Flitting into flashbacks

A LONG JOURNEY: S.P. Muthuraman. Photo: S. Krishnamoorthy

A LONG JOURNEY: S.P. Muthuraman. Photo: S. Krishnamoorthy   | Photo Credit: s_krishnamoorthy


Legendary Filmmaker S.P. Muthuraman walks down memory lane and his experience of working with Rajinikanth and Kamal Hassan

S.P. Muthuraman doesn’t need an introduction. With 75 movies in two decades, he is also the only director to have made 25 films with Superstar Rajinikanth. “It was late 70’s and Rajini was still the stylish villain of Tamil cinema. When he joined me for the first time for Bhuvana Oru Kelvi Kuri, I wanted to experiment with his acting skills and made him the hero. And, Sivakumar who was an established hero then played the villain” recalls Muthuraman. “The film was a family sentiment, a different attempt from the commercial stories I had been directing. It gave Rajini a platform for his rise as a superstar and bagged me the best director award from Filmfare.”

From then on there was no looking back for Muthuraman. Apart from smash hits like Murattu kaalai, Pokkiriraja, Paayum Puli and Velaikaran, movies such as Aarilirindhu Arubadhu varai and Yengeyo Ketta Kural won the hearts of audiences. “One of the most challenging movies was Sri Raghavendra, a complete different genre. It was done exclusively for Rajini as his 100th film,” says Muthuraman. “He was a hero of the masses and we were sceptical how he would be accepted in a film on a spiritual subject. K. Balachandar exuded confidence in my direction and convinced me to take it up.”

On his relationship with Rajinikanth, Muthuraman says, “I see no difference between the Rajinikanth today and the one who walked into my studio for Bhuvana Oru Kelvi Kuri. He is a humble person with no airs of a hero. He addresses me as Anna.”

Working with larger-than-life heroes like Rajini and Kamal Hassan is not easy but Muthuraman has always pulled it off successfully. “I never tamper with the script. While keeping the story intact, I only give my touches to the screenplay and acting. I welcome suggestions from artistes and if I am convinced I make the changes,” he says. “We used to have healthy discussions. I also accommodate the heroes’ demands and make them feel comfortable.”

“Like for instance, in Aarilirundhu Arubathu Varai, Rajini was doubtful of his character in the film,” recalls Muthuraman. In the family drama, Rajini had to play the eldest son who bears the entire burden of his siblings. “I convinced him after showing some preparatory shots and explained to him the tiffs in any family. The artist has to be is convinced for a powerful performance. There was no ego between us. Our only motive was the movie should turn out well. And, if there were any differences, we would dissolve them outside the set.”

With dialogues by Panju Arunachalam, Muthuraman’s movies were replete with the essential ingredients of a commercial flick. Sputtered with comedy and interspersed with action and romance, his movies were hero-centric. Muthuraman also remade some popular Hindi movies and dubbed his films in Hindi. Guru Sishyan, a remake of Insaf ki Pukar brought to fore the comical side of Rajinikanth. “The income tax raid scene with Prabhu, Rajini and Achi Manorama was a big hit. Even now I burst out laughing seeing the scene.”

Muthuraman is inspired by Bollywood directors Hrishikesh Mukherjee and V.Shantaram. “I used to watch their films and follow the techniques. I got the chance of assisting Hrishikesh Mukherjee in Chupke Chupke, and observed him closely.”

“It was Kamal Hassan who encouraged me to see more variety of films and develop myself,” says Muthuraman. “I had seen Kamal as a child artiste in Kalathur Kannamma and knew that he would become a great actor. There were nearly a dozen children in the movie and during breaks when they would play, Kamal would go to the AVM preview theatre, ask the operator to lift him up and watch movie scenes. He used to enact what he saw and deliver the dialogues for us.”

“Kamal is one of the few who doesn’t make formula films tailor-made for the mass audience but believes in stories that are off the beaten track,” says Muthuraman who has made 10 films with Kamal Hassan. Sakalakala Vallavan and Thoongathe Thambi Thoongathe were runaway hits and one experimental film was Oru Oodhappoo Kann Simittukiradhu, a novel by Pushpa Thangadurai. Apart from making strong mass hero subjects, Muthuraman also introduced two successful heroines – Khushboo in Dharmathin Thalaivan and Gautami in Guru Sishyan.

“My mentor A.C.Trilokchandar was a strong director, a voracious reader and he would get done everything he wanted. He was assertive on the sets and particular about the shots. Before commencing any new film, I always took his blessings,” recalls Muthuraman.

Retired from filmdom, Muthuraman is happy in the comfort of his home and family these days. “Seeing the current trend of huge expenses and precarious profit margins, I don’t think film making is a lucrative business anymore. It’s disturbing to see how movies fail to even recover the expenditure and run into losses,” he says. He was known as Minimum guarantee Muthuraman in the film circles as he used to study the market, draw a budget and ensure the producer doesn’t suffer loss. “Those were good old days and I doubt they would ever come back.”

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Printable version | Aug 21, 2019 7:04:20 PM |

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