Dharani interview on ‘Ghilli’ re-release: ‘Vijay was a boy then, he is a brand now’

Watch | Vijay’s ‘Ghilli’ re-release is a celebration

Why a 20-year-old film starring Vijay is being celebrated by Tamil cinema fans today

April 24, 2024 03:41 pm | Updated 04:06 pm IST

One of Chennai’s important landmarks is the Gemini flyover. Very close to this landmark is the Little Flower School for the Blind and the Deaf — which was the venue way back in 2004 for the audio cassette release of Tamil film Ghilli starring Vijay, Trisha and Prakash Raj.

It was here that the tunes of ‘Appadi Podu’ and ‘Arjunar Villu’ played for the first time, and subsequently, echoed in cinema halls when the film released to a rapturous reception in April 2004.

Cut to April 2024, these tunes are still playing as the film’s re-release has crowds thronging theatres, despite the IPL buzz. Why is a 20-year-old Tamil film still being celebrated? Director Dharani has the answers.

Vijay and Trisha from ‘Ghilli’; director Dharani

Vijay and Trisha from ‘Ghilli’; director Dharani | Photo Credit: Johan Sathyadas

We last met 20 years ago and spoke about the same film, and here, we are, speaking about it yet again...

Dharani: When I heard about the re-release, I imagined that it would be a one-day celebration, like a Vidyasagar concert or an AR Rahman concert. I never imagined that it would become such a celebration. People in the theatres are literally completing the dialogues. I visited a theatre, in which a mother and daughter were enjoying the film; the eight-year-old daughter was watching it for the first time! The film and its content has remained alive till now, and I’m grateful to the media and fans for celebrating it that way.

Why do you think Ghilli, which has been played multiple times on television, is still being celebrated?

Dharani: I think it is because of the emotion behind the lead actor, who played a ‘good boy’, and for that, I am indebted to writer Gunasekar who helmed the Telugu original, Okkadu, which we remade as Ghilli. It has a naughty protagonist, who quarrels with his sister and has a strict father. All these aspects are very relatable to family audiences, then and now. Plus, all the actors in the film — Vijay, Trisha and Prakash Raj — are still very relevant today.

Take us back to 2004, and tell us how you managed to pitch the idea of Ghilli to Vijay and producer AM Rathnam...

Dharani: I had finished Dhool, starring Vikram, and my assistants and I just wanted to go watch a film. Telugu film Okkadu had released, and we watched it in Midland Cinemas. It was gripping from the first scene, but I became very anxious as the film proceeded. I had a story idea based on a kabaddi player, another storyline on a romance between a guy who hid his girl in a lighthouse, and another road film idea. Okaddu had all these three elements in them. I realised that even if I didn’t remake this, someone else would. We immediately met producer AM Rathnam, requested him to get its remake rights and make it in Tamil with Vijay.

Vijay and Trisha during the shoot of ‘Ghilli’

Vijay and Trisha during the shoot of ‘Ghilli’ | Photo Credit: R Shivaji Rao

Ghilli remains one of Vijay’s most rewatchable films. How did his presence add to the storyline you had in mind?

Dharani: Vijay had till then not attempted so much humour in his films. In Ghilli, we were determined to get that sense of humour out. I would usually act and showcase what I wanted, and Vijay would immediately deliver that effortlessly in front of the camera; he was almost like an AI model replicating exactly what we had in mind. His comedy timing was excellent, and all the family sequences involving him, Ashish Vidyarthi, Janaki Sabesh and Jennifer were a hoot.

You have a long-standing equation with music composer Vidyasagar, whose tunes in Ghilli have audiences dancing in theatres even today...

Dharani: During every composing session, we have a thagaraaru (argument), butit was always an anbaana thagaraaru (friendly argument). He insisted on having melody tunes, and I used to tell him, in a friendly way, to give those tracks to directors like Radhamohan and Viji (smiles). For this film’s template and speed, I wanted slightly fast-paced numbers, and he delivered in a big way.

Finally, can we look forward to a Ghilli 2 sometime?

Dharani: Ghilli getting a re-release now is the second part (laughs). I don’t know if we would have got such a reception even if we made a Ghilli 2.

Gopinath, cinematographer

Gopinath, cinematographer

S Gopinath, cinematographer

I’m thrilled about the re-release hype, and I still fondly recall shooting at the massive seven-acre set, which was conceived by art director Maniraj, where all the lighthouse and beach sequences were shot. I was injured during its shooting and had to take a small break while recuperating; so, while I shot the entire film, I requested KV Anand (the late cinematographer) to step in to shoot the ‘Appadi Podu’ song sequence alone.

AM Rathnam, producer

AM Rathnam, producer

AM Rathnam, producer

Ghilli was – and is still – a success because it treats its protagonist not as a hero but as a normal boy. We are very happy that its re-release is doing well in cinema halls and that audiences are lapping it up. There is a general craze for part-2 films now; Baahubali 2 and Gaddar 2 were hits. We are planning a 7G Rainbow Colony 2 currently and similarly, I will try taking steps to create Ghilli 2.

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