It’s hard to not be moved when you listen to Usha Krishnan’s efforts to become a director in the Tamil film industry. Her story may move you to tears, but her film, Raja Mandhiri, is sure to make you smile.
“Raja Mandhiri is a realistic film that’s exceptionally funny. I like light-hearted films and wanted my first to be an entertainer,” says Usha. “It’s about the bond between two brothers. Kalaiarasan and comedian Kali play the lead roles. Kali plays the elder brother while Kalaiarasan plays the younger one.”
The film is set in Mannargudi. “The elder brother is a responsible person who runs the family by overseeing a soda company. However, he suffers from an inferiority complex as he is short. It has an adverse impact on his marriage prospects. Every time he meets a prospective bride, something funny happens that makes the girl’s family turn down the alliance. The film has many such funny incidents. The younger brother is handsome but irresponsible. Their roles are in complete contrast to each other,” she says.
“But it’s not just about these two brothers. There are two heroines named Shalin Zoya and Vaishali. It’s a story about 15 other characters in their village,” she adds.
So how did a girl from a remote village in Tamil Nadu manage to enter the Tamil film industry by directing a purely commercial, yet realistic entertainer? “I was born in a small village called B Mutlur. I have two brothers and a sister. My dad (like Kali in the film) had a soda company – a small one, where he would prepare Goli Sodas, and take them on a bicycle to sell,” she says.
“My dad showered affection on all of us. Even if I scribbled something as a child, he was proud of me and would defend me when others criticised me,” she recalls.
After she finished school, her dad insisted that she pursue higher education. “I had no idea about higher education. But despite his limited income, he took me to Tiruchy, and got me admitted to a expensive college. He would say, ‘Kannu, Nee nalla padichu collector aaganum’ (Dear, study well and become a collector),” she says.
“I didn’t know then that he, despite having serious health issues like BP and heart problems, didn’t spend money on his health so he could pay for our education. Once when he was on his way to deliver sodas, he suffered a heart attack and fell off the cycle. The soda bottles broke and caused him serious injuries. As a result, he passed away,” she says tearfully.
After her dad’s death, life became tough, as Usha had to work to make ends meet. “I had to work for two years. I took up a job at a call centre for a salary of `6,000, but by the second month, my enthusiasm had drained. I decided to study M Sc Media Sciences at Anna University with my brother’s support. He was here in Chennai then. But I had no time or money. I had to make the most of my two years here.”
Usha says she was good at cultural events and would often organise college programmes. “While organising a college event, I got introduced to writer Baskar Sakthi sir who introduced me to director Mahendran sir and helped me join as his assistant.”
Usha says she knew nothing about cinema when she joined Mahendran. “He would teach me as he would teach a child. Every day, I would finish college and go to work and learn from Mahendran sir. I dedicated almost 20 hours every day to learning.”
After Mahendran became unwell, she struggled to become an assistant director but eventually found work. “As an assistant, I would be invited to the sets only on days where shots of the heroine were being taken. I had to adjust their dresses. I struggled until one day I received a call from director Suseenthiran when he was making Aadhalal Kaadhal Seiveer (2013). I joined him as his assistant director and worked on Jeeva (2014) and Pandianadu (2013).”
Usha says Suseenthiran had immense faith in her abilities and was open to giving her challenging tasks. “Drawing a schedule is something only the senior-most assistants are entrusted with. When everybody in the unit was there, Suseenthiran sir announced, ‘Usha, you will draw the schedules and other senior assistants will help her’. I couldn’t believe my ears. I was moved to tears,” she says. “After that, everybody on the sets would discuss films with me and treat me as someone who knew the craft well.”
On seeing her potential, cameraman P G Muthiah recommended her as a director to producer Mathiazhagan. “Both PG Muthiah sir and Mathiazhagan sir produced Raja Manthiri,” she says gratefully.
Work on the film has been completed and it is ready for release. “We are looking to release it on April 22,” she says.
Usha makes Suseenthiran proud
After Usha screened Raja Mandhiri for director Suseenthiran, he told her, “You’ve made me proud.” She asked him if any parts needed to be trimmed or changed, Suseenthiran said it was perfect the way she made it.
Pa Ranjith LOVED THE FILM!
Another director who helped Usha is Pa Ranjith, who is now directing Rajinikanth’s Kabali. Ranjith watched Raja Mandhiri recently, and enjoyed it so much that he asked for the interval to be skipped so that he could watch the second half immediately