It’s not easy for one used to giving instructions to suddenly take them from someone else. There’s also the creative dilemma you have to deal with. Gautham Menon has directed some of the most talented actors around, but it took a couple of creators to perceive an effortless performer lurking in him. Even as he’s gently being pulled out of a financial quagmire and his fans are awaiting ‘Dhruva Natchathiram’, he’s earned admirers for his performances in ‘Trance’ and ‘Kannum Kannum Kollaiyadithaal’.
Then again, most cinema fans are waiting with bated breath for an official announcement that he will be directing Kamal again in Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu 2’. Trusted sources tell me Kamal is kicked about the plot and has given the nod. Meanwhile Gautham can enjoy a paid holiday in front of the camera, that seems to like him in front too.
Are directors basically frustrated actors?
(Laughs) What a way to start. Not in any of the films I’ve directed so far. I’ve never felt I have to go and do it. Just to enhance I have dubbed for a few of the characters. I’ve never felt frustrated with anyone from Madhavan to Ajith, Surya, Simbu or Kamal sir. You have to work around them of course, like Vikram seems to not be listening to while you talk to him. Maybe it’s the eagerness to get things going. It’s not arrogance. It’s his way of saying I know what you want.
The first take may be different from what you have in mind, but you can tell him. It’s just that recently I’ve been meeting people like Anwar Rasheed and Fahadh Fasil who suggested acting and it’s just a window and I’m trying to poke my head in. I don’t want to let go of the opportunity. I’ve had a couple of really good experiences and a bad one where I had to walk out.
The question must be why me, when there are so many talented character actors around?
I’ve asked this of everyone who’s approached me, even Desingh ( Kannum Kannum... ). I have been offered full length roles before that film, but I’ve refused. I asked Anwar too. He said he liked the way I handle my interviews and the way I spoke. Some people see a negative streak in me.
It must be intimidating for the young director too, like imagine if you were directing Mani Ratnam...
Oh my God, yes. I did interview Mani sir for a series and I know how I felt. He did make me feel comfortable, but…
Interviewing him is different from casting a director you admire in your film...
Correct. With Desingh he was always talking about ‘Kaakha Kaakha’ and ‘Vaaranam Aayiram’ and told me about the scripts he had. He was more like a fanboy who was anxious about my opinion. I kept assuring him he was doing fine. I told him I was there to do his bidding. With Anwar who’s a contemporary, there was a lot of learning from my side too. I’ve admired his work. He was never intimidated. I liked the way they worked with live sound.
Were you tempted to make creative suggestions?
No, not till I felt it would be outside my comfort zone as an actor. There was the last scene in ‘Trance’ where I was to be killed. It was a close-up and I had to simulate expressions. It was difficult and I did suggest an alternative way. In Desingh’s film I had to step out of a car and confront goons chasing me. They’d planned a fight sequence with me in a dhoti. That’s the introduction you write for a ‘mass’ hero. He kept insisting but I gave him an alternative and he wrote the scene. There was a fight planned at the airport too, but I gently told him that as a top cop I shouldn’t indulge in fisticuffs. He was kind enough to agree.
One of the most watched introduction scenes online is Kamal in ‘Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu’. Your intro scene too seems to be going viral!
That’s blasphemy if you ask me you know. I am a huge fanboy who wrote that scene even though the rest of the film was not like that, just for the audience to celebrate this man. You step aside from the filmmaker you are momentarily. That was a fan’s tribute. ‘Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu 2’ also has a similar opening scene and I’m really looking forward to shoot that.
When people who know you watch ‘Kannum Kannum’, it’s like you’re just being yourself, but even that is difficult when the camera is on.
You’re absolutely right, you have to lose your inhibitions, not be conscious of the surrounding, know where to look and the close-ups are not easy. I completely admire actors who let go and are themselves in front of the camera. I’m basically conscious even while having a selfie taken. People ask why I look glum. So being oneself is not easy too in front of the camera.
Have you been tempted to write a character for yourself?
No, but I’ve recently asked a couple of others to write something full- fledged for me within my comfort zone. I don’t mind characters with negative shades.
A lot of directors like Manivannan, Manobala and Soundarrajan turned successful actors. Probably it’s an easier job and you’re not blamed for the fate of the film then?
I don’t look at it that way. It was towards the twilight of their career. It’s like a shift. I want to make films for as long as possible as well as act in the odd one too.
Recently you’ve shared screen-space with two of the most talented actors in Indian cinema, Fahadh Fasil and Dulquer. When you are on the set, are your creative juices flowing thinking of films with them?
Oh absolutely. I’ve been a big admirer of Fahadh even before I met him. On the set, he internalizes for 20 minutes before the shot. He goes quiet no matter what the scene is. That mood is transmitted to the rest. He draws you into the mood without instructions. I have material for him. He’s promised he’ll approach me and we’ll shoot. That’s the way he works. I’ll wait for him.
Your acting style is more Malayalam than Tamil in the sense that you shun overemphasis.
I think I’ll take that as a compliment.
This interview is about Gautham the actor, but I cannot resist asking about ‘Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu 2’.
We’re keeping it a bit quiet. I have to narrate one more time to Kamal sir and am hoping things fall in place by April.