Of wit and humour
K. Bhagyaraj talks to K. Jeshi about his films, son Shantanu and more
Doing dad proud Shantanu in Sidhu Plus Two: (below) K. Bhagyaraj.
Where have they all gone? Films such as Indru Poi Naalai Vaa. A coming-of-age story of three carefree teenagers, complete with bell bottoms and thick-framed goggles of the 70s, the laugh riot attained cult status among film buffs. “I wrote the script overnight,” laughs director K. Bhagyaraj.
The maverick filmmaker who gave us some memorable films in the 70s and 80s re-launched his son Shantanu in the recent Sidhu Plus Two. “In Sakkarakatti, he played a student. In Sidhu…, which is a mix of romance, comedy, pathos and action, he emerged a hero.”
The director-turned-actor, who captured the essence of family dramas, with humorous screenplays and detailed characterisations, (who can forget Palakkad Madhavan in Antha Ezhu Natkal?), says there is a dearth of good writing.
“Earlier, be it Thevar Films, Sathia Jothi Films or MGR Films, there used to be a story department. A team of five or six writers was on the job. When I started off, I took charge of everything. Though some writers show promise these days, they turn out to be one-film wonders. There is a real shortage of good stories.”
Budget hardly matters, he says. “Cinema should make an emotional connect. The success of a low-budget Mynaa, shot on hilly terrain where it's impossible to take some of the camera equipment, proves it.”
Bhagyaraj's stories reflected reality, were sentimental, had social messages and won hearts. “Any story has to be told in an entertaining way. I enjoyed working on all my films.”
Idhu Namma Aalu though humorous sent out a strong message about the caste system, Andha Ezhu Natkal dealt with the institution of marriage, Sundara Kaandam revolved around relationships involving a terminally-ill girl. Some of the films were remade in Hindi such as Enga Chinna Rasa ( Beta) and Andha Ezhu Natkal ( Woh Saat Din). He also directed Amitabh Bachchan in Aakhri Raasta (a Hindi remake of his Tamil script Oru Kaidhiyin Diary).
Bhagyaraj's films have strong female characters. He says his understanding of the female psyche stems from his upbringing in a joint family. “My aunts used to call me for help while grinding the idli batter. And, when they had to go out to watch a movie (it was compulsory for a guy to accompany them). All the conversations I overheard then became part of my screenplays. In school, we were not allowed to talk to girls. So, my curiosity to understand them better grew.”
He says it is important to think out-of-the-box to write witty dialogues. “You need to kindle curiosity and take the screenplay forward. There is no fun in stating the obvious. Brainstorming is important.”
The man with silver jubilee hits is worried that TV serials have taken control of the family audience. “It is the under-30 crowd that comes to the theatres, who want everything fast-paced. They do not want pathos. So, the filmmakers are forced to compromise. Video piracy and options to download movies are the other deterrents,” he rues.
He says the Tamil film industry is going through a golden phase where films are getting global recognition. “Ticket rates should be reduced to bring in more middle-class audiences to the theatres. And, piracy has to be controlled.”
Reflecting reality Andha Ezhu Naatkal, Mundhanai Mudichu, Idhu Namma Aalu
The director tells upcoming writers to focus on ‘stories from your heart'. And, to write believable scripts.
Ask him to elaborate on his Indru Poi Naalai Vaa experience, and he says, “It plays on the psychology of teenagers and their jealousies when a beautiful girl becomes their neighbour. Some teenagers get carried away, others just enjoy the phase. I focussed on the latter and it clicked with the audience.”
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