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Stories sculpted out of unfulfilled desires

'`I work with situations from real life. Once I feel strongly about something, I have to put it in a movie."

HE MADE one of the most promising debuts in Tamil cinema with Mugavari two years ago. And then fell silent. Now he's back with a new film which he assures will be just as good.

Durai speaks to PRADEEP SEBASTIAN on his passion for movies, what went into the making of ``Mugavari'' and the experience of working with Ajit, Jyothika, Priyanka Trivedi and Vikram. Excerpts from the interview:

After making a terrific debut with ``Mugavari" — one of the most promising Tamil films in years - you are back with a new film after nearly two years. Tell us about it.

It's called "Adhisayam" and it stars Vikram and Priyanka Trivedi. I can't tell you too much without giving away the plot. What I'll say for the moment is that it is a startling fresh love story revolving round three characters. With Prakash Raj playing the heroine's father.

``Mugavari" was interesting because it imaginatively skirted the genre while still working from within it. Can we expect the same from ``Adhisayam" or is it going to be more formulaic?

I'm hoping to strike some kind of balance... The film is set in a town-village near the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border. The story begins and ends there. Chennai doesn't come into the picture at all!

What was it like to work with these actors?

There are terrific performances from all three. I was hell bent on working with Vikram. He's been terrific right through the shooting - both on the sets and off the sets. Very involved, very dedicated, very co-operative. I'd very much like to work with him again.

Tell us about your discovery - Priyanka Trivedi. She was the only good thing about "Raja".

Priyanka Trivedi was actually discovered by my producer, S. S. Chakravarthy. But before we could get this film completed, she had already starred in two movies. She's originally from Calcutta. She's going to be a big star after "Adhisayam."

How did you get started?

Oh, I've never been to film school. I'm mad about movies. During my school days I would see one movie a day and the habit has continued.

So you'd see your favourite movie over and over again?

Honestly, I never had to. If I see a movie once, it's all there in my head. I recall it scene by scene, dialogue by dialogue years later.

Ajit's middle class family is unusual in that it is so supportive and understanding of his un-middle class crazy ambition to be a film music composer. How did you conceive/think of such a family?

They were based on my family, which actually indulged me. And the inspiration for Raghuvaran's character is my brother-in-law, Shahul Hameed. I owe him a lot. My father wanted me to be a professor. I graduated in Statistics, did my master's in sociology and completed a post-graduate diploma course in Computer Applications. Then my brother-in-law made this deal with my father. ``We'll give Durai a year to break into movies. If by the end of the year it hasn't happened, he has to quit." My father agreed. And I've been really lucky - just before the year ran out I got the break I was looking for.

Fantastic. And how did ``Mugavari" happen?

``Adhisayam'', the latest from Durai's stable stars Vikram and Priyanka Trivedi.

Here I have to acknowledge my gratitude and debt to my very supportive producer, Mr. Chakravarthy. I had been carrying the story of ``Mugavari" with me for a long time. And it was my dream to have Ajit play the hero. I told him the story and he liked it enough to say he would do it. After that I went to four producers with it and they all turned it down. It clicked with the fifth producer - Chakravarthy - who was willing to take a chance with me. And from that movie to the new one he has been extremely supportive and has been there with me on every aspect of the shoot - right down to post-production. ``Adhisayam," like ``Mugavari" is a NIC Arts release.

How did you come up with such an unusual story? A gifted, obsessed music composer who is forced to give up his dreams...

Partly my life - except I got to make my movie. But also because over the years I've met so many young people whose dream it has been to do something different with their lives but have compromised or failed or given up or have been just plain unlucky. I felt that their story had to be told. That's how I work - with situations from real life. Once I feel strongly about something, I have to put it in a movie. The best compliment paid to ``Mugavari" was people talking about Sridhar as though he were a real person. When they spoke of his character they didn't say Ajit but Sridhar.

``Mugavari" was one of Jyotika's early films and probably her best performance I think. How did she come to star in it?

Once again, it was my producer who suggested I cast her. She had starred in "Vaali," which he produced and he felt she would be the ideal actress to play the character I had in mind for "Mugavari."

Ajit was pretty good in the movie too...

It was wonderful working with him. Ajit is such a versatile actor. He was so pleased with the movie and his Sridhar character that he presented me with a car even before the movie was released!

The romance between Ajit and Jyotika had a casual, natural, almost everyday feel to it. In particular all of us are curious about how you came up with the very interesting `push, pull, turn' idea. Also, that telepathic telephone exchange between the two when they say ``I love you" without actually saying it aloud.

The push, pull... idea is actually something I borrowed from my niece, Irfana, who showed it to me one day.

You seem to have understood love and how strangely it can work sometime. I'm referring to Jyotika breaking off with Ajit so that she would not be in his way of realising his dream. She says the nature of love is to sacrifice and if that means love will have to sacrifice itself, then it will do that, too. It is a marvellous moment: Jyotika gives up Ajit so that nothing can stand in his way of fulfilling his dream. Ajit gives up Jyotika because she will never be happy if he gives up his dream for her. Tell us how you arrived at that scene and how you worked it out.

That's just how the story evolved in my imagination. I couldn't see their romance happening any other way. That's how my mind works. I see it happen in life, and I have to put it into a film.

The ending is a stunner. First, the heroine disappears from the film and then we realise Ajit is not going to make it - at least not for now. However did you come up with an ending like this? Surely you must have known how risky it was?

I was tired of how things end in our movies. And any other ending would have been a compromise. I risked it because I thought the audience were ready for it.

What inspired you to put in that wonderful bit about the Luz Corner bookshop?

I pass by the Luz bookstall regularly. And I read a lot of books. When the story was being discussed, I had this flash that I could put it in the film.

One last question: Your name - you are a Muslim but Durai... ?

Oh, my name is actually peer Moyideen — spelt with a small p — but Durai was the pet name my grandmother gave me and it stuck!

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