Living in past glory

Muktha V. Srinivasan, the producer of Nayakan, responds to Kamal Haasan’s article ‘Of course, Velu Nayakan doesn’t dance’ (Magazine, October 21).

Updated - November 13, 2021 10:22 am IST

Published - October 28, 2012 08:43 am IST

Kamal Hassan and Mani Ratnam during the shooting for Nayakan

Kamal Hassan and Mani Ratnam during the shooting for Nayakan

Initially I wanted to make a movie inspired by the story of The Godfather . I had narrated the story to my friend Sivaji Ganesan, who agreed to act in the film. I also requested Kamal Haasan and Amala to act in this movie. I paid an advance and confirmed their dates. This was reported in the press. However Ananthu, then an associate of Kamal Haasan, felt that it would be a Sivaji- focused film and not a Kamal Haasan movie. The project was dropped. Kamal later told me about Mani Ratnam. Mani narrated a story based on the life of a don from Bombay. He also had written the screenplay, which was very good. The scenes and dialogues were realistic and I liked it. Mani told us that he would complete the shooting in 60 days and he would need 70 rolls of film. The salary for Kamal Haasan was Rs. 17, 50,000. And the budget for the film was estimated at Rs. 60 lakh. Yes, it was a big budget. However it became “over-budget”, with expenses crossing Rs. 1 crore – almost twice the original estimate.

Shooting commenced in November 1986 and the first schedule lasted 10 days. All the scenes that were shot were scrapped since Kamal Haasan did not like them. The screenplay had to be rewritten. Shooting was postponed. The new screenplay had lot of violence and I was shocked as it was a copy of The Godfather and Once Upon a Time in America . I told Mani that a good writer and director should get inspiration from life, and not copy from other films. I objected to the story as it would not attract a family audience. So I created a heroine character (the wife of Kamal Haasan) and introduced Saranya. Had Mani not listened to Kamal and gone with the original script, it would have been an outstanding movie.

Kamal Haasan wanted the film to be shot at Dharavi in Bombay, which was the largest and most congested slum in Asia. I did not want to shoot the entire movie in Bombay – but not because I was “tightfisted,” as Kamal claims. I was always interested in shooting in different locations. Though it was not very easy to shoot outside studios, those days, I had shot in Kashmir, Nepal, Shimla and the Andamans. But when I visited Dharavi, I found that it was not possible to shoot there, since it was thickly populated. Also, I was concerned about the security of the crew. Using photographs of the slum, art director Thota Tharani created the set at Venus studios, Chennai, which turned out three times more expensive than it would have been had we shot at Dharavi. We had to hire thousands of junior artists to create that atmosphere. The remaining portion was shot at Bombay.

The movie was completed and released in October 1987. After 25 years Kamal Haasan has suddenly chosen to talk about it, distorting the facts for reasons best known to him, and undermining the contributions made by everyone.

When Mani Ratnam narrated the story, he told me that he wanted to make a realistic film with real characters, which meant no makeup and the use of Tamil attire like the dhoti and lungi . He was not interested in bringing in either a Hollywood stuntman or a makeup man. I felt that Velu Naicker did not need a “Hollywood” makeup man and costumer. In fact it was Kamal Haasan’s idea to bring such people in. Our company had a makeup man and costumers who were all paid by me. To state that there was no budget for makeup and costumes is absurd.

As far as using international artist Jim Allen, he was charging a huge amount (almost Rs. 2,00,000 per day), that too in dollars, which was not feasible in those days. I could not concede to this request, since it meant engaging in illegal and unethical hawala transactions. Moreover, the stunts that Mr. Allen suggested were already in vogue. Mani would have come up with a better scene had Kamal not insisted on copying from The Godfather . All the props which were used in the movie were paid for by me. As far as ittar is concerned, Kamal Haasan never asked me for it. Had I known, I would have bought it myself, since it is available even in Pondy bazaar.

