His excitement at returning to his roots and directing his first Tamil film is palpable. Though Los Angeles has been his home for the past five years, Bharatbala says he is very much a Mylapore boy. “I was born and educated in Madras! In fact, my father V Ganapathy was amongst the earliest photo journalists of the Indian Express in Chennai.” So directing Aascar Films’ Mariyaan in his native tongue is giving him immense pleasure. “I may be urbanised, but I haven’t lost touch with my native roots. I think in Tamil, even though I speak in English,” he says.
Though Bharatbala has done over 500 ad films and 200 short films, he has never been to a film school. “ I studied Zoology at Vivekananda College,” he says.
So, how did the idea to make Mariyaan take shape? He shrugs, “The rural environment has always inspired me. Mariyaan was a story which was waiting to be told. It’s the tale of the human’s will to survive in the toughest of conditions. The film is set in a village called Mandaikadapudur in Kanyakumari, but in the film I’ve named it Neerodi. Later, the events move to Sudan, but we shot it in Namibia.” The film is based on a newspaper article about migrating Indian workers, who went to Sudan to eke a living and got into trouble. Mariyaan, played by Dhanush, is a worker whose hunger for survival makes him face the most extraordinary challenges.
When Bharatbala saw Dhanush’s Aadukalam as a jury member for the National Awards, he was impressed by how Dhanush had shouldered his character. Bharatbala says, “Dhanush was my first and last choice for hero. Till today, I only see him as Mariyaan. In the six months before shooting, he internalised the character deeply. Since we shot the film in reverse, with the climax scenes first, the biggest challenge for him was to undergo Mariyaan’s transformation in reverse. He couldn’t have done that without actually living the character. He’s not the Dhanush you’ve seen in any of his previous films.” He reveals that Mariyaan is an ancient Tamil word that denotes ‘a man who never dies’ and aptly conveys the spirit of the character.
Working with AR Rahman was the icing on the cake for him. “Though we share a unique friendship, I never wanted to take Rahman for granted. We began work only when he could actually feel the story and screenplay and got excited enough to start composing. We were like kids, having fun experiencing the story together.” The audio launch is slated for May 13.
Bharatbala says his dream is to take Mariyaan to international audiences. “People in Hollywood have seen the trailer and without knowing the language, they could feel the rush and intrigue. Living in LA has helped me understand Hollywood’s sensibilities and how they receive world cinema. It has helped to hone my narrative skills in a way that can successfully take a traditional Indian story to a wider audience.”