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TRADEMARK AJITH: The audience will forget they are watching an Ajith film 15 minutes into it, says Gautham Menon.  

Gautham Vasudev Menon became a filmmaker at a time when the Tamil heroe had already elevated stalking to an accepted social principle and moral policing of women became his fundamental duty. In slow, incremental steps, Gautham Menon began re-sketching the male protagonist as a chivalrous and courteous human being, who is respectful towards women. As a result, he became a big hit with the women.

The liberal attitudes and slick style that permeates his films were deemed an ideal foil for actor Ajith, who is also identified as a stylish, dignified and chivalrous human being by his fans and the public at large. 

After several unsuccessful attempts to team up, Gautham’s third instalment of what is now being called his ‘cop trilogy’ (the first two were Kaakha Kaakha and Vettaiyadu Vilaiyadu), Yennai Arindhal, is ready for release on February 5. “I was asked if I could start work on the film right away while I was still working on the Simbu film. Yennai Arindhaal is perhaps the quickest film in my career. And this is also a film which was written for Ajith,” says Gautham at Harris Jayaraj’s recording studio.

Despite being explicitly asked by Ajith to not include anything to massage his ‘superstar’ status, Gautham guarantees that there are at least five ‘applause’ moments in this film. “In Arrambam, there is a moment when he looks sharply at someone touching his shoulder. I have loved some of the moments from his earlier films. These are there but the audience will forget they are watching an Ajith film 15 minutes into it. This is by far his best work,” he adds.

 The tension between the desire to do a movie with Gautham’s sensibilities and at the same time contain the urge to exploit his image was resolved, he says, by incorporating real-life traits of Ajith into the narrative. “I know what he would do if there was a woman walking beside him towards a door. We have put him in clothes that he would probably wear in real life himself. In this way, the audience doesn’t’ have to really suspend their disbelief,” he reveals.

While he hesitates a bit before admitting that the ‘cop trilogy is complete’, he describes the film as a biography of Sathyadev from the age of 13. “I can’t tell you what he plays in the film because that is what the film is about. Although there is no scene like this, I would say that it is the story of a 13-year-old boy who wanted to become a doctor but ended up being someone else,” he says.

The first two earlier cop films made by Gautham — Kaakha Kaakha with actor Suriya and Vettaiyadu Vilaiyadu starring Kamal Haasan — were runaway successes and instantly caught the public imagination. They are also now part of pop-culture. However, they also attracted sharp criticism for ‘glorifying encounter and extra-judicial killings’. Suriya plays a daring ‘encounter specialist’ in Kaakha Kaakha and the film is said to have given policemen a PR make-over.

Gautham defends his creative decision: “There are good people and bad people everywhere. There are people within the system who are trying to change it and doing good work. I understand that bureaucracy, hierarchy and managing politics is not easy. But I respect the fact that they are at least out there, doing stuff. Also, I wasn’t trying to justify encounters. I was presenting a cop’s perspective and this does not necessarily mean it has the author’s endorsement.”

He further states, “If my tale has to revolve around a protagonist and there is action around him, I can only imagine him to be someone from the police or the Army. People like us don’t encounter violence on a daily basis unless they are in a road-rage situation or are in college fighting over a girl.”

While many would still disagree with his argument, it is a fact that Gautham Menon’s movies are regulated by a matrix of strong middle-class values.

There is a ‘biographical’ element to all of his films which, he says, can be traced back to growing up in a middle-class household. “Everything that I write is mostly what I have experienced with my father, growing up,” he declares. Specifically talking about the much-loved romance sequences in his films, he credits his father for it. “Most of the romance in my films has been inspired by my father. I have seen him holding my mother’s feet and talking to her. A lot of Neethane En Ponvasantham, a lot of Vinnai Thaandi Varuvaaya and a lot of Vaaranam Aayiram came from him. My knowledge of books, the way I speak, have all been from him. Vaaranam Aayiram, in a way, was catharsis, my way of holding on to his memories.” While this has been Gautham Menon’s trademark, so to speak, it has also been a constant source of criticism. He has been called out for being cocooned in the comforts of the middle-class, unwilling to look at the harsh realities of life. “That’s how I like it. Take romance for instance: My parents have never been a problem in my life. I had the kind of father who would say ‘Don’t stand and talk to the girl on the street. Bring her home’. I have never sat and analysed a scene when I have to write a romantic one. It just flows,” he says.

Yet, he is well aware that he has come to represent a certain kind of values through his films. In the next 10 years, Gautham Menon says that he wants to move into a ‘different zone’. “If people are expecting only a certain kind of films from me, I want to change that. I want to make shorter films (around two hours) — in different genres. I would have done it with Dhruva Natchathiram itself, but Suriya didn’t let that happen. But there are also people who say that there are takers for the way I represent, for instance, women in my movies. They say, ‘why are you bothered about few people who say they don’t like it?’  I don’t want to be predictable, but that doesn’t mean it is necessarily going to be about people in the slums.”

He reveals that he is already testing waters with Yennai Arindhaal despite the fact that he was told that it might not go well with a section of the audience. “I have made a couple of bold moves in this film, which is in the modern space. Even though we haven’t shown anything happening and it has been left to the audience’s imagination,” he hints.

But there are a few things he would never do in his movies. “Even if I am writing the character of a woman who is a bad person, I would never expose it to the audience,” he says.

The next is the obvious one: “I can’t take it when fathers are being made villains. I wept when I saw Thavamaai Thavamirundhu even though the father was a lot different from mine. I just couldn’t take it when the father in Maattraan was made the villain. I couldn’t stand it.”


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Printable version | Jan 24, 2022 4:04:11 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/interview-with-gautham-vasudev-menon/article6852727.ece

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