Before going into a shooting schedule, I had always ensured that the all the film rolls needed for the schedule were made available so that the shooting could go on without interruption. Mani asked for 15 rolls of film for 10 days of shooting. On the evening of the seventh day, Mani’s assistant director Govindarajan asked for an extra roll, since they had exposed all the 15 rolls. Since the Kodak company opened only in the morning, Kamal Haasan gave the film rolls that he had purchased for his earlier movie. I paid him for these rolls. However, P.C. Sreeram did not use it, as it was old stock.

After the completion of shooting Kamal Haasan and Mani Ratnam had a press meet, where they made a statement that the movie was based on Varadaraja Mudaliar’s life. After this, the censor board at Chennai refused to permit the release of the movie, since it was based on a living person. I appealed to the revising committee at Bombay. They said that they would permit us to release the film if I got a letter stating that it was not based on Varadaraja Mudaliar’s life. I asked Kamal Haasan to help me. He simply refused, stating that he was busy shooting another movie. Hence, with great difficulty, I contacted Mathiolli Shanmugam, a writer and good friend of mine, and through him met Varadaraja Mudaliar, who gave us a letter. Only then did the Censor appellate board at Bombay permit us to release the film. To call the movie his “baby” and not be bothered about its release is a reflection on Kamal Haasan’s ‘sincerity’.

A good artist is one who gets inspired from a movie. The scene where Kamal Haasan cries on seeing the dead body of his son is copied from The Godfather , and he imitates Marlon Brando. This scene was booed by the audience, because it never fit the character and lacked nativity. When the film was completed and the first print was shown to me, the film ran for 3 hours. Both Kamal and Mani wanted me to release the film as it was, whereas I knew that the audience would never sit through the movie. I told the editor Lenin to edit several unnecessary scenes. This gave life to the movie, along with the theme music Thenpandi seemayilae . Had it not been for Ilayaraja and Lenin, the movie would have flopped.

Hi-speed negative film was introduced in India in 1985-86, and all cinematographers began to shoot in low light. Even our movie Kodai Mazhai , which came out before Nayakan , was shot in low light. When we screened the movie in theatres, the projector operators expressed reservations since they had to use extra carbon, which was very expensive. That was the reason I expressed my apprehension. I consulted colourist Narayanan of Gemini Lab who assured me that he would increase the brightness while printing and we had no problem while screening the film in theatres. They are the unsung heroes who were part of the success story.

To generate and invest Rs. 1 crore in a Tamil movie in 1986 and market and release it without any problem was a huge task. As a senior producer, I was always interested in seeing that the distributors who bought the movie made profits. Making a movie is a team effort. The producer takes the entire risk and his contribution cannot be undermined. G. Venkateswaran bought negative rights only after I sold all the areas. But he insisted that he would put his name as producer and receive the awards the movie got. I had to agree since I had suffered a loss even after selling all the areas. But the greatest loss was when my brother died and after that I chose not to talk about the movie. I do not know why Kamal Haasan has chosen to talk about the film now. Calling a filmmaker as “old school” is, I think, outdated.

I have always considered film as an art. I have been a producer and director for more than 60 years. Without passion for cinema, I could not have made more than 40 films with great stars like Sivaji Ganesan, Gemini Ganesan, Rajinikanth and Jayalalithaa. I have a reputation for producing good movies and believe that audience deserves quality films. But it is difficult to conceive, produce and release big budget movies. Shooting small budget films with Digital Cameras is easy. Filmmaking is also a business and everybody works to make money. Kamal Haasan did not act in my movie for free. He was paid a huge sum, amounting to almost 20 per cent of the original budget. Expecting Rs. 5 lakh as profit is not avaricious. Nayakan was purely a commercial film, and even Kamal Haasan knew this. The tragedy is that I did not make any profit.

Had Kamal Haasan allowed Mani to make the movie originally conceived by him, it would have been his best movie. As for the reference to Mani Ratnam’s deteriorating health, he was very healthy when he completed Nayakan . It was only when he became a producer that his health started deteriorating, which is not unusual.

I have nothing against Kamal Haasan taking credit for the success of Nayakan . But not at my cost, please.

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