Director, actor, singer Vineeth Sreenivasan talks about bonds and camaraderie that leads him to attempt the un-tread
The waves are fiery. As Vineeth Sreenivasan strolled into the balcony, rummaging in his head a title for the new film, ‘thira’ (wave) struck him. The sea and waves are curious absentees in the film, yet he stuck to the name. Instead, he diligently built a repertoire of explanations for the title. “It can be the endless and continued wave of human trafficking or the waves of struggle against it. If you link it to the bullet, it can be the pace of the film — as fast as the bullet,” Vineeth says. Thira, however, is acquiring meanings bigger than the maker’s expectations.
The slick thriller is Vineeth’s baptism by fire. He comes out of it unscarred. The boy who caught attention with the peppy campus number “Palavattom kaathu ninnu njan” grows up with Thira. He abandons comforts; from the bonhomie of friendship (Malarvadi Arts Club) and saccharine romance (Thattathin Marayathu) to embrace the real, the ugly and the tempestuous with Thira. There were risks, but Vineeth cheerfully calls it ‘excitement.’ The excitement has given a new turn to his young, busy career.
The complexities of Thira sit lightly on its director. Sipping his morning tea at pal and music director Shaan Rahman’s home in Kozhikode, Vineeth keeps it simple. The elder son of actor-writer-director Sreenivasan had a soft entry into films. But he chose a route disconnected from his father — playback singing. Vineeth acknowledges getting in has been trouble-free, but there on, it is the same for everyone, he adds. Singing gave him firm footing. His songs still float high in memory; be it “Karale, karalinte” (Udayananu Tharam), “Ente Khalbile” (Classmates) or “Anuragathin” (Thatathin Marayathu). “At one point I was singing 50-60 songs a year,” he says. Vineeth acted in five films too, but swears acting was never easy. “I am still scared to act.”
As he inched towards his dream – filmmaking, he drifted away from acting and singing. “Everything is strenuous, but I enjoy the strain of film-making.” Vineeth insists it is not good bye to singing or acting. “I have just finished a song for Gopi Sundar and one for Shaan.” A couple of narrations have aroused interest, he adds.
With no formal training in filmmaking, experiences were education. “Singing helped me immensely in the music of my films. Acting taught me how nervous a first-timer can be. So I take care to make them comfortable.”
Intermittent acting assignments — Traffic and Chhappa Kurishu — kept the window to learning open, to new ways of filmmaking. Vineeth’s greatest strength is his intelligent dissection of experiences. In filmmaking, he has no ego. His cinema is team work embellished by friendship. “Not only in films, but in life too, one should know whom to trust and whom not to.”
Trust, he implicitly does, his technicians. When he plunged into directing with Malarvadi…, his technicians were his strength. “For each stage of the film, I fix in my head that a particular technician is the captain. In pre-production, it is the writer. During filming, it is the cinematographer and in post-production, the editor. I trust them and my trust enhances their sense of responsibility.”
Despite his self-deprecating style, Vineeth is a meticulous filmmaker. A film is cast in the pre-production stage, he says. “The script is locked, improvisations happen only in the dialogues there on.” Elaborate pre-production discussions nip away flaws. Suggestions are embraced openly — probably why Vineeth has not faced heart-breaking failures as director.
His team has mostly remained the same in his three movies as director. These strong bonds gave him strength to step into the unknown with Thira. “Our film-making sensibilities were changing with this one,” he says. “Be it for Shaan and the background score he has given or Jomon for his cinematography, the pattern of this one was different. Every one desired the change,” he adds.
At no time did Thira intimidate Vineeth, but the heart-rending material did. “The magnitude of the material we had in hand was shocking. We felt somebody has to say this. It need not always be relaxing, entertaining films. This was our opportunity to say something substantial and we thought we should respect the medium we work with,” he says.
With Thira Vineeth directed a script that was not his. In the script written by cousin Rakesh, with whom he first dreamt films, the duo grappled with material ranging from news clippings to real accounts to autobiographies. Quiz him on the subject being inspired from a set of films and Vineeth explains calmly. Thira’s biggest inspiration was Somaly Mam’s memoir The Road of Lost Innocence, he says. “I believe when a scene from one film is transplanted to another it is a copy. If the idea is born from the total content of another, it is inspiration. Most of Thira is real incidents,” he says.
The comprehensive material has ensured a trilogy with lead actor Sobhana being the constant. However, before venturing into the second part, Vineeth wants to take time off. The meanwhile will be taken up a film that promises fun. His characters barely smiled in Thira. He longs for sequences where actors themselves double up with laughter and improvisations take it to another level. “I miss those raucous, lighter moments,” he says, giving ample hints on what he intends in the interim.
The director looks back at the diverse Thira and Thattathin Marayathu with equal warmth. The former’s critical success has not taken off the charm from the latter. “It was Thattathin Marayathu that took care of Thira. When people wonder about films that are mere entertainment, they should know that those films help films like Thira,” Vineeth explains.
But did he wonder ever, if Thira didn’t click, what will happen to the trilogy? “We thought about it. But there was enough left unsaid, which upped the antennae of the audience,” he smiles.