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`The public is hungry for trend-setting films'

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The thinking directors that they are, they ended up talking for over an hour when we invited them for a chat. Saran and S.P. Jhananathan covered a wide range of issues concerning the Tamil film industry at Hotel Rain Tree, Chennai, when Sudhish Kamath tuned into their conversation. Saran: I first met you at a producer's office. You wanted to make an offbeat animation film... Jhananathan: Yes, I've always felt that we Indians, by tradition, have been world leaders in 3-D modelling. Even in the smallest village in Tamil Nadu, there is a temple and hundreds of idols. When we've been able to successfully capture human anatomy and animal behaviour on stone, it means that we've always had the intrinsic skills needed for 3-D modelling. Yet, we've never had animation films. That's why I had worked hard on that animation film. Saran: I remember. Which is why I'm surprised you started your career with `Iyarkai' and not the Spielberg-style animation film.Jhananathan: I got tired explaining the concept to everybody. Nobody took me seriously as I was just an assistant director. Or, maybe my concept was too offbeat. So one fine day, I decided to shelve it and started `Iyarkai'. But not that I didn't enjoy making `Iyarkai'.Saran: I could see that you were clear about the genre of film you were making in `Iyarkai'. We, as an industry, have usually churned out a mish-mash of genres all within a film, each catering to a different audience. But today, we are slowly trying to make films faithful to a genre. Like I did in `Vattaram'. You've done it successfully in `E'.I think we will see more films that stay faithful to a specific genre in future, thanks to the multiplex culture, which will help us reach out to different niche audiences. The Hindi film industry has also been able to make a healthy profit out of selling DVD rights within six months. I see that as a better model to adopt than our current convention of waiting for three years before we are allowed to sell satellite and DVD rights. What do you feel? Jhananathan: I'm still learning the business though you consider us contemporaries. But I think movies are about creating a franchise that you can market and the box-office is just one collection point. Star Wars, for example, made much more money than its budget, by just selling video games, toys, books and other merchandise, let alone DVD or satellite rights or books on the making of the film. Saran: As creators, we get so much into the process of creating that we find it impossible to be objective about our own work. We see our films a hundred times before it is finally complete. So when it finally comes out, it is a fresh experience for the common man but not for us. Have you faced problems judging your own film? Jhananathan: True. When I shot for `Iyarkai,' I was a beginner. It was a chaotic process of putting it all together. At the end of it, I knew the film by every frame. I wasn't sure if I had made a good film. But I remember your words of assurance.Saran: A lot of people tell me `Paarthen Rasithen' was my best. But I remember I felt so vexed after watching the full film. For some reason, I felt it didn't have the freshness it had with the pilot track. Even with `Gemini', I didn't sleep for four days before it released because I was nervous. People tend to compare films in our industry. When one film clicks, they expect the next film also to have the same elements. I think the public is hungry for trend-setting films because they are tired of watching replicas. Jhananathan: There's also the burden of public expectation from a film. The audience always has a preset notion about a film. But then, it is true that we filmmakers tend to come up with a signature.Saran: There's a dichotomy between giving the audience what they want from you and still ensure that they do not know what is coming. When reviews come out, the mind of the audience is further clouded by the critic's judgement of the film, good or bad. I think critics should leave the film alone for at least a week after it releases. I think every film needs a little grooming time. Jhananathan: Correct.Saran: We directors are celebrities only for six months after a film releases. With time, a film develops an identity of its own. Years later, it is known for one song, or singer, or a lyricist, or a star. Nobody remembers the director. I admit that fact and I enjoy the fact. (laughs) Another concern I have is the way posters are being prohibited outside some buildings. We cannot blindly follow international cities that end up looking almost like each other. Posters have been a part of our culture. It is the way we communicate with people.Jhananathan: True. Posters are an art form that represents the character of a society. Saran: Each poster costs Rs. 200 and another Rs. 35 to 40 to stick. In fact, it's also the only entertainment for people travelling by public transport. What influences you to make films?Jhananathan: Well, we've had different kinds of films for years. We've had ideological propaganda films, we have had social dramas, we've had entertainers and soon, we started making formula films and replicas. I have always wanted to break formulas and make films with fresh thought. Saran: With digital technology, tomorrow, anyone will be able to make a film. So we will have more competition from new directors with fresh ideas in a few years. Things are looking bright.Jhananathan: Yes, people can shoot with digital cameras, edit on their on laptop and screen through digital projection. Saran: With that sort of competition and the changing face of film business, it is ridiculous to expect films to run for silver jubilee or golden jubilee. A film like `Don' today released with about 1,000 prints. Our films today release with 250-300 prints, compared to 25 to 30 prints in MGR days. Jhananathan: If 25 prints are seen in 100 days, 50 prints of the same film can be seen in 50 days. Going by simple arithmetic, 300 prints means lesser days. Saran: We should hasten DVD releases as well and get done selling the film through different mediums. Jhananathan: Yes, after all it is another medium for the producer to make some more money and reach out to more audiences. Otherwise, they will watch it on the Internet. They download it only when there are no legal DVDs available. They don't want to cheat. People are willing to pay. Saran: Instead of them going to some dotcoms to download films, we just need to let people download from our own website, for a price. Like how Rajshri Films has done.Jhananathan: Absolutely.

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