An interview becomes a conversation when both the interviewer and the interviewee lose their inhibitions, prejudices, barriers and can share a genuine laugh or two. In such successful transitions, one can pinpoint the exact question or answer that initiated the change. In this interview with director H Vinoth came the moment when he was asked about his resistance to giving video interviews, especially when dozens of fans ask him for the same thing. “Thalaivare… There is no big reason for the absence. I don’t feel comfortable talking on camera, or being around crowds, etc… There’s some kind of mental block, so I avoid that,” says the director, who is currently working on the post production of thunivustarring Ajith Kumar, one of Indian cinema’s biggest crowd pleasers.
Commercialism, honesty and everything in between
Even if he’s not comfortable with video interactions, there’s no question that talking to Vinoth is a breeze. His unabashed candor is refreshing in a world filled with rehearsed and re-hated answers. That’s why only filmmakers like Vinoth would readily admit that commerce dictates cinema. “Right from the moment cinema became a money-making business, everything about it became commercial. Of course we can talk about good movies and bad movies, but you shouldn’t expect 100 percent honesty from it. Depending on the team, the honesty of a movie and a filmmaker will vary. A filmmaker should try to be as honest as he can be, and push that line a little bit further. Vyaabaram enga irukko anga muzhu nermai irukkaadhu…”
Speculations, updates and everything in between
ValimaiVinoth, Vinoth’s previous film starring Ajith, may have been known for many things, but chief among them was fan frenzy over updates. In fact, it’s a phenomenon that has since expanded to every feature film. “Being secretive about a movie with stars like an Ajith sir or a Vijay sir is just impossible. We must face this reality. While there may be bits of truth in the mountains of information out there, the presence of these speculations has become an unavoidable inconvenience. Now the greatest requirement for a filmmaker is patience, and more importantly, tolerance. For example, it is talked about a lot thunivu myself, and I know how many of them are so far from the truth. Honestly, it is a multi-genre film that cannot be categorized into one type. Easy said, thunivu is a rogue game… Adhu oru ayogyargalin aattam.”
Brand Ajith, Brand Vinoth and everything in between
Vinoth’s candor comes to the fore when the conversation turns to him and Ajith working together. Over the years, we can see how Ajith’s films have changed tracks. There are elements in his films that were not there a few years ago. In a way, this has created a varied set of expectations from his different sections of fans, and Vinoth has observed this change closely. “In a film with Ajith, sir, he is clearly the centerpiece. He decides who is the producer and the director. His fans may want him to do films that he made in his mid-thirties and early forties billa or a Mankatha. But it is also important to understand what kind of films Mr. Ajith wants to make. When I write a script for him, I also have to consider his comfort. Ajith sir has certain values when it comes to the emotions or politics in his films and it is important that they are taken into account. In some cases, these factors may differ depending on the script we agree on, but what never changes is the power of a good story and screenplay. Interestingly, Mr. Ajith will listen to 10-15 minutes of narration and give the green light if he likes the way it is progressing. From then on, when we start shooting, I’ll tell him what we’re going to shoot that day, and he’ll understand and consume the movie exactly as the audience would… scene by scene.”
When asked if he likes working in such a pattern, Vinoth is back to his best. “Thalaivare… logistics determine the logic in many of our films. If Chennai is the setting of the film, it becomes impossible to film in live locations with a big star. That’s where our series of compromises begins. If geography can decide the kind of output we have, imagine the other factors that will take their place. With a strong core idea and a basic scenario, I prefer to work on the go. Thadaigal vara vara adha edhirkonde munneri poga dhaan mudiyum.”
