It wasn’t a surprise when director Madhumita was announced as the creative director of LOL: Enga Siri Paappom, Amazon Prime Video’s latest comedy reality show. Almost all her films are known for their humour, a genre Madhumita says is hard to execute. “Comedy is the least favourite genre for directors. My journey with comedy started with Kola Kolaya Mundhirika, thanks to Crazy Mohan sir,” says Madhumita. “LOL: Enga Siri Paappom’s formats in Japan and Mexico have been a huge hit. As I had already done a reality show (Bigg Boss Tamil), they thought I would be a good fit for this show. Indha reality show nammala vida maatengudhu (laughs). As a film director, I find it a fun challenge to have to cater to the reality show audience. I am glad that I was a part of the series right from its conceptualisation.”
There were quite a few decisions to be made, when adapting this format for viewers here. “We cannot bring the international show to our Tamil audience without making changes, because, different regions embrace different types of humour. For instance, slapstick humour might work better in one region, while sarcasm and wit may be better somewhere else. I had to tweak a lot, including the look of the sets.” The format of the show demands that the humour not be scripted.
“The contestants may have certain jokes that they would want to crack but at that moment, they wouldn’t be able to deliver it the way they want, or it might not land well or someone might even interrupt it. They also had to make sure that they don’t laugh as that might get them eliminated. Some even did yoga and meditation in a swimming pool (laughs). A director would usually make an actor perform, handle the composition of shots and narrate a story, but here, as a creative director, I had to decide what humour would work at the editing table, what music we could use, decide which of the 24 camera angles to use, and a lot more.”
LOL: Enga Siri Paappom was a series that she couldn’t control as much as she wanted to, she says. “A director prefers that the entire film set be under their control. But in this show, we couldn’t control what the contestants do inside the house and all we did was watch whether any of them were laughing. That said, we could discuss the counters that Vivekh sir and Shiva, as hosts, would come up with as they had watched the international formats of the show,” says the director, who brought in two hosts instead of one, like in the show’s international versions.
“We are a dialogue-oriented culture and love counters and punch lines. Nakkal and nayyandi namakulla oori pona vishayangal. So, we decided to rope in two hosts. But on the day of the shoot, everything is spontaneous as it’s unscripted, and it was really the comedians and hosts who took it forward. We were able to control only the technical aspects and I had to show my creativity in the post-production work by figuring out how we could accentuate the humour.”
The show sports a mix of talents from different industries as contestants. “We were particular that the show have contestants from various platforms like films, television and social media as we wanted a mixed bag. As their talents and comfort zones vary, we wanted the best of all their strengths, and knew that it would be fun to see them get pitted against each other. Another important factor was that they be good with improv comedy as it’s not something everyone can do,” says Madhumita who shot the series during the pandemic.
“We followed the protocols and I was glad to be back at work. Humour is a coping mechanism and a necessary break from the tragedy of the pandemic. In fact, Indian cinema itself is like that—we grew up watching heroes thrash bad people and going to exotic locations for duets. LOL: Enga Siri Paappom offers a similar escape. While contestants could not laugh, I laughed a lot during the edit!”
Ask her about being one of those rare filmmakers who have done both films and reality shows, and she says, “There are some projects you do for credit, some for money, some for both, and some because you want to learn. For me, learning is the priority. Learning something new, understanding a new format, pushing myself to do more... This project taught me a lot and I have a lot more to learn. It’s not every day that you get to work with ten contestants with different styles, and of course, with the likes of Vivekh sir and Shiva.”
Madhumita remembers the late comedian with much fondness. “Comedians are usually confident about their humour but Vivekh sir believed in a lot of preparation. He would ask a lot of questions and was curious about the technical process of it. He put in a lot of effort, had discussions, suggested ideas, and was such a humble person despite all his fame. During the last leg of the shoot, he wanted me to direct an OTT show he was writing. Even three days before he passed away, he called up to check how the post-production work was progressing,” says Madhumita.
“When I learned about his demise, it was impossible for me not to cry. He was like a father figure to everybody on the sets. He would check if everyone had eaten, and showed much interest in others. The sudden loss has been difficult for all of us. I will forever be grateful for this opportunity to work with Vivekh sir.”