Welcome to Tamil cinema, Boney Kapoor. You have made Nerkonda Paarvai, have another film with Ajith on the cards, and the upcoming remake of Badhai Ho in all four South languages. What do you attribute this interest in producing Tamil films to?
Thank you. Films from the South have been popular across the country for a while now.
Baahubali, Enthiran, 2.0… I think ultimately, the audience just wants to see quality content, no matter which language it is in. You will see that English films are doing great business too.
I also think that it’s a time when the audience has really matured to good cinema. It seemed like a good time to get started with remaking Pink in Tamil.
It’s also a time when there’s increasing awareness about the portrayal of women in our cinema.
Absolutely. It’s the need of the hour to tell people that women need to be respected. The one-line 'Pink' looked to reinforce is that ‘No means no’.
Consent is important, no matter your relationship with the woman. Also, just because a woman wears dresses or shorts, it must not be seen as a reason to make advances on her. They should be given the same respect men get from society.
The three women at the heart of Nerkonda Paarvai may be united in their choice of lifestyle, but are still quite unique. One is instinctive in her anger; the second, who’s dating a much older person, is emotional; and the third, who hails from the north-east, is a fairly quiet type. Did you have any reason to consider changing any of their attributes to make the film more rooted for Tamil audiences?
No. These are all aspects that are relevant today. Parents have accepted that their daughters need independence… A few years back, when my daughter, Jhanvi, travelled abroad and lived by herself for a year, I didn’t need too much persuasion.
I had never thought we would be comfortable doing that, but I realised that we should give her the freedom to live her life, and have the faith that she will be able to take care of herself.
And now, my younger daughter… Similarly, this can be said of women in general. These things aren’t rare; they may not be rampant, but they are not rare.
I understand that Sridevi wanted Pink to be remade in Tamil.
It was Ajith, in fact, and when Sridevi saw the film, she was convinced and happy that Ajith could take it to Tamil audiences.
She had seen a few films of his and was happy that the suggestion came from him. We knew that the reach would be more when a superstar like him does the film.
Today, you will see that many products approach superstars for this same reason. Even campaigns like Swachh Bharat and the polio vaccination campaign use stars for the reach. This subject needed Ajith.
On the other hand, were you concerned that his star status could take the focus off the women?
On the contrary, we knew more attention would be on them. All his fans, men or women, are all ears when he discusses these issues.
In fact, his participation convinced us that the content would reach the B and C centres.
We have tweaked the film to a certain extent, keeping in mind Ajith’s fans and Tamil audience sensibilities. As you see, it’s all organic, without compromising on the loudness of the message.
How much did Sridevi want such films that speak about women empowerment?
Very. She got a National Award for 'Mom'. The film has been a resounding success in China where it has made over 100 crores. Her belief in such cinema has paid off.
Did you have to familiarise yourself with the system here before producing this film?
Oh, you will find that almost 16-17 of the 40-odd films I have produced are remakes of South films. I have worked with the likes of Prabhudheva, Agathiyan, SJ Suriya, Ram Gopal Varma, Santhosh Sivan, Priyadarshan… Mani Ratnam’s first film, 'Pallavi Anu Pallavi', starred Anil Kapoor.
The connection has always been there. My first independent film, 'Hum Paanch', was a remake of a Telugu film that was a remake of a Kannada film (laughs). My father had remade a Tamil film called 'Idhu Sathyam'. This is very much familiar territory.
What has been the most gratifying part of producing Nerkonda Paarvai?
Sridevi wanted this. I fell in love with her, an actor from here; I married her and the marriage gave me so much joy. My happiest times were with her.
It is why I feel a connection with the South. The challenge now, for me, is to live without her. I wish she were around to see that I have embarked on this journey in Tamil cinema. 'Nerkonda Paarvai' is my ode to her.
(This story originally appeared on cinemaexpress.com)