of Mukesh (mandatorily screened before every film in the theatres) that prompts Azhaguraja (Karthi) to stop smoking.

“Because he’s sick of that video,” he laughs. “The Censor Board members were amused that we were making fun of them... but they were very sporting about it maybe because it ends with Karthi saying: I don’t want to smoke anymore.”

Is it just coincidence that all his films have the same elements of ‘bromance’, the genre Hollywood critics came up with to describe a spate of comedies that celebrated male bonding, especially the ones directed and produced by Judd Apatow.

“No, it was a conscious choice to make films on friendship. Because the most important relationships in our lives after family are friendship and love. Youth relate most to friendship and love. Which is why friends play a big role in my films.”

Santhanam plays the friend in all his films. “We have a great equation. I only write a version of what he would say. When he comes to the set, he gives me options on how he would say it. He would improvise. ‘Nanben-da’ was something he came up with, as a nod to the line from Thalapathy,” says Rajesh.

“There’s a lot of expectations from the three of us — Karthi, Santhanam and me — because the Karthi-Santhanam combination worked out well in Siruthai. This time around, I have tried to add situational and performance-based comedy and not just one-liners. It is a U-rated family entertainer. When people come and watch it, I want them to feel the festive mood,” he explains.

“I want them to feel happiness,” as Rajesh best sums up his brand of cinema.

When he made Siva Manasula Sakthi his wife Shakthi loved the film, his mother-in-law didn’t actually approve of the scenes with drinking in the film.

“That’s when I realised that I had to make my films more family-savvy. So I tried that in Boss Engira Baskaran and it worked out well. It’s difficult to make films that both the youth and the family like.”

Why do all his films have alcohol-infused comedy?

“Actually, there are only two or three scenes in all the films but people enjoy these scenes so much that they remember these scenes more,” he says. And maybe the fact that these scenes always find their way into the trailer.

Early days

After doing his engineering from National Engineering College, Kovilpatti, Rajesh took up an IT job in Mumbai for six months before he decided to give in and chase what he always wanted to do: films. He worked with a production house called Cosmic Blues and worked as an assistant on many short films and ad films for a year and a half before he packed his bags and came to Chennai.

“I started my film career in Chennai assisting Ameer in Mounam Pesiyathey. Then I got a chance to assist S.A. Chandrashekhar when he was making Muthamidalama for Digital Magic,” he recalls. “If the plan is to take the first shot at 7 a.m, rain or shine, he would take it. He would plan meticulously and save time and money. I learnt these things from him the most.”

That’s also when he met his wife Shakthi and fell in love. He assisted Chandrashekhar for another three films before he sat down to think. “I asked myself what is my style? I can’t make serious message-based films like Ameer nor copy Chandrashekhar sir. I wanted my own style that youngsters would enjoy. That’s how I wrote Siva Manasula Sakthi.”

He admits that he wasn’t confident at all when he walked into Vikatan Talkies to give them a narration. “I didn’t have any hope but the minute Srinivasan sir heard the script, he said they would produce it,” he says.

Yes, he got a producer that easily. And his parents agreed to get him married to the girl he loved. And he had a son Ratissh born on Valentine’s Day. Absolutely no drama or struggle in his life. Just happiness.

That shows in his films.

How easy is it to write comedy?

“It’s a challenge but I have a good team. I have five assistants who sit for script discussion and the shoot. Nobody ever gets worked up. There’s no tension on the sets. Once the mood is fun, the jokes will flow. I start with a one-line script. There’s never any message in it, at least not consciously.”

There it is. The “message” from his life. To make happy films, to make people happy, you have to be happy yourself.

Also from the Rajesh school of comedy

His assistants too have turned directors and have embraced his school of happy cinema. “Ponram made Varuthapadatha Valibar Sangam and I wrote the dialogues. Rajashekhar has made Ya Ya and Udhay’s next film after Ithu Kathirvelan Kadhal is by Jagadish and another assistant Arun has a film coming up with Adharva. I tell them to have their own style. But when they are making their first film, the producers prefer it if they pitch it within the safe zone,” he says. Like Rajesh’s films, they are told.