Young guns

Karthick Naren's passion for filmmaking began when he was just in eleventh grade.  

In Hollywood, the incredibly talented Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, La La Land) is 32. A couple of years ago, a 29-year-old Ryan Coogler gave us Creed, the latest in the Rocky Balboa series. (Coogler wasn’t even born when the previous instalments were released). What about our very own Kollywood?

There has been a spurt in the number of young Tamil filmmakers who have left behind well-paying, conventional jobs or higher education to make cinema. And a few have managed to taste success before turning 30.

Take the case of last year’s Dhuruvangal Pathinaaru, by 22-year-old Karthick Naren. “I had this passion (for films) since childhood, but wasn’t sure I could consider it as a profession,” he says. He came to Chennai from Coimbatore to work as an assistant for Deeraj Vaidy’s Jil Jung Juk. The exposure made him ask for more. He faced a lot of doubt from producers when they found out how old he was. “It was very hurtful at first, but I got used to it,” he says. But the one advice all of them had was to think big — be it the lead star or playing second fiddle to a well-known director to get a grip on things.

Young guns

Naren says the way it worked for him was quite funny. He would start his day by Googling for numbers of film production houses in Chennai, make calls, and if there was a response, rush to their office. “I knew if I asked for appointments, I’d never get them,” he says. Today, Naren says he’s being flooded with offers. Next on the cards is a “very different” suspense drama.

Naren started out as a short film maker, as is the case with many aspiring directors these days. The YouTube path to glory was laid out by three filmmakers: Balaji Mohan, Karthik Subbaraj and Nalan Kumarasamy. Mohan made Kadhalil Sodhappuvadhu Yeppadi when he was just 23. “It was quite a smooth experience.” Was there any bias towards his age, like the sort Karthick Naren faced? With a laugh, he says the cast and crew discovered how young he was only four days into the shoot. “They just asked me over a casual conversation on the set. When I told them, they had a moment-of-truth look on their faces.”

Going back a generation, we have Gautham Vasudev Menon. In 2001, at the age of 28, he directed his debut film, Minnale — a resounding commercial success. And even earlier, there was Vasanth, a protégé of the legendary K. Balachander (KB). Keladi Kanmani happened when he was just 27. Producer P.R. Govindarajan (Kalakendra Films) introduced him to KB. “It was my luck that KB liked me very much. I went on to work under him for 18 films,” says Vasanth.

Vasanth harboured no intentions of making his own film until producer ‘Vivek Chitra’ Sundaram approached him. “I said I had no script. He asked me to come when I had one.” KB’s assistant Ananthu planted the idea of the story, and connected him with S. P. Balasubrahmanyam (his lead actor). What he looked forward to the most was his mentor’s stamp of approval, especially for the song ‘Mannil Indha Kaadhal’, parts of which are seemingly pulled off without a breath by SPB. Until then, Balachander was quite fond of Mani Ratnam among the young crop. Now that compliment was extended to him too. “As he got into his car (after watching the film), I went up and asked him what he thought about the ‘breathless’ song. He said ‘what’s the big deal? SPB, as it is, is breathless when he walks. It’s no surprise he’d be the same when he sings.’”

Young guns

Stepping out of a mentor’s shadow isn’t always easy. More than two decades earlier, a 25-year-old K. Bhagyaraj pitched in as Bharathiraja’s assistant for 16 Vayathinile, with suggestions for scenes and dialogue. They liked him, and asked him to continue in Kizhakke Pogum Rail and Sigappu Rojakkal. It was finally time to turn full-fledged director in 1979 with Suvarilladha Chiththirangal. “The producer was familiar with my work. He actually offered me the director’s role during Kizhakke Pogum Rail but I insisted I would complete at least a couple of more films as an assistant.”

What does he think of today’s generation, who are using short films to get noticed? “During our time, there was only one institute (for film). If we didn’t make it there, the only way was to work with a director. Now, every aspirant gets some degree or the other, goes to work, and saves up. It’s no big deal to pump in Rs 50,000 or Rs 1 lakh into an independent film any more. We found it difficult to even buy tea or food while shooting.”

Young guns

The other thing that worries Bhagyaraj is how short-sighted the newbies are with ideas for scripts. Most start out with one brilliant idea, but face a drought by the time they are into their second or third ventures. “One needs to have sufficient experiences in life or at least have the habit of reading books. Back then, there was a dedicated society of writers and story departments in almost every major studio. There is a dearth of individual film writers today. If the director can overlook prestige and obtain rights from writers (outside the industry) like Mahendran or Balachander did, then there’s no problem. But then, at present, there are very few writers like S. Ramakrishnan, whose works seem sort of suitable for film scripts,” he says.

Young guns

Balaji Mohan differs. He cites cases like himself who took the usual route towards becoming a director (he started out as an assistant to Sudha Kongara when she made Drohi). But he is in agreement with the content bit: there really is a dearth in terms of novels and scripts. “That doesn’t happen just with young directors but even the big ones. It applies generally for the Tamil film industry today.”

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Printable version | Nov 29, 2021 12:06:41 AM |

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