Simran on Gautham Menon: ‘Been asking him to take on full-fledged acting roles for years’

Simran and Gautham Vasudev Menon in ‘Vaanmagal’, which is part of Netflix’s Tamil anthology, ‘Paava Kadhaigal’   | Photo Credit: Netflix

“Acting is not something I look forward to. It is a strange experience,” says director Gautham Vasudev Menon. It is surprising because his tryst with the screen began way back in 1997, when, as assistant director on Minsara Kannavu, he played a cameo credited as ‘man in crowd’. Since then, in the style of veteran Tamil director KS Ravikumar, he has appeared briefly in almost all his films. After a role in 2018’s Goli Soda 2, this year he returned to the big screen for other filmmakers: in Desingh Periyasamy’s Kannum Kannum Kollaiyadithaal and in the Malayalam movie, Trance. In the upcoming Netflix Tamil anthology, Paava Kadhaigal, he once again dons the greasepaint.

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In Vaanmagal, his directorial in the episodic film, Menon plays Satya, opposite Simran who plays his wife Mathiazhagu. Their small-town life, which revolves around their three children (a son and two daughters), is portrayed through beautifully-framed shots of their home and close-ups that delve into their emotional turmoil. I suggest keeping some tissues handy. Simran says, “It was not an easy topic for me to accept as an actor, but the way it was narrated was very convincing. I’m playing a role like this after many years, probably the first after Vaaranam Aayiram.

The reluctant auteur

Menon says he wrote Vaanmagal “very reluctantly”, and after the other three filmmakers (Sudha Kongara, Vetri Maaran and Vignesh Shivan) had finished filming. “It was a difficult one to write, film, edit and look at it later as well. The genre was such: honour, pride, love, sin. I know the kind of feedback that will come for a film like this, people asking why we portrayed things in a certain way,” he says. After a lot of back-and-forth and contemplating a spin-off from Maaran’s portion, he decided to write a stand-alone story. While researching, he came across the incident that inspired this film.

Simran and Gautham Vasudev Menon in ‘Vaanmagal’, which is part of Netflix’s Tamil anthology, ‘Paava Kadhaigal’

Simran and Gautham Vasudev Menon in ‘Vaanmagal’, which is part of Netflix’s Tamil anthology, ‘Paava Kadhaigal’   | Photo Credit: @simranrishibagga on Instagram

Having travelled across interior Tamil Nadu and studying engineering in a Pudukkottai college, Menon used those experiences as a reference point while writing and directing. “Whether it is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, it is my take on the issue,” he states. Being a collaborative effort, the filmmakers took a call to “simply reflect what is happening in society, show that there are people like this among us, without giving a message or saying that this is what needs to be done”.

Conviction and chemistry

The chemistry between Menon and Simran is palpable on screen, be it in casual conversation or when they discuss what to do when their world is shattered by a single incident. Known for this intensity as a director, how does Menon tap into that side of himself as an actor? “A couple of films that I did with others directing me gave me confidence, but it is not the same when you are directing yourself. I like to look at the actors while directing, not the monitors. So for me to be in a frame, where I am not looking at the actor, and to be conscious and to lose inhibition was tough,” he says. Having to work opposite a seasoned actor like Simran did not make things easier, he laughs. However, he admits he is feeling more confident now, and will probably “take a further plunge” into acting — maybe even direct himself again.

When asked about working with Menon, Simran says she has been waiting to talk about the experience. “For years I have been asking him to take on full-fledged acting roles, but he always pushed back on the idea. So it was the best surprise when he decided to play Satya,” she says, adding that he was very clear about what he expected from the artistes as a director, even while interacting with them on screen as an actor. Was making her OTT debut challenging? Simran says she just performs, no matter the medium. “You have to be convincing because you have been cast in that particular role and since the director feels you can do it. You do not waste time in front of the camera,” she explains.

Simran on set for Gautham Vasudev Menon’s ‘Vaanmagal’, which is part of Netflix’s Tamil anthology, ‘Paava Kadhaigal’

Simran on set for Gautham Vasudev Menon’s ‘Vaanmagal’, which is part of Netflix’s Tamil anthology, ‘Paava Kadhaigal’   | Photo Credit: @simranrishibagga on Instagram

This is also her strategy with social media: her Instagram (@ simranrishibagga, with 482K followers) is not the usual heavily-curated one that we see with celebrities. She shares fun snippets from her daily life, her love for saris, movie promotions, and raises awareness on causes close to her heart, like educating the girl child.

On the work front, she has Rocketry: The Nambi Effect directed and produced by R Madhavan coming up. She has also signed on for the Tamil remake of the Bollywood dark comedy thriller, Andhadhun, reprising the role Tabu played, “which is another challenge” she concludes.

Paava Kadhaigal, an anthology of four films, is Netflix’s first foray into Tamil content. Directed by Sudha Kongara, Vignesh Shivan, Gautham Vasudev Menon and Vetri Maaran, it covers themes of honour killings, inter-caste and inter-religious marriages and unconventional relationships. Streaming from December 18.

Watch: The people of 'Paava Kadhaigal'

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Printable version | Mar 1, 2021 7:39:54 PM |

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