As the release of Neerparavai draws near, director Seenu Ramasamy dwells on the making of the film. Malathi Rangarajan listens in

Debuting with Koodal Nagar that revealed his yen for the unusual, Seenu Ramasamy went on to prove his mettle with Thenmaerkku Paruva Kaatru that reaped laurels at many a podium. Saranya Ponvannan was honoured with a National award for her performance in TPK, and Vairamuthu for his lyric. Now the director is gearing up for his third offering, Neerparavai. “I expect Vishnu to win it this time, along with Vairamuthu again,” says Seenu as we get talking about Neerparavai. Actor Vishnu shot to fame with Vennila Kabaddi Kuzhu, but his later attempts, barring Kullanari Kootam, didn’t exactly hit the bull’s eye. “I admire his dedication. I wanted him to row a boat on the rough seas. It’s by no means an easy task, but Vishnu pulled it off. He’s a sportsman and a fitness freak and that made things easier.”

When Kaadhal catapulted Bharath and Sandhya to heights of popularity, Seenu made Koodal Nagar with the pair. But for TPK he went with Vijay Sethupathi, a new face. Now Neerparavai has Vishnu! “Much time is lost in waiting for dates of stars. It appears as if the actor is primary, and the art, less important. I prefer those who come to me with no prior experience.” Then why does Neerparavai have seasoned actor Nandita Das? “I’m not against experienced actors. I have a reason for zeroing in on Nandita. I have to draw countrywide attention to the issue I have raised in the film, and her presence will aid it. In fact, I tried to get Shabana Azmi to play the part, but she isn’t for acting in a language she isn’t familiar with.”

When Seenu first contacted Nandita, the actor sought cinematographer Ravi K. Chandran’s advice. “It was Ravi who told her to go ahead. For all that, I haven’t even met Chandran,” Seenu sounds touched.

Recently, Radhika Sarathkumar had mentioned to me that Seenu had approached her for the role in TPK which eventually went to Saranya. “Yeah, ever since I watched Radhika’s sterling performance in Bharatiraaja’s Kizhakku Seemaiyilae I’ve been keen to work with her. I will, some day,” he laughs. But Saranya did a wonderful job and, after TPK, her popularity went up several notches. “Saranya was well-known and I was a newcomer. Yet she would listen intently to my instructions and work without ego,” recalls Seenu. “If Saranya’s 13 days of work for TPK proved memorable, so will Nandita Das’ six days of shoot for Neerparavai,” he says.

Neerparavai’s heroine Sunaina is an actor, who despite the looks and potential hasn’t gone places in Tamil cinema. “I saw her without make-up on and she filled the bill,” he puts it succinctly. During the entire shoot Seenu confesses he was a martinet. “I made her walk in the blazing Sun on the seashore, for four days. The sand blowing on her face gave it the required roughness. I never complimented her for her work, but when she got completely involved with her character and broke down for a scene without the help of glycerine, I knew she had arrived.” Sunaina plays Esther, a Christian girl. When Sunaina found Seenu’s brusqueness too much to take, she asked him exasperatedly, “Will you ever respect my talent?”

“Once she watches the film she’ll understand the amount of respect her work commands,” Seenu strikes a serious note. Samudirakani plays Uduman Gani, a Muslim. The actor-filmmaker was so captivated by the story that he wanted to be a part of it. “We have Hindu, Christian and Muslim representation — the secular approach has worked out well,” feels Seenu.

Experienced technicians have toiled to make Neerparavai a visual treat. “Balasubramaniem’s lens work will be a strongpoint. Absorbing what I wanted, he delivered without ado.” Seenu also mentions the worthy contribution made by art director Selvakumar and editor Kasi Viswanathan. “The timing of Kasi’s cuts is of international standards. Neerparavai has been edited with sensitivity.”

It’s intriguing that Udayanidhi Stalin’s Red Giant, known for its commercial ventures, is backing Neerparavai. “No point in blaming big banners for not supporting small projects. Only if such films are successful will producers come forward to make them.” Seenu’s films toe the mid-path between mainstream and art. Neerparavai is a tale of people who depend on the sea for their livelihood. The milieu will be the blue waters and sandy shores. Does it indicate that it will have political undertones? “The Censor Board members have given it a U certification. That should answer your question. I’m highlighting issues concerning fishermen, not passing a comment or being judgmental. The story is strong and the narration enjoyable. It isn’t a dry film,” he asserts.