South Films Rule India Now, Said Popular Director Vasanthabalan
According to Tamil film director G Vasanthabalan, the dominance of Indian cinema is shifting from Bollywood to the South film industry. As an industry veteran who began his career as an assistant director for S Shankar's hit movie "Gentleman" in 1993, Vasanthabalan believes that the rise of OTT platforms has played a significant role in this transformation. His latest film, "Aneethi," which premiered on July 21, marks a departure from his previous works as it delves into darker and more psychological thriller territory. While the director stays true to his signature style of exploring social injustices and inequalities, "Aneethi" takes a slightly more violent approach.
"The good thing is with all the available opportunities today, when you are convinced, you don't have to worry anymore. Theatre release is not the only way out these days, there are plenty of formats offering good business opportunities,” he says, adding that these have given the creators a freehand in exploring genres and formats that were otherwise considered risky.
"Also, of course, blockbuster films like 'Kantara', 'KGF' and 'RRR' too have helped the south film industry in reaching that place," adds Vasanthabalan.
Vasanthabalan says his latest film, which released on July 21, is more of a psychological thriller. Although true to his credentials, he explores the social injustices and inequalities in this film as well, but unlike his earlier films, "Aneethi" gets a tad too violent.
The veteran director says it is because he has explored the neo-noir genre.
"In 'Aneethi', I tell the story of this man who happens to be a food delivery guy. That character triggers a series of incidents while he goes about delivering food. Through him, I highlight how society views people like him," adds Vasanthabalan.
Unlike his mentor Shankar, who he says sets the ball rolling for his next one on the last day of wrapping up a film, Vasanthabalan, who has been in the field for more than two decades now, has only directed a handful of films so far.
He says it is because he wants to understand the different worlds he portrays in his films. "For instance, before shooting 'Aneethi', I spent a considerable time talking to hundreds of delivery boys, just so I could understand their issues," says Vasanthabalan.
As a director, he says he is not interested in thrusting his views or in social messages. "I don't want to make a name for myself by preaching or deliberately projecting ideas. I feel social awareness can be created by just focusing on the lives of characters," says Vasanthabalan.
Mostly, he says he focuses on exploring different genres. "My film 'Veyil', set in a rural background, is about a man considered a failure. It is a biography of failure of sorts. In contrast to that is ‘Angadi Theru', in which I portray the issues of people who work in a shop in Angadi Theru, modelled after Ranganathan Street (a famous shopping street in Chennai). I talked about their world," says Vasanthabalan.
Vasanthabalan also pointed out that his films "Aravaan", which is about the life of bandits in the 18th century and "Kavyatalaivan", which tries to capture what is considered the golden period of Tamil theatre, are different too.
In a contrast to director Shankar, Vasanthabalan's lead roles are often played by actors not "heroes".
"When I am choosing my main leads, I only see how far they can push themselves as actors. That is why I zeroed in on actor Pasupati for 'Veyil'. He has been trained in Koothu-pattarai (Chennai-based theatre group) and as an actor he holds a lot. Same way, Arjun Das (main lead in 'Aneethi', who normally does negative roles in Tamil films) is also an excellent actor," says Vasanthabalan.
When it comes to writing scripts, Vasanthabalan says he has a different process from how his mentor approaches it.
In one of his interviews to a Tamil web channel, Vasanthabalan had earlier explained how Shankar gives a one-sentence storyline to his assistant directors as soon as they wrap up the production of a film, asking them to think of situations and scenes. These will later be fleshed out in a discussion, he had added.
"But I write my own story. Shankar's films are done on a bigger scale with stars – they are larger than life. My films are more like watching life unravel from up close. So, I set my characters in a milieu I know and I am comfortable with. Mostly, they are people that I come across in my life," adds Vasanthabalan.
Although his 'Veyil' and 'Angadi Theru' have been critical and commercial successes, his earlier films did not really make the cut with the audience.
"I think the journey is very important too. I am experimenting with various forms to tell the stories that I want to tell. Some click and some do not. Some films take time to get the attention of the people.
"For instance, 'Kaviyathalaivan' did not do good business. But even today someone told me that it is their favourite film of mine," says Vasanthabalan.