Cinema

A reluctant director

Director Velraj with Dhanush

Director Velraj with Dhanush  

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His debut film Velaiyilla Pattathari with Dhanush is a directorial coup, but R. Velraj confesses to sudhir srinivasan that cinematography is his first love.

Make no mistake, R. Velraj is a reluctant director. He is, at heart, a cinematographer. In fact, his love for the camera made him double up as director of photography for Velaiyilla Pattathari, the film where he debuts as director. “Once a cameraman, always a cameraman,” he says. “I could have hired another person to work the camera for this film,” he says candidly, “but I would not have been able to stop myself from intruding into his work. I am old school; I like some things done my way.”

Obviously, assuming dual responsibilities didn’t make his job any easier. In fact, during the making of the movie, so caught up was he in his cinematographer role that he sometimes failed to shout the magic word “Action!” He would sit behind the camera, content with his choice of angle and lighting, and wait for the director to start proceedings when Dhanush, playing the lead, would break into laughter and remind him who the director was. “This happened many times,” admits Velraj. The director must also observe facial reactions and listen to the dialogue but, he says, “Honestly, I noticed these details only on the monitor. Thankfully, there were hardly any retakes.”

Velraj obviously says things as they are. For instance, he admits, quite unlike many directors, that direction isn’t a role he aspired for. He humbly credits Dhanush for this and other developments. It was Dhanush who introduced Velraj to director Vetrimaaran, an introduction that led to the successful Polladhavan and Aadukalam projects. “Dhanush must have liked something about me to help me grow,” he says, “It was during our Aadukalam days that he promised to make me a director and said he would act in my first film.” Velaiyilla Pattathari is a landmark movie for Dhanush too, as it is his 25th film. “Several directors would have lined up for this opportunity,” says Velraj. “He chose me. It’s just a bond we share.” He reveals, though, that the actor has never quite explained his reasons for liking the cinematographer. “He hasn’t told me and I won’t be asking him either.

Velraj is now on thin ice, with a lot riding on the success of his directorial debut. “Now that I have become a director, it may be difficult to bag films as cinematographer; this is the harsh reality of the industry.” Despite the pressure, he stays unperturbed, having received only praise so far. “All those who have seen the film have expressed appreciation,” he says, saying the roles of Saranya (as Dhanush’s mother) and Vivek (as Dhanush’s colleague) have come in for special praise. “Vivek appears only in the second half but will steal the limelight.” The film was shot in just 52 days “and is a film for everybody,” says Velraj. “Music director Anirudh has done a great job with the songs, and ‘Amma, Amma’, sung by Dhanush and S. Janaki, will move people to tears.” He talks ingenuously of how the story was conceived after many discussions, with Dhanush pitching in with changes. He quotes the late director-cinematographer Balu Mahendra, saying, “The film made itself.”

Velraj has two films lined up as cinematographer, but says with almost childlike enthusiasm, “These days, when I’m at a shooting spot, youngsters run to me for photographs; they want autographs. I never received this adulation as a cinematographer.” Being director might get him the fame and fans but Velraj is clear that he will remain a cinematographer at heart.

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2020 7:50:06 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/a-reluctant-director/article6229065.ece

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