Vishnu Vishal was in a different place when he spoke to Metroplus earlier in February during the release of F.I.R. Calling it his “most personal film”, the actor was fighting back — both internally and externally.
The external fight was to prove a point to all the producers who cancelled on him for the “internal” journey he was going through. He was not done yet. F.I.R was a success at the box office; Vishnu is a happy man. “I have over nine films in hand now. This is a place I wanted to be,” he says, over phone from Kochi , where he is promoting Gatta Kusthi.
This was possible because of Vishnu Vishal, the producer. “He believed in the actor and pushed him to prove himself. I shouldn’t think I’m sorted now; I need to keep proving.”
For Gatta Kusthi, Vishnu reunites with his Silukkuvarpatti Singam director Chella Ayyavu, who told the former he had a script like Dangal. It had Vishnu in splits. When he heard the narration, he was laughing more. “He said it’s like Dangal with a dose of comedy. But we decided that it shouldn’t be just another commercial film and we worked on it,” says Vishnu, adding that Gatta Kusthi explores the relationship between a husband and wife, and speaks for equality.
The real challenge, however, for Vishnu was to headline an out-and-out masala entertainer. A few years into his career, someone told Vishnu that he would disappear from the limelight once he acted in masala films. Turns out that the person was right, says the actor. “I haven’t presented myself as a commercial hero. I’ve played characters but I didn’t do much of what ‘heroes’ would do. In fact, the first film where I played a ‘hero’ was Katha Nayagan. That film gave me confidence that I can be a hero. But the first film I felt like a hero was Ratsasan,” he says.
Though Vishnu has acted in a few commercial potboilers, he says that he will no longer take up films such as Velainu Vandhutta Vellaikaaran and Silukkuvarpatti Singam but a content-oriented Gatta Kusthi.
“I want to now make films for the masses. But at the same time, I want to ensure that the content is strong. Gatta Kusthi is a film that has fun, laughter, and a sports angle…the blend was just about right for a commercial film. This film will help me reach the rural audiences, which a Ratsasan or F.I.R couldn’t.”
Vishnu Vishal held a test screening of Gatta Kusthi with over 120 people in the audience. “They all laughed. This is exactly what we wanted. We hope that this multiplies,” he says. It is not every day that people in the industry show their films to an audience before the actual release.
“This helps us fine-tune our content. If I’m confident about the product, I show it to the audience and get their feedback. We need a little bit of ‘tinkering’ here and there. I also ask for feedback during the scripting stage,” he explains.
The process paid off for F.I.R, when a 10-min portion was trimmed from the final film. “The film had a slow beginning which was intended. But we felt that there was a dip in the second half. We felt that once the film takes off, it should get going. Fortunately, it was the right move,” he adds.
Ultimately, Vishnu Vishal wants to expand his market in the film industry. He wants to do bigger films; Gatta Kusthi [ Matti Kusthi in Telugu] is co-produced by Telugu star Ravi Teja, and stars Malayalam actor Aishwarya Lekshmi in the lead. Following Ratsasan, Vishnu says the Malayalam audience seems to have taken a liking to his films.
“For this film, we have roped in Justin Prabhakaran [music director] who has composed in Tamil and Telugu. In my next film Mohandas, Indrajith [Sukumaran, Malayalam actor] is acting. I want to expand my business,” he says, adding, “All of this is done by producer Vishnu Vishal for the actor. He tells me, ‘Why do you want to settle? Why can’t you dream big?’”