Keladi Kanmani turns 25

A still from Keladi Kanmani.  

Muted lighting, a wall done up in yellow prints, a high-definition television, a table with a photo of K. Balachander and a pale green stack of post-it notes. Vasanth Sai has these for company in the single-room studio in R.A. Puram he uses as his reading and writing haven. It is this sacred space he rushes to every morning for his dose of movies and books. “I read extensively, and watch a lot of movies; this makes me want to keep making movies. Else, I am happiest with the rasiga anubhavam,” he says, stroking his beard, which has stayed the same through hits and misses, over 25 years.

A quarter of a century is a long time for any filmmaker, and Vasanth’s achievement is important, for he has made some truly pathbreaking films and documentaries, and created memorable characters. Commercial recognition has eluded him quite often, but Vasanth seems happy with his body of work. “I have not made too many movies because I cannot make certain compromises. My films need to have a social theme. I am serious by nature and always knew my first film would deal with a mature subject. I am drawn to the basic human journey — from grief to exhilaration and vice-versa. It helped that I spent all my impressionable years under KB Sir.”

Vasanth’s film signatures are his usage of the long shot and of course, the flashback. During our two-hour-long conversation, he frequently recalls scenes from his life, and travels to his early 20s when he joined KB Sir as assistant. He worked with the legendary director in 18 films. “I thought I would live out my life as his assistant until producer Vivek Chitra A. Sundaram asked me to direct a film for him one day. He gave me total freedom,” he says.

When speaking of Keladi Kanmani, which ran for a whopping 285 days, Vasanth’s face lights up. “It was a coup of sorts — be it acting, music or the storyline. I could not have expected a better debut.” There’s a famous story of how SPB, who was at his busiest then, told Vasanth to look for another hero, because while he had a career as a singer to fall back on in case the film failed, films were Vasanth’s only passion. But Vasanth, who was smitten by SPB’s effortless presence in Manathil Uruthi Vendum, wanted only him. Radhika came on board, but wanted to be convinced about why Sharada falls for ARR. “I loved their conviction and involvement in the project. SPB’s call sheet was usually from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. We somehow managed to bring them all together,” he recalls.

The very first shot canned was of Radhika crying after her parents’ demise. “I never wondered if it made sense to shoot such a scene on day one. It did not feel like my first film; it was like a continuation from KB Sir’s sets.”

The music of Keladi Kanmani is still as popular, and Vasanth says it took Ilaiyaraaja all of 45 minutes to come up with the entire soundtrack, barring the ‘breathless’ song ‘Mannil Indha Kaadhal’. It was the composer who first gave Vasanth the confidence that the film would work.

The director, however, needed validation from his mentor. KB saw the film and stood silently as his wife Rajam wiped her tears and spoke to Vasanth. He kept his protégé hanging for an entire day before he called him home. First came the criticism and Vasanth’s heart sank. “After that, it was high praise, something I will cherish all my life.” Recently, Vasanth got together some of the film’s crew, including Vivek, and rang in its silver jubilee year. “Everyone has fond memories of the film, but it is not my favourite. That place belongs to another film of mine! But yes, I still see great potential in Keladi Kanmani. Who knows, I might remake it, re-edit it and give it a new flavour. I would not touch the senior romance, but I have great ideas for the younger couple,” he signs off.

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Printable version | Oct 19, 2021 3:17:20 PM |

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