Success, failure and everything in between
Vinoth’s films with Ajith are an interesting case study in recent Tamil cinema. Some criticize the lack of fame in a Nerkonda Paarvaiand some criticize the lack of Vinoth in a Valimai. On the other hand, the same elements are also showered with high praise. Keeping a cool head while receiving both extreme emotions is no easy task. “What’s more important is to understand why someone is celebrating or criticizing you. Take only those who come from a place of honesty. In fact, on the first two days of Valimai, we received a lot of criticism, but on day 3, when families came to see the film, everything was back on track. In those two days we learned certain things, such as meeting requirements, creating the right expectations, determining the target group, etc… Valimai la kathukitta vishayam Thunivu la seyal paduthiruppom, Thunivu la kathukkra vishayam, adutha padathula use pannuvom.”
Messages, compromises and everything in between
Vinoth became a major presence in Tamil cinema thanks to the strength of his first two films, Saturanga Vettai and Theeraan. However, with a superstar like Ajith coming into the mix, there were opinions that Vinoth had to compromise on his writing. But the filmmaker assures that his quest in cinema has always been about documenting the truth and lies of every theme he tackles, and nothing else. “My journey with cinema is to find out where I stand in the evolution of opinions and cinema. Whatever theme I address in my film, I want to explore its truth and lies. My strength lies in giving my audience a visceral experience. But I also take market demand into account. For example, Fishwasam did exceptionally well, and there was market demand to accommodate that section. We predicted the demand and worked on the script of Valimai. But then, after two years, especially with the pandemic, the demands changed. Young people became the decision makers about the kind of cinema consumed during the maddening opening day crowds.
With commerce, demands and trends becoming the common terms in this conversation, one might be concerned if the voice that gave us Saturanga Vettai and a Theeraan is muted in its journey with the star. However, a level-headed Vinoth has no such airs about his presence in the cinema. “In any form of art, there is only so much the creator can do. What really matters is what the audience understands. Take, for example, serious reviewers and critics who talk about layers and subtexts. To be honest, a maker has often not thought of such things at all. Let’s say something works for a filmmaker, then 80 percent of the time it’s the result of being under tremendous pressure. When you are under pressure, you are forced to find a solution. Very few filmmakers have a clear idea of what end product they want even while writing. Such filmmakers are rare, and the sad thing is that many of them will not get the fame and success they deserve. I know many ask me to make a movie like Theeraan or a Saturanga Vettai, but frankly such questions are unfair. It is better to create trends than to follow one. Theeran maadhri innoru padam panna, ivan yaen ore maadhri padam panraan nu thittra modhal aal avangala dhaan irukkum…”
The present, the future and everything in between
Even before the release of thunivu, there is speculation about Vinoth’s next. While it has been ‘confirmed’ that a Kamal Haasan movie is on the way, there were also reports that he has teamed up with Vijay Sethupathi and Yogi Babu for a project. While his recent career has indeed been about addressing these speculations and moving past the relentless questioning of updates and rumours, Vinoth has managed to look at it from a very pragmatic lens. “Cinema has taught me to stay calm until everything falls together. Just because I met an actor doesn’t mean the project is going ahead. Just because a producer gives the green light to the project doesn’t mean the movie will get there. There are a lot of things that can happen between meeting an actor, finding a producer, and finally hitting the floor. I would rather play the wait and see game than just fuel speculation.”
While the talk is about Vinoth’s luck in ‘ear suthuradhuand his love for Kadaisi Vivasayi, we finally get into the subject of film as a director’s medium, and whether he realizes that a “Written and Directed by H. Vinoth” tag is a big deal for his audience. “Honestly, in any movie with a superstar, the director’s name only comes to the fore when something magical happens. I even went to two theaters and randomly asked 100 people if they knew the director of that movie. Most had no idea. What we see on social media and other mainstream forms of media is only the view of a small percentage of the movie audience. It took decades of work for actors like Rajini sir, Kamal Haasan sir, Ajith sir and Vijay sir to cement their superstardom. They went beyond both their successes and failures to reach every member of the public. For directors like Mani Ratnam sir and Shankar sir, their reach is a testament to the work they’ve done and the legacy they’ve created over time. Oru Director-Kaaga Mattum Padam Paaka Varavanga 10 Percent Dhaan Irukkum. Andha edathukku vara, oru bayangaramaana uzhaippu thevai